What is the process of getting your music into movies/commercials/etc?

I had one of those ‘How do I not know this already?’ moments today, so like most of us I immediately thought of this place to find an answer.

When you hear a song in a commercial, or in a movie, or in a video game or some other medium, how do the deals made between the artists and the company making whatever the thing is come about? Presumably, someone involved with the project suggests to someone else a song or a band and it goes from there, but who contacts who first? What kind of money is involved? I would guess it depends a lot on the profile of the band, but what could a band reasonably expect if someone like Apple or Coca-Cola rang them up and wanted the rights to use a song in a commercial? Or does money even always change hands at all?

If anyone can answer any of those questions I’d appreciate it, or if you can, maybe explain what it’s like from an artist/band’s point of view. Any relevant stories concerning the topic at hand are welcome as well. I’m not a musician but I’ve always been curious about this kind of shit and it occurred to me today I’ve listened to people for year’s talking about ‘selling out’, but no one ever seems to be able to attach a dollar sign to anything, or even explain anything other than their own reaction upon hearing the little band they had in their back pocket on an iPod commercial.

As to how much money is involved, The Black Keys were interviewed on CBS News Sunday Morning today. They mentioned that before they were well-known, a British mayonnaise company offered them £250 000 (about $320,000) to use one of their songs in a commercial. They said they turned it down, but later did allow other uses of their songs in commercials. So a quarter-million pounds for a UK commercial for a song by an unknown group.

And in 1999, I worked for a dotcom company that paid $3 million for the use of a Beatles song in a commercial.

Also, this article from the Seattle Times says that Microsoft paid a “couple million” to use the Rolling Stone song “Start Me Up” in the commercials for Windows 95. Another article I saw elsewhere said that the version of the song used in the commercial wasn’t the original one, but a later recording with musicians who received a lower royalty rate. So that’s one way to lower the cost; license the song, but record it using someone other than the original artists.

Holy hell, $320,000? I was picturing something like a phone call from Pepsi to someone struggling to even put out CDs saying ‘Here’s 10 grand if can we use your tune?’, knowing there must be a lot of musicians who’d be tempted to take so little.

Thanks for the replies so far. Anyone else got some examples?

According to this New York Times article, U2 did not get paid by Apple to use the song “Vertigo” in an iPod commercial. Bono says he didn’t want to “sell out”, but notes that using “Vertigo” in the commercial gave the song a bigger chance to become a hit, because the commercial gives a song a lot of attention.

I don’t know how much Apple generally pays musicians to use their songs in iPod commercials (I’m having finding info on this through Googling). But it does make sense that despite how much the artists are paid directly for the use of the song, for any artist whether they are less well known or very popular already, using their song in a very large and popular commercial campaign will benefit the artist by leading to more sales of their song or album.

For example, with Feist and the song 1234 that was used in an iPod commercial:

The only examples that get reported in the news are the huge deals, mostly (though not always) with huger stars. Of course huge stars, along with hot younger stars and whoever just wrote a hot new song, will hold up companies for huge amounts of money.

That doesn’t mean those deals are at all typical. Thousands of songs get used for commercials and movies and video games and all the other potential media. They can’t all be going for a million dollars. Nor do they have to be. In many cases the artists get residuals, i.e. a payment every time the song is used. So one sale to a commercial for a small advance can bring huge amounts over time as the commercial is repeated ad nauseum. I’d bet that’s the typical deal. (It’s the typical deal in the book industry, when the huge advances are hugely publicized but most authors make money from royalties off continued sales. Residuals and royalties have technical differences but those are pretty much irrelevant here.)

Everybody “sells out.” The money is too good for so little effort. I can’t wait for somebody to shove money at me so I can sell out.