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One Year On: The Composers Against Buyouts Campaign

On the anniversary of the MU and Ivors Academy campaign launch #ComposersAgainstBuyouts, we celebrate its successes and what more still needs to be done to ensure a fair deal for composers.

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By Kelly Wood Published: 31 March 2022 | 9:00 PM
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The support shown for the campaign to date has been fantastic – both from composers and their representatives.

On 31 March 2021 the Ivors Academy and The MU launched #ComposersAgainstBuyouts, a campaign to raise awareness around buyout deals (where the upfront fee is used to acquire the rights and royalty revenue associated with the music) in audio-visual commissioning, and how they impact composers and the wider industry.

A necessary campaign

This campaign had become necessary as composers were increasingly being coerced into buyout deals, and named-and-shamed companies like Discovery Network were causing great concern amongst the composer community, even after they changed their terms as a result of industry pressure.

The damage that buyouts had already caused across the sector was evident; composers were feeling the financial strain, but they were also worried about what the media commissioning landscape might look like in years to come if exploitative buyouts were allowed to continue.

We reviewed various contracts and deals that our members had been offered, and it became evident that many of the buyouts also involved other unfair terms that composers were expected to sign up to e.g., package fees whereby a one-off fee would need to cover all elements of a commission, but which would often leave a composer actually earning little to no fee at all. Ultimately, there was a lot that could be done to improve these deals, but leaving composers and their representatives to attempt to negotiate better deals on an individual basis wouldn’t necessarily effect the bigger change that was required to ensure fair commissioning terms for composers going forward. Hence the need for a dedicated campaign with clear objectives and the expertise and resources to make a difference.

Launching a fair Commissioning Manifesto

Upon launching the campaign we published a Fair Commissioning Manifesto to set out basic expectations and values around the commissioning process. We were keen to ensure that the campaign’s aims and messaging could be understood by all composers – from students to experienced professionals – so we created an animation that explains the difference between buyouts and deals that allow composers to receive royalties.

To assist with the creation of further resources and to help steer the campaign, an Advisory Group comprising of experienced media composer members of the Ivors Academy and the MU was set up.

Actions to tackle the problems with commissioning

We considered what actions would be required to realistically tackle the problems with commissioning - from grassroots level to those working with major broadcasters and production companies.

In some scenarios the problem was the lack of a formal contract to set out terms and conditions, and in other cases buyouts were being presented as a fait accompli, with commissioners grabbing rights and refusing to negotiate.

It became clear therefore that helping composers with the contractual element of a commission was key to improving the sector, and with that in mind we will soon be publishing a specimen agreement, drawn up by an industry specialist lawyer, for composers to use in situations where the commissioner isn’t forthcoming with a contract; this will allow composers to present a fair and professional contract, and thus protect their work going forward. This specimen agreement will be accompanied by comprehensive and explanatory notes for composers to fully understand the terms, clauses and wider context of a commissioning contract. It will also be supported by an online event in order that members can learn more about the agreement in the context of wider contractual processes and negotiation.

Current and future campaign plans

Similarly, we are in the process of drafting Codes of Practice which we’ll be taking to broadcasters in order to open discussions around their commissioning processes. We hope to also undertake collective bargaining with broadcasters to agree minimum terms and fees, which can of course be improved upon through individual negotiation, but which will serve to protect composers and to offer more general transparency and fairness around commissioning.

Campaign resources and workshops will be going into Higher Education Institutions to help ensure that future media composers are pre-warned about unfair commissioning practices, and to encourage them to understand the true value in their music, and how that should be reflected in contracts. Further events will also be scheduled as part of the campaign, following successful earlier online sessions around ‘Introducing the Media Composing Landscape’ and 'How to find work as a Media Composer'

The recent news around Moonbug Entertainment and their coercive practice around the attempted re-assignment of composers’ royalty revenue demonstrates how exploitative and damaging the commissioning process can be, and adds fuel to the fire of this campaign.

However, going forward we are keen to also highlight the fair deals and good commissioning practices that composers experience in the sector, as this will prove invaluable to fellow composers who need the confidence and expertise to push back and negotiate on less favourable deals.

A positive reception

The support shown for the campaign to date has been fantastic – both from composers and their representatives, and on a wider level across national and international industry organisations. We’re optimistic that there will be some positive developments within the sector, and we’re interested in widening the scope of the campaign to allow us to work across other areas of media composition.

If you would like to become involved in the campaign by sharing any details or experiences, please contact: Kelly Wood, Live & Music Writers Official – kelly.wood@themu.org

#ComposersAgainstBuyouts

Calling all media composers

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Calling all media composers

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