Notes on Music Licensing from Film-Maker, Colin McIvor

Colin McIvor is an independent film-maker based in Downpatrick. He prioritizes the use of local music and artists in his productions and has created TV and online ads for companies such as Sony Playstation, Lucozade, Northern Bank, Easyjet and has worked with artists such as Sinead O’Connor and Larry Mullen, Jr.

You can view Colin’s work at his Vimeo page or on YouTube

• Most commercial scripts that I’d receive from advertising agencies the audio column on the script generally say the following – ‘generic upbeat music’.

• Usually the agencies locally don’t put a huge amount of thinking into the music on a commercial but focus on the ‘message’ of the ad.

• At the point where I enter I am asked to do a ‘director’s treatment’ where I outline usually on a single A4 broken into paragraphs how I will approach the commercial. This is where I begin to plant the seed of a particular type of music into the ad agency’s brain.

• One thing to remember before anything else is that ALL ad agencies are heart-scared of losing their client no matter how small! They will do nothing that they might consider will be at odds with their client’s profile.

• At the treatment stage also I am beginning to think of music more specifically. As you know I am very keen to use local artist’s work for a number of reasons; primarily uniqueness and the fear of the dreaded ‘library CDs’ (elevator music!) but also cost-wise.

• When I get the gig I am usually asked to do storyboards – drawing out the various scenes to give the agency a sense of composition and general flow of my vision. At this stage I am now very much planting the seed of music deeper. However, there is always a certain amount of danger at this stage because if I’m saying to and playing an agency something like Jose Gonzalez ‘heartbeats’ I need to be damn sure that I can deliver that type of music for the anticipated price.

• Unless a track has already been chosen and the ad has been written ‘around’ the lyrics the agency has an expectation to pay for a library track. I can’t be certain but its usually in and around £500.

• This is NOT always the case though as the budget sometimes allows £200 maximum which in that case they usually ask the in-house sound mixer to lash something out which is usually heartless and not even as good as a library track, and that’s saying something!

• If I get the go ahead to go looking for a track locally I would probably go looking on the NIMIC website. I also have quite a number of local artist’s CDs which I’d go through.

• Here’s the important bit which sometimes can be at odds with the artist’s plan. Because I am looking for a track that has not specifically been commissioned I quite often am looking for a suitable melody sometimes ignoring the lyrics. Unless the lyrics are relevant to the ‘message’ of the commercial the track will immediately frighten off the agency no matter how hard you point them at the melody.

• 9 times out of 10 the lyrics will either need changed or taken out entirely. You’ve got to remember that ad agencies and post production houses receive anything up to 10 library cds a month from which they have the choice of a piece of music with or without lyrics and with various elements stripped out and of different lengths 30secs, 40secs and 60secs. My point is if local artist want to compete this must be willing to use their music in different ways.

• The ideal scenario for me is that I find a local artist track. I speak to the artist, ideally I send him a rough cut of the commercial (unlikely though as the deadlines for delivery don’t allow for any time to send off rough cuts) the artist then sends me 3 versions of the same track – 1 full with lyrics, 1 minus lyrics and 1 with certain instruments stripped back or boosted.


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