End ‘pay to play’ culture in media music, demands BASCA CEO

basca ceo vick bain

Production companies should end the ‘pay to play’ practice where they demand a publishing share of composers’ music in exchange for a sync, says Vick Bain, chief executive of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA).

In a statement yesterday (29 May), Bain (pictured above) and BASCA’s Media Committee called out commissioners of TV programs, including production companies, which take ‘all of the publishing’ share from songwriters and composers in exchange for placing their work.

‘This commissioning policy puts the composer in the invidious position of working for nothing and receiving no back end compensation if the production happens not to be successful,’ Bain said.

‘Any working composer will inevitably have costs to cover, not only for their own time, but also for studios, session musicians, equipment, mixing, production and so on.  Effectively one is creating a “pay-to-play” scenario for such a ‘composer-investor’, one that could well lead to such practitioners getting into financial difficulties. It is unsustainable.’

In the UK, composers have 50 percent of their performing right protected by copyright law, with the share often subject to an agreement with PRS for Music or other collecting society, to protect writers from others taking this portion and to collect royalties on the writers’ behalf.

This leaves a remaining 50 percent, which can be assigned by the writer to an existing publisher. However, when there is no publisher involved, the share is sometimes considered up for grabs by commissioners and production companies.

‘BASCA strongly disapproves of this forced 50 percent performance royalty assignment (and frequently 100 percent mechanical royalties too) as a condition of a composer accepting a job, but we have evidence there is now an increasingly common practice of asking TV composers to work with no upfront commissioning fee either,’ Bain continued.

‘We think it worth making clear that when they take publishing rights, any production company is already getting original music written, produced and delivered effectively free of charge, in that any commissioning fee paid to the composer will eventually be recouped by the appropriation of their performing and mechanical royalties; in effect, any fee is merely an advance.

‘To expect a writer not only to part with a great portion of their potential royalty earnings but in addition supply bespoke, finished music for no fee places undue pressure on the working composer.’