How Much Do Artists Get Paid for Songs in Movies

Films have always been an interest of mine, it’s known that film-making costs have increased in recent years, the average cost to produce a film from start to finish (including marketing) exceeds the 80 million mark. A film gets financed in different ways and there are even more people that need to get paid, but what we are interested in today is, how much do artists get paid for songs and movies, the answer to that is:

The payment artist receives range between $5.000 and $500.000 depending on factors such as the total budget of the film, the type of contract, the duration and how important the song is for the movie. Consider also the percentage of royalties such as performance, sync and mechanical royalties.

If you are an artist or a music producer and if you want to get the best deal knowing exactly how much money your song can make in a movie then there are a few things you must understand, also later on, I explain the different types of royalties you must know about.

Three Categories Types of Motion Picture Music

There are three basic categories of motion picture music:

1) Pre-Existing Original Songs and Compositions

these are songs that were recorded and released by an artist or band and later on they were featured in a film.


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2) Underscore

Underscores are original compositions written for specific scenes. Underscore is the music you hear in the background, under a dialogue, in romantic scenes and through various parts throughout the picture.

There are three determining factors that influence the amount of money the music company is willing to invest in underscores, these are:

  1. The size of the budget
  2. the composer’s knowledge
  3. the composer’s track record (past successes)

Composing Fees Will Vary According To:

  1. The size of the orchestra that’s needed,
  2. If the film is intended for large distribution,
  3. If the film’s producer is a major studio or not,
  4. The past success of the composer, and the total music budget.

Services That May Be Included in Your Contract

  1. arrangement of the score
  2. edit the recording
  3. supervise the production process
  4. conducting the orchestra
  5. mix and master the final result.

Usually, composers are presented with a short time frame to complete the creation and recording of the film’s score. Usually, this time frame is between 1 and 3 months, often, the studio will bring in the composer after the film has been shot and edited.

Demanding Exclusivity

the majority of underscore composer contracts demand of the composer devote their full attention and time for as long they are working on their film, sometimes this is not demanded, but they do insist that the composer makes this job is their priority.

Are Commute and Expenses Being Paid?

If the studio wants to hire you and you live out of town they may offer to pay you a weekly, or monthly fee covering all your accommodation tickets and expenses, for as long you’re working on the film.

Do Composers Receive Royalties?

Most composers receive the biggest part of the royalties such as:

  1. mechanical royalties
  2. sheet music royalties
  3. performance royalties
  4. foreign royalties
  5. and sync royalties

Keep reading, later on, we will talk about the different types of royalties 🙂

Who Owns the Copyright?

Commonly the studio owns the exclusive rights to alter or combine the work with other pieces of music or film, to sell the sound recordings and publish the composition.

3) Songs That Are Written Specifically for a Film

These are soundtracks that are exclusively written for a film.

There are different contracts and different royalty terms present in each of the three categories. Let’s talk about the pre-existing song category.

How to Get Paid for Songs Featuring in a Movie (Pre-Existing Songs)

There are three ways in which you can get paid for the placement of pre-existing songs and compositions but before we continue I have to point out that you must negotiate! Nothing is carved in stone, you should always consider how much they want your song, that is your leverage.

1 Royalties

As an artist or composer, you’ll receive royalties every time your song is played on television, at theatre or in a cinema, royalty rates vary by country and their rates may differ from year to year.
With that said let’s say a song airs on the major broadcast network primetime for about 40- 45 seconds the total amount of writers royalties will be between $1200 and $1600, the publishers share would be somewhere in the same range that makes a total of $2400-$3200.

Then the aforementioned amounts will depend upon the time of the broadcast (primetime or not), the network size (for small networks divide the previous amount in-half) and of course cable will pay significantly less than broadcast we talk about an 80%-90% price drop(!)

The good thing is that you will get paid every time the show airs, take for example the famous show FRIENDS which aired for 10 years, that is a 10-year-long royalty payment plan for just one single song!

The United States is the number one country that pays the most for broadcast TV, but if a show becomes a big hit overseas I’m sure you will welcome the extra income.

One thing I forgot t mention that exceeding the 40-45 seconds of broadcast will not necessarily increase the amount of money you should receive but going less than 40 seconds will leave you with a smaller payment.


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What Are Sync Royalties

Synchronization royalties are based on how the song is used, the length of play, performance, and duration.

What Are Performance Royalties

Performance royalties are royalties you receive every time the song is performed in theatre, cinema, on TV, etc.

What Are Mechanical Royalties

Mechanical royalties are the writers receive when there is a soundtrack album released and sold as a CD or Vinyl, this can include streaming royalties from streaming services such as Spotify, YouTube, Tidal, etc

What Are Sheet Music Royalties

Sheet music royalties are the royalties you receive when music is being printed and distributed on paper such as folios and sheet music.

What Are Foreign Royalties

Foreign royalties are the royalties you receive internationally, that is from other countries, pay close attention to these type of royalties because they are easily overlooked and as a result money is left on the table.

2 Upfront Payment

The second way you can make money is with an upfront payment. You receive an upfront payment whenever you sign a contract with the music library or publisher.
In some cases when you receive an upfront fee you only receive performance royalties and you won’t get to participate in any license fees, but this, of course, depends on your contract.

3 Sync Licence and Master Licence

There are two licenses a production company must obtain for the use of a song in a film or television show, these licences are called sync licence & master licence.

Signing a Sync Licence

A Sync (or brought rights) licence is needed whenever a film producer decides to use an existing song in a motion picture. This licence gives the rights to the studio to include the specific song in the film and sell the film to TV, use the song in radio promos and theatre, and much more. Of course, there is a fee that is paid to the music publisher which of course is shared with the songwriter/music producer of the song

Commonly the production company will pay between $15.000 and $45.000 for both licences (sync and master) and sometimes they may go even up to $60.000 for the use of existing master recordings but you will need a lot of leverage to pull of this kind of deal.

Can I Get $500.000 for One Song?

If your song is featured at the opening or closing credits you may receive a higher payment since the song is more significant to the film compared to the other songs, namely, you could receive between $30,000 and $70,000 for sync and video rights. If the song’s title is used as the title of the film your fee may go as high as $500.000!
Please remember that these amounts are negotiable, and they depend on a number of factors, some of them we discussed below in the “how to know how much to charge” section.

How to Know How Much to Charge?

There are a few things that you have to consider if you want to determine how much you should charge for a song in a motion picture some of them are:

  1. The overall budget of the film
  2. The overall music budget
  3. How long that will use the song for (count the minutes)
  4. How the song will be used (will it just be in the background? Will an actor sing on the song? Really featured in the trailer of the film?)
  5. Do you have a guarantee that the sun will be used in the film?
  6. The size of the studio (major, foreign independent, etc)
  7. The licensing terms (how many years)


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How Much Do Singers Get Paid for Commercials

This is a bit of a grey area, the amount network is willing to pay would include a specific song varies a lot. The Rolling Stones, for example, were paid by Microsoft $3 million for the use of the song “start me up” also the famous King of pop received $5 million from Pepsi in order to be a part in their commercial.

But for most everyday people the payment for a jingle will be somewhere between $5000 and $25,000. Keep in mind that depending on the track record and past successes your fee will vary. If you’re just getting started to expect something between $500 and $1000.

I hope you enjoyed the article! 🙂 

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