Many GANG members might not have experience in the music or film/tv industry where performance rights represent a significant revenue stream for composers/songwriters. Could you first give a quick, general description of what performance rights are, and where the payments come from?
US Copyright Law provides for the right of composers and publishers of music to be compensated when their music is performed publicly. ASCAP was established as a membership organization in 1914 by a group of composers and publishers to pursue the business of licensing public performances of their music and the distribution of royalties to members whose music was performed. The first licenses covered live performances at concert halls, bars and restaurants and then grew to cover performances on radio, television, cable and most recently, Internet and wireless networks. As more entertainment choices move to online and interactive media, a larger portion of our revenues will be generated by these types of performances.
Music in video games that is transmitted to users is becoming an increasingly important source of licensing for ASCAP members, as more and more games are made available on the Internet and wireless networks. Musical scores from games are also increasingly being performed in film and television as well as live concerts. It is important to understand that the publisher of the music is not responsible for paying the writer the performance royalties. The royalties are generated from the licenses paid by broadcasters, online content providers, International PROs and other sources. In fact, game publishers who have registered their works with ASCAP have already seen royalties from all of these sources and I am sure this will increase greatly over the next few years.
We know the various ways that performance rights organizations have found ways to track airplay, or cue sheets etc, is there a method in place now (or proposed) for tracking music within games?
We are working with a group of composers and game industry professionals from GANG on establishing a standardized format for reporting music in games. Currently, we are requesting that composers register their music from the games using our online registration system. If you are the sole composer, you can register the entire score from the game as one piece. If there are multiple composers and songwriters, then we ask that you register each track separately.
Ultimately, we anticipate that a cue sheet format that lists all the tracks in the game with the different writers and publishers in one document will be adopted. Cue sheets have been used very effectively to report the music information for other audio-visual media, such as film and television programs. The current cue sheet format may need to be modified for use in video games, and other interactive products, so that we can account for the fact that the game is not experienced in a linear or even similar sequence from one user to another. Here again we’re working with GANG on solutions to this challenge.
And to follow up with that question, is there a different method depending on the game platform? (console games, vs. iPhone games vs. PC games vs. DLC vs. Facebook)
I don’t see a reason, at this juncture, for different reporting formats based on game platform. Nevertheless, it is being examined by the advisory group.
What sort of verification needs to take place from the game publisher to see that a song/composition gets registered with ASCAP?
It is the music publisher’s primary responsibility to ensure that music in their catalog is registered with the relevant performing rights organizations (PROs). The publisher of a video game, hiring composers to write music for their game through a work for hire agreement, usually retains all of the rights associated with the music in its game, including publishing rights. Thus, the game publisher is also the music publisher and, as such, not only shares in the royalty stream but bears the responsibility of securing their performance rights. ASCAP will provide all necessary instruction on this process. They first need to join the appropriate PRO as a publisher member. All of the large video game publishers are already members of both ASCAP and BMI and most have already started registering works.
I imagine going to the game industry to explain what you do, and how they need to be a part of performance rights (like the traditional media has) is a tough hill to climb. Could you describe the process of reaching out to the gaming industry and the attempts to get them on board?
I was interested in video games very early on and still enjoy playing them when I have the time. About eight or nine years ago, I talked my boss at the time in to letting me attend the Game Developers Conference when it was still in San Jose. It was mostly an exploratory adventure and I was not sure what I would find. At the time, there was still a pretty stark divide between the video game industry and the film and television industry. You really had “video game composers” as a distinct group from film and television composers. That divide has since largely gone away and I think most composers recognize themselves as “media composers”. The audio executives at the video game companies were also a distinct group of people and only a few of them had any experience with the traditional entertainment industries (music, film and television).
Alas, I think I was viewed as somewhat of an alien until Tommy Tallarico, Jack Wall and other composers associated with GANG took me under their wing and started introducing me to some key players in the industry. With their help, I was able to gradually build a network of video game industry professionals that I have been actively educating in performing rights and music publishing. I moderated several panels and participated in roundtables over the years at the GDC which allowed me to expand my audience. Attorney Jim Charne has also been a wonderful ally and I encourage composers to attend his panels and roundtables. Jim has been great because he is so well-versed in both music and video game contracts and business practices. Through all of our efforts, there are now a good number of video game professionals who understand these rights and the word is spreading out virally. I have been able to assemble a core group of composers and audio execs that are passionate in advocating for the rights of composers to receive performance royalties in their agreements, essentially adopting the same model that has been in place for so many years in the film and television industry.
We have had meetings at the ASCAP offices on educating the industry at large on the value of music rights and are busy incorporating the strategies that we have developed. When you examine the video game and film/TV industries, the business relationships for composers in the video game world are going through a similar evolution as occurred in film and TV, just at a much more rapid pace. In the early days of film and television, most of the composers were employees of the studio system, working on the lot in the “bungalows.” Over time, this evolved in to a system where now all the composers work as independent contractors on a “work for hire” basis. While there are still some video game companies that employ composers as full time employees, there is a growing trend to hire freelance composers on a “work for hire” basis. Accordingly, the composer agreement for such video games now often looks very much like a composer agreement for a film and television program. Most importantly from an ASCAP perspective, these agreements provide for composers to retain their right to receive performance royalties. One of the key messages that I have conveyed to video game composers and the executives that hire them is that the company can still own 100% of the music while allowing the composer the right to receive the writer share of the performance royalties.
This is true, by the way, whether you are an employee of the company or working as an independent contractor. In fact, doing so generates additional potential income for the company because they can then register their works with ASCAP and receive the publisher share of the royalties. This partnership between writer and publisher has been very productive for the film and television studios because it has allowed both parties to participate in the income stream generated when their programs are broadcast. Most of the major video game companies are waking up to the realization that the music created for their games is a valuable asset that should be paid attention to. I think this is becoming increasingly obvious as we are now actively licensing and paying on performances of video game music. My job gets easier every year!
If you haven’t already, could you describe the benefits of getting involved with ASCAP?
Apart from being eligible to receive royalties from us, ASCAP offers a wealth of educational and career development services. I encourage any composer looking at joining a PRO to review the information we have available on our website thoroughly and to contact one of our offices if you have any questions.
Are there any estimates as to how many royalties are collected for writers that never get distributed because the writers don’t understand how performance rights are setup to work (or are too involved in other things to register their work)?
I don’t know what that number might be because we pay out all the money we collect. The money that would have been paid for performances that are not eligible for payment, either because the composer is unaffiliated or did not register the work, is added to the value of all the performances that are compensable. So, those video game companies who choose either not to affiliate or to register their work are just giving their potential income to those who choose to participate. Composer Brian Schmidt, founder of GameSoundCon and a good friend will be discussing this in greater detail to an audience of business executives at this year’s GDC. I hope his panel is well attended.
Can you recommend any other sources where members can go get more information (text or video etc) on performance rights?
Apart from the ASCAP website, which has a lot of information, I am working with my advisory group of composers and video game executives to produce an educational video focused specifically on performance rights for video games which we plan to distribute later this year. We will be encouraging people to share it with everyone in the industry.
Special thanks to ASCAP – http://ascap.com
Interview written/edited by Dren McDOnald exclusively for audiogang.org