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Music Nomad Article: How to License your music for Sports Broadcasts

Music Licensing for Sports Broadcasts

By Mike Derouin- Lead Producer NFL Network

From the dramatic “Show Open” that gets you hyped up for the big game, to the emotional pre-game show “feature”, to the high energy “bumps” taking you to and bringing you back from break, all the way to the post game “rollout” with the best moments from the game or season, music is an important part of every sports program.  Sports programs are not all that different from TV in general, in that we are always looking for good new music to enhance our programs and in the ways we go about acquiring it.  

As a producer there are three primary options: License popular commercial music, have a composer write an original score and to use something from a library of production. 

Licensing Commercial Music

Over the last few years I’ve licensed everything from U2 to Coldplay to Jay-Z to Explosions in the Sky to film composers like Hans Zimmer and James Horner.  Producers, hear things they love and want on their shows and then have music directors reach out to the labels to see if they are interested and at what price. Prices vary depending on a several factors, but an average price for about a minute of a well known cut of music used a handful of times over the course of an event is around $5000.  That’s ballpark, we’ve occasionally paid more for but we more often go less and give some sort of promotional consideration. 

And it’s not always the producers doing the asking, labels and artists want us to use their stuff. It’s a great way for them to get heard and/or promote new releases. For example, we just finished up the NFL Draft and our music director, Christine Black (who also handles NFL Films and NFL.com) reached out to some labels in the weeks leading up to the draft and cleared some cool stuff at a great rate. So all draft week we were running new cuts from B.o.B, Yelawolf, J.Cole, Hit the Lights, and P.O.D.

The best way to get your music licensed is to have a big hit and have people come after you. But it also pays to have a label or manager with connections to music directors who can get your music in front of producers.  For the independent artist this can be tough, people offer their music gratis all the time and it’s generally not that good which makes decision makers less likely to listen to music from artists they are not familiar with.  But don’t let that stop you, there’s a thirst for good new music on all TV shows.

Composing Original Music 

This is much bigger in scripted television but we do a fair amount for sports as well. Every show needs a theme and usually someone scores it. The last few years we have also seen tremendous growth in sports documentaries and most of these use new original music.  We have an amazing composer named David Robidoux based out of NFL Films in New Jersey who has a stack of Sports Emmy’s for his work composing music for football films and other documentaries for HBO and NFL Network.  He also scores most of the themes for our studio shows and Thursday Night Football.  I know from directing longer form features and documentaries that it’s hard to find the right tone for your project and you also want something fresh and new to make it stand out. Working closely with a composer presents the opportunity to show them your footage, sample different styles and find the right tone sentiment for your work.  Executives like this option a lot as well because even though it may have an initial higher price tag the production company usually own the rights and can use it as often as they like, worldwide in perpetuity.

This is usually the turf of musicians with a more traditional music background, however last year we saw Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails win an Oscar for his work with Atticus Ross on the soundtrack for “The Social Network”.  Another interesting example is the film version of “Friday Night Lights” where director Peter Berg and his team rejected the traditional the grand orchestral score used in every other sports film and went with existing material from the indie rock instrumental band “Explosion in the Sky.”

If this is a good fit for you I recommend you get to know some up and coming  film makers ( South by southwest has a film festival as well) or contact production companies and let them know why your skill in composing music would be a great fit for their upcoming projects.

Production Music

Production music, also known as “needle drop music” is far and away the largest music resource used by production personnel.  By production music I’m referring to companies that have large libraries (tens of thousands of cuts) of music in all genres. Production companies typically have existing deals in place with multiple companies that typically allow them to use their music anytime they want and as much as they want over the course of a contract.  This is BIG business; some of the larger companies like Killer Tracks, and APM have deals with just about every production company in the business. There are also some smaller companies that provide some great options as well. One of the newer ones I like a lot is Jingle Punks, they have a great search engine where you type in popular commercial artists and they take you to similar sounding music, have one of their composers score something original and last season they hooked me up with a DJ who owned his own beats for a live show.

While you can’t beat the large selection, convenience and price, the knock I hear constantly from producers is that all the music in these libraries all sounds the same, the quality isn’t very good and it’s tough to find something good that hasn’t been over-used. I generally agree with that sentiment. A few old friends in the business refer to searching for production music as “mining for good beats” By that we mean you have to go through a lot of coal to find some gems. 

There are plenty of opportunities here for good musicians. While it may not be the creative decision you had in mind there’s money to be made selling your music or composing new music under contract with one of these production music companies.

Good Luck and I hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to hit me up on twitter @mikederouin.