Fair Terms/Pitfalls? – Composer – Feature length Documentary

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    Hi everyone.

    I’ve just completed scoring my first feature documentary.
    I’ve been a documentary film editor for almost 20 years so I’m in a weird position of being a newbie in a familiar world.

    I begged for the chance to let me edit AND compose for this so I’m happy to forgo upfront payment this time but I really don’t know what pitfalls to looks out for contract wise…
    I’d like to be able to re-use/ re-sell some tracks down the line..
    If the film does well, I’d like to earn royalties…
    There really is some potential for the film to have success on streaming platforms etc..

    I’d really appreciate your advice.

    Thanks, Gavin Coleman

    Art Munson

    but I really don’t know what pitfalls to looks out for contract wise…

    Just don’t give the music to them exclusively, non-exclusive only.


    As Art mentioned, if you want control later, you need to retain ownership of the masters and your publishing. This is generally NOT normal for film composer contracts as the production company wants complete ownership so that they can SELL the film to a distributor, streamer (Netflix), etc.. That said, it sounds like they didn’t pay you, so all bets are off. You actually should have negotiated the terms BEFORE you ever wrote a note. Now, you will probably be forced to take what they decide to give you or risk your relationship with them.

    I’d suggest you 1.) re-title the cues, 2.) give them 100% publishing of the cues in the film, and 3.) retain the master rights for yourself for future uses (this is going to be the tricky item, and may very well preclude them from ever selling / assigning the film down the line to a 3rd party, as they may not even know who may want it and what their terms may be…)

    Best of luck! Next time, get it in writing out front.



    Thanks so much for the replies and info.
    It’s much appreciated.

    I realize that the current standard for U.S. based productions is for the productions to ‘demand’ a buy out of both master/publishing.

    If I retitle those cues for this film and negotiate a price that I’m happy with to give them carte blanche to use them for this film.

    If I later use a different version of one of those cues for something else, how likely am I to get sued for ‘ripping off’ my own former track?

    Does that make sense?

    Thanks again for your time and advice.

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