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It is hard to fit ‘Everything there is to know about music rights’ into a one hour panel, but at the Belfast Media festival last week that is exactly what our panel tried to achieve.

The panel was chaired by composer Mark Gordon (Score Draw Music) with Louise Baldwin (PRS for Music), Dan McGrath (No Sheet Music), Liz Lavery (On-Music) and myself.


We based our panel discussions around 12 prepared questions that covered many topics, and were actually based on topics that panel members had been asked previously about such as:


I am a producer for an animation company and I heard somewhere that we can collect money from composers who work for us-is that right? I also heard music companies can give us money towards the budget of our next animation?


I have a brilliant song to use for a forthcoming BBC2 NI arts show. The band say they are members of the PRS but not members of the MCPS and PPL. I don’t really know what that means-does that matter? So many acronyms…!


I’m doing a feature documentary for TG4 and I have a small music budget of 2500 euros. I’m guessing I can’t afford a composer?


Having worked in the music industry as a composer for over twenty years I have gained quite a considerably knowledge about music rights, publishing and the various music organisations along the way (PPL, MCPS, PRS, BMI, ASCAP etc). I think that if you are a media composer working in the current climate, you need to have a basic understanding of how all the music rights elements can work together and how they can work to a composer’s advantage.


There is a trend of ever decreasing budgets throughout the various areas of a production and the music budget is no exception. So how does a composer earn a living if they are offered a very small upfront fee? I believe that the answer lies more and more in knowing how to retain your music rights where possible. This can be hard in an arena where more and more production companies are insisting on part or all of the composer’s publishing rights.


It was fascinating to hear the viewpoint from Louise Baldwin at the PRS, and she was keen to point out that the PRS are able to answer many queries on the phone if they are given good information about the music track and the production details.


Mark took questions from the audience at the end from various film makers who needed advice regarding quite specific music usage. We also had a good question about music cue sheets and I was able to explain the numbering system on a music cue sheet that is universal the world over, for example:


4M05 (or 4M5) means Episode 4
05 is the 5th music cue in the show


It is best to also add the title of the cue after this number sequence. So if the scene was about a car chase then the full cue name could be 4M05 Car Chase.


Whenever any film or television show is completed that has music it is very important that a music cue sheet is submitted to a rights organisation such as the PRS.


We were the last panel of the day and we were all heading to either the Northern Ireland RTS awards at The Mac or the Northern Irish Music Prize at the Ulster Hall. What a choice….it was all happening in Belfast that night!!


Thank you PRS for Music and Belfast City Council for sponsoring the event.
Photo by Jordan Whitefield