You write music for TV? Expect to get ripped off!

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of

Tuesday December 26, 2006

Did you know that TV production companies operate a scam dedicated to paying composers less for their work than they are due? And as a composer you have a choice - accept their unfair terms, or get blacklisted. "You'll never work again in this town."

The way it works is this. Firstly, you need to know that composers are entitled to payments in respect of three copyrights in their work: The performing right and mechanical right in the music, and an additional copyright in the recording.

Firstly the recording. Composers are increasingly asked to provide finished recordings. Are they paid for these recordings? No. So the production company saves expensive studio time. Actually, this is fair since for a long time composers have offered 'packages' that include musician hire and studio time, presenting the production company with their finished output.

But in the other two rights there is a problem. Traditionally, a composer would sign with a publisher who would promote their works. If a production company was interested, then they would pay for the mechanical right to synchronize the music with their images. This would be a once-only payment and would probably be exclusive, meaning that the composer could not use the music elsewhere. The composer and the publisher would share the revenue from this according to the split in the publishing deal.

Then when the program is broadcast, the publisher would receive royalties from the use of the performing right. Once again this income was shared with the composer.

But now, TV production companies do the dirty in two ways...

Clearly, composers are being exploited unfairly. But since there are so many people trying to get this kind of work, they have to agree or someone else will get the job.

Thankfully, at least in the UK, the Office of Fair Trading is about to investigate this practice. The British Academy of Songwriters and Composers, together with the Musicians' Union, are gathering evidence to submit a detailed complaint.

If you are a composer for TV in the UK and have suffered from this unfair practice, further information is available on the British Academy's website

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