Music and Royalties: We Are Starving Ourselves (Part 3 of 4)

Music within Television and Film


Within the entertainment industry, music plays a vital role, along with television and movies. These industries cross-pollenate with each other to create a web of highly controlled media products. Control, in this sense, is another word for money. For example, it is highly advantageous for a record label to negotiate a song into a television studio’s episode. The record label is able to work with a reputable entity that pays well and provides an additional outlet of publicity for the song. The Weeknd, one of today’s most popular groups, was able to catapult themselves into global stardom with their inclusion on the soundtrack of the movie 50 Shades of Grey. Although many have mixed feelings about the movie, its success is certain after making $81.7 million in the first three days of release.1 The studio released The Weeknd’s single “Earned It” before the movie, which helped garner publicity and generate excitement about the movie. However, this type of success is rare at best, with most movie projects struggling in an over-saturated market.


Both television and film have been affected by the digital age, with some companies resorting to selling streaming rights for their products at a reduced price. Internet piracy and leaked footage have also taken their toll on industry giants. In turn, this negatively affects the studio’s budget for any given television series or movie. The publicity gained from inclusion in a television series or movie is no longer accompanied by a guaranteed large payday for artists. Even when a song lands a coveted feature spot in television or film, the preverbal “slice of pie” is cut up several more times. A quote by John Mackey sums up the drastic inequality that causes dissonance within music business entities. “I’ll say that again. If you are a published composer, you keep 10% of the list price on a set of music. When I told this to somebody in Hollywood once, the reaction was, “wait, that’s backwards. The agent gets 10%; you get 90%.” Not in music publishing. A very established composer might get a great deal and see 12% or maybe even 15%, but that’s unusual.”2 He goes on to explain how exactly the money is split between the publisher, seller and artist. “Granted, the publisher doesn’t get all of the other 90%. The music store keeps 40-50% of it. But the fact is that if you publish a piece through a standard publisher and the retail price is $10, the music store gets $5, the publisher gets $4, and the composer receives
$1. But if you’re self published and you sell the sheet music directly (rather than through a music store), you get the full $10. Even if you sell it through a music store, you’ll see $5, which even by my music-school-level math education, is better than $1.”5 These types of facts and figures explain why many people feel that the music business fails to accurately reward each entity with the appropriate compensation percentage.


Lang, Brent. “Box Office: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Explodes With Record-Breaking $81.7 Million.”

2 Mackey, John. “Advice For the Emerging Composer: Publishing, With Guest Blogger John Mackey.”

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