Film Music 101: Who owns the music?

In exploring the world of film music, I must now broach one of the sad truths about the industry: film composers do not own their work.

That’s right, once a score is complete, the entire piece belongs not to the composer, who created it, but to the film studio instead. In fact, once the score is done, the studio can do whatever it wants with that score. It can be reused in other films, it can be altered, edited or…destroyed.

It’s actually happened, believe it or not. Back in the 1960s, Maurice Jarre composed the score for the epic Doctor Zhivago. Some time later, Jarre wanted to look at part of the score, so he dutifully asked the studio if he could see it. But as it turns out, when the studio looked, it was discovered that the original score, the master copy, had been destroyed long since when the studio had previously cleaned house! Thankfully, the composer and a team of musicians were able to reconstruct the score by collecting various orchestral editions of the music, but if the score to a great epic like Doctor Zhivago met this fate, what on earth has happened to the scores of ordinary films? I shudder to think of what the studios might have done over the years.

Film scores are almost impossible to see with your own eyes. The studios are (understandably) protective of their property, and will usually only grant permission to other composers or researchers (such as myself) to see the music (and usually there are strict guidelines as to what you can do with it). This is why when music from movies is published in say, a piano book, it’s always in a simplified arrangement. You will never, EVER, find a bound version of a complete film score. In a perfect world, I would create a project devoted to digitizing film scores into an archive (and maybe someday I will get the chance). Until that day… -Bex

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4 thoughts on “Film Music 101: Who owns the music?

  1. Pingback: Film Music 101: The Temp Track | Film Music Central

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