Particular questions about video game music licensing.

Discussion in 'Working in the Industry' started by thevisi0nary, Oct 8, 2018.

  1. thevisi0nary

    thevisi0nary Active Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    I have been doing a ton of research on this topic, and while there is a lot of information online there are some situations that I have seen whichcovered. It's also important to mention that my questions (in greater part) are referring to the indie level game industry. I know that things work differently with AAA developers.

    Most of what I have read about game music revolves around the work for hire model, but I have seen certain examples that make this confusing to me. Perhaps I am misunderstanding something fundamental about music copyright. I just do not want to make the wrong decision as I begin talking to anyone who is interested in hiring me.

    I've learned that game music does not function on a royalty basis the movies do, which I knew for the most part. On the work for hire basis, my assumption is that you lose all access to host the songs (essentially as if they were just now someone elses songs) on things like youtube, etc. I am also wondering how this works for things like a sound track? Do royalties not apply to people purchasing the track outside of the game? I see composers for very popular indie titles sometimes hosting the songs on their own youtube channel / bandcamp / etc. Is this standard for indie titles or something specifically worked out in a contract? The online info on game music licensing does not really cover the area of soundtracks.

    Knowing that there are a ton of different examples I guess I am just concerned with knowing what the best route to take is.
  2. Desire Inspires

    Desire Inspires To the stars through desire....

    Jul 30, 2016
    Miami Beach
    If you made music for a video game, you can use the music for your YouTube or SoundCloud. You just can’t sell it.

    I know some people are going to say “read the contract” or “once you hand over your music to the company, you have no rights to it”. Come on. The creator of the work can’t even post up the music for display purposes only?

    Hell, other people copy game music and post it up all the time. The game companies aren’t cracking down and suing everybody. If anything they just monetize the videos and make money from them, which makes sense.

    So if you sell the rights to your music to a video game company, make sure to get paid a lot upfront. You will not make anything else. And put the music up online for demo purposes only. You can’t try to make extra money since you sold it. But you should be able to use the music to advertise what your capabilities are.

    In summary: just post the music up. If the company does ask you to take it down, then do it. But most likely it will not even be a big situation like that.
  3. Jaap

    Jaap Yes, that's an alto flute

    Ignore Desire Inspires advice to be honest.

    Always better safe then sorry and check with company you are working with. Some companies are completely fine with that you host the music on soundcloud or youtube (but maybe you cant monetize it), but always ask before doing anything. This makes it much more likely that you will be remembered and reffered in a good way. These kind of questions are also good to ask before you enter a contract. I never had that these kind of questions where out of order.
    MartinH. likes this.
  4. zolhof

    zolhof Active Member

    Jun 27, 2014
    Silent Hill
    I don't know how other platforms work, but Youtube is pretty forgiving these days. 99% of the time, when you are sucked by the Content ID black hole, you will receive the following message:

    A copyright owner using Content ID claimed some material in your video.
    This is just a heads up
    Don't worry. You're not in trouble and your account standing is not affected by this. There are either ads running on your video, with the revenue going to the copyright owner, or the copyright owner is receiving stats about your video's view.

    What's next?
    If there are no problems, you don't need to take any action. You don't need to delete your video.
    If something went wrong and the copyright owner or our system made a mistake, we have a dispute process. Only use it if you're confident you have the rights to use all the content in your video.

    As you can see, nothing to worry about. Worst case scenario, you will get a copyright takedown/strike, which sucks and usually happens with big artists. In your case, I'd check with the developer first, and since we're talking about indie devs, the copyright owner will most likely claim the content and monetize your video. In some cases, you even get paid by Youtube - peanuts, but paid nonetheless.
    Desire Inspires likes this.
  5. Desire Inspires

    Desire Inspires To the stars through desire....

    Jul 30, 2016
    Miami Beach

    Bingo, we have a winner!

    LMFAO @ these walk-on-eggshells composers. So much fear over things so simple. Do they even know what “fair use” is?

    All is good, my friends.
  6. OP

    thevisi0nary Active Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Thanks for the replies. I know that things like youtube are usually unforgiving, but ultimately I would rather have an objectively legal ground to stand on so I know what is exactly within my control.

    The thing that is mainly causing me confusion is seeing how composers for indie games are able to sell their songs through bandcamp and also host on their youtube channel. These aren't small budget indie games either but titles that are endorsed by Nintendo on the switch. I am wondering how this factors into the "work for hire" model of video game music licensing.

    Some examples -

    The soundtrack hosted by the composer:
    Bandcamp V

    Amazon V


    The soundtrack hosted by the composer:
    Bandcamp V
  7. Jaap

    Jaap Yes, that's an alto flute

    It could be that they made an arrangement with the company they worked for and maybe it wasnt a work for hire setting when they did that job. Often indie companies don't have much money to spend and composers make all kinds of arrangements to make sure they get some kind of compensation. This could be that indeed a soundtrack can be sold in combi with a percentage of the revenue or that that they license it in some form etc.
    MartinH. likes this.
  8. MatFluor

    MatFluor Senior Member

    Jan 11, 2017
    It depends on your contract. Some companies want to have the full thing under their control. I always put a clause in to use it in my portfolio - and I personally only do that. YouTube isn't my portfolio in this case.

    It's not about "walking on eggshells", it's about having a professional attitude. When I write a fully paid soundtrack, I take care of these tracks as game-specific things. So if I post it on youtube, the game it's used in is prominent (artwork and links etc), not simple generic background and somewhere in the description "by the way, it's used in this and this game". That way I'm all good and I make some exposure for the video game as well.

    As said, some developers specifically don't want that. Since it's often a close collaboration, it doesn't hurt to ask. And put such things in your contract template, so you don't have to ask every time, because it's written down that you can use it like this (if you do work-for-hire), if it's not work for hire, you only grant a license to the dev anyway, meaning you can do what you want.

    Royalties don't exist for video games, correct. That's why prices for composition are very high since it's a one-time money maker (if exclusive). On that note - exclusive means you can't sell the track to other *projects*, but if you sell the soundtrack, that's not against the clause at all. If the dev sells the soundtrack, make clear what your cut of the profits is. And as far as I know, no royalties there as well (if e.g. sold over steam - but I am really not sure of steam pays something or not)
  9. wst3

    wst3 my office these days

    Apr 2, 2010
    Pottstown, PA
    Some excellent advice here!

    I'll only underscore that it is vital that you include a clause that allows you to use the work in your portfolio (do not ask me how I figured this out<G>!). Be as specirfic as you like, but in general it is probably wise to keep it general.

    The worst case is that they ask to strike the clause - and you are under no obligation to do so of course - either way both sides know what is expected.
  10. JohnG

    JohnG Senior Member

    Nov 13, 2007
    Common practice is also part of the law.

    A work for hire contract, to take an example, is totally enveloping and theoretically means you’d need permission to copy or transmit it. Nevertheless, it is common for composers to make copies of that work to send to new clients, or have agents send, to seek new jobs.

    It’s also common practice for composers to host music they composed on their home pages.

    Certainly you could try to incorporate clauses granting permission for such actions, but that conspicuously raises the issue and you might not like the answer . Sometimes, the less said, the better. Possibly, it’s preferable to use your negotiating on something more important.

    Besides, if we’re talking about legal repercussions, it’s worth wondering what the damages might be if you just do it? It’s hard for me to picture that they would do anything beyond telling you to take “their” music off your site.

    And even if you refuse, will they be able to seize your house and piano? I don’t know but seems doubtful.

    I’ve seen one agreement that explicitly forbade posting. That’s different, I’d say, since it’s specific.
    Desire Inspires likes this.
  11. Henu

    Henu Senior Member

    Nov 17, 2017
    You can also always try to licence it very cheap for "that particular use only (including marketing)" and keep all the other rights yourself. I've done some music for a couple of times to clients using that method: it's basically cheap custom- made tailored music for them, and I have a ready-to-sell track(s) for another project in case I want to.
    MartinH. likes this.

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