8 Simple Tips For Getting Value from Library Footage and Music
1. Understand Your Licensing Needs
Licensing is becoming more complicated. It’s not always obvious when a certain kind of usage will require you to buy extra rights to a piece of music or footage. As more cross-marketing connections are forged across boundaries between broadcast and cable (think promos made for NBC that are destined to show on MSNBC or CNBC as well) or theatrical and home entertainment (such as a theatrical trailer that’s also slated for inclusion on DVDs from the same studio), it becomes more important to think about all possible usages of your project as you negotiate the licensing deal.
"We’ve really cleared up our licensing categories and clarified the rights that we license," says JC Dwyer, co-founder of Megatrax ( North Hollywood, CA). "They’re very specific, and you only pay for what you need."
Common mistakes, Dwyer notes, may include failing to sign a perpetual license for a popular commercial that winds up being evergreen, meaning the license has to be renegotiated each year the spot stays on the air. News and magazine shows may try to claim exemptions from licensing for "ephemeral use," a legal concept that Dwyer says really only applies to live news programming.
Licensing practices may vary from vendor to vendor. Stock footage library FootageBank ( Venice, CA) considers theatrical and Internet to be additional uses, and therefore charges extra for a TV spot that will also be shown in movie houses. But FootageBank’s standard network television release includes cable usage. "We’re right in the middle on pricing, but there is a little bit of wiggle room from one house to another, and the range of rights granted is probably attached to that," FootageBank President Paula Lumbard says.
Of course, if you have substantial financial resources, the solution is easy: "A lot of studios will just clear everything," Dwyer says. "They’re so paranoid about being sued."
"We’ll ask a lot of questions, not to pry, but to get them the best deal," says Joel Goodman, co-founder of MusicBox ( Calabasas, CA). For instance, if you want to use six tracks from a library, you’re probably better off buying a production blanket rather than a needle-drop license.
And it may be worthwhile keeping some no-fuss royalty-free tracks on hand. "Rights-managed content is obviously more expensive, and a slower process," argues Adam Roe, founder of royalty-free footage provider Reelhouse, a wholly owned subsidiary of graphic design firm Lunchbox. "Royalty-free is yours, and you use it however you want and as many times as you want."
2. Respect Trademarks
Just because you have access to a stock shot of, for example, the famous Hollywood sign, you’re not in the clear. Increasingly, trademark issues come into play with images of buildings or other landmarks. "You’re going to need permission from the copyright holder of that trademark," explains FootageBank’s Lumbard. "The Hollywood sign, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the New York Stock Exchange are now trademarked. These things are more complicated than they were a few years ago."
FootageBank labels shots according to whether or not they have a property release, meaning that the company has pre-negotiated trademark rights on behalf of users. "We have a whole aerial show on Ireland, and some of those famous landmarks are trademarked and copyrighted, and that had to be cleared up," she says. "A big chunk of what we do is in houses and restaurants and stores. We make sure we go out and get those property releases, and if we don’t have them, we say so."
3. Browse Online, Download or Get the Whole Thing on a Hard Disk
If you use a lot of library music, you may have stacks and stacks of CDs on hand, licensing cuts on a needle-drop basis. But the industry’s reliance on physical media is slowly dwindling. Internet delivery is certainly feasible, especially for music files, but connecting and downloading many tracks to sample in your project can still be a tedious, time-consuming process. That’s why more and more music libraries are offering the whole shebang on a hard disk for easy access. Music can be imported directly into Avid editors, Final Cut Pro, Pro Tools and other systems; editors license only the tracks they decide to use.
When asked whether customers are interested in music files that go beyond CD quality, DeWolfe Music Executive VP Richard Jankovich reports that exactly the opposite is happening- producers are interested in lower-quality files, simply because they’re smaller. "I have major network clients who have an MP3 hard drive, and they go to broadcast with those files," Jankovich says. "The only people who really insist on the highest quality are film clients and high-grade broadcast clients. But often times I get an ad agency who says MP3s are fine." It’s fundamentally a question of price- the DeWolfe Music Library, for instance, is available in 128 kbps MP3 format on a 40 GB drive, in 320 kbps MP3s on a 100 GB drive, or in uncompressed WAV format on a much more expensive 500 GB drive.
At FootageBank, which specializes in HD video content, nine out of 10 orders are still delivered on HDCAM tapes because of size issues. "Each frame is a [separate] file," says Lumbard. "If you’ve got a 20-second shot at 1080i, you’re talking about a lot of files. We explain that our lab will encode these files and send them to the FTP site, but it can take hours. And then their own site may not be large enough to accept the file. So we ask,Ã¢Â€Â˜Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you don’t just want an HDCAM right now?’"
If online delivery is still a problem for video, online browsing is coming into its own. BBC Motion Gallery just hooked up with Apple to begin offering more efficient QuickTime 7 clips at full PAL or NTSC resolution. But remember that deep libraries like the Beeb, which has more than a million hours of footage in its vault, are still working to keyword their collections, so a well-timed phone call can pay dividends.
4. Stay Current
There will always be a call for period music, but nothing will ring a false note in your contemporary production like a sound that’s just a year or two out of date. Jankovich recently got a request for "downtempo" music. When he asked why, the response came that downtempo music was "what the kids are listening to." Jankovich averted disaster: "I said,Ã¢Â€Â˜Downtempo is more of a late 1990s/early 2000s style. If you want more hip and now, we should steer you toward other types of music.’"
Jazzy or orchestral music may have a longer shelf life, but it’s easy to embarrass yourself if your production relies on slightly stale rock or hip-hop styles. "Our contemporary music is nothing like it was five years ago," vows Jankovich, who works in New York for London -based DeWolfe. "Music trends tend to hit England right before they hit America, so we get to jump the gun a little bit. We get new styles and new sounds- at least our version of them- just as they hit the shores here in the States."
At MusicBox, co-founder Joel Goodman assures clients that the oldest track in the library is just three and a half years old, assuring some degree of freshness. "You’re not getting some stale track we wrote in 1980- and I think that does happen," he says. "Unfortunately, people in broadcast can be limited by the deals their network already has in place from previous years. And other people can just get used to dealing with the same type of tracks from year to year. They will lean on their favorites."
5. Consider the Value of Original Scoring
"Composers have been scared for years that libraries are going to usurp them," says Joel Goodman of MusicBox. "But people use libraries because of time concerns, or budget concerns. On occasion, maybe they just don’t want to deal with a composer." But sometimes, Goodman says, producers find a show will just play better with some original music.
MusicBox worked with HBO on Making the Cut: The Road to Pebble Beach, a golf documentary featuring Ray Romano and Kevin James that aired earlier this summer. MusicBox had supplied some library tracks for the show, but as it neared completion, Goodman says, the producers decided they wanted to do something to raise the apparent production values. "So we supplied about 35 minutes of original music," says Goodman. "We kept a couple of tracks from the library, but 95 percent of the music is an original score."
6. Give Your Vendor Enough Time to Help You
"It’s important for customers to know their timeline," says Jan Ross of BBC Motion Gallery. "If they need something really quick, our Web site will give them the solution the fastest. But if the air date is down the road, we can go into our archives and dig deeper. And if we can brainstorm in the conceptual stage, we can save money for the production company or agency customer."
"Music is always the last thing you think of," says Jankovich. "That’s the nature of the business. Productions would benefit from more time spent selecting music, but this is the real world. A typical ad agency production comes together from concept to air date in about a month."
7. Investigate Your HD Options
"One of the misperceptions is that HD costs more to use, and that’s not true," says Lumbard. "But there is still a lack of clear understanding of certain issues. Does 1080i convert to 24p? Quite nicely. Does it go back the other way? Not as well. If you’re a standard show, do you want a 4×3 anamorphic element or a center-cropped element? Anamorphic gives you more options. It’s a whole new language."
The industry’s 35mm film libraries are slowly being converted to HD, so the amount of content available is growing, and it tends to work very well in a project even when the final deliverable is SD. But don’t expect to find a lot of 5.1-channel library music to complement your HD programming. "I can count on one hand the requests we’ve gotten for 5.1 surround sound," says Jankovich.
8. Use Library Music to Supplement Licensed Hits
"There have definitely been more music searches for both independent and Hollywood films, and that has to do with music supervisors having their budgets slashed," notes Jankovich, who says DeWolfe’s new Beats & Rhymes library was a specific attempt to create credible hip-hop tracks for that kind of application. "They can’t license 25 pop songs, but they can license 10 and fill in the rest [with stock]."