There are certain types of deals, such as scoring short films, where the variables of financial considerations between the “good” ones and the “bad” ones are so relatively insignificant, that they are basically the same deal.
While there are a cornucopia of compelling reasons to score shorts (experience, relationships, library building, exposure, personal growth, collaboration, creative expression, etc.), money is rarely one.
THE MONEY SUCKS
Even with a “good” deal, the money sucks.
Most shorts are made by developing talents with big ambitions and tiny budgets. Typically, the music budget… you guessed it… sucks.
So, from a dollars and cents perspective, the difference between a low paying one and those that pay higher are rarely significantly different and financial gain would rarely be the primary consideration in taking on a short or not.
Typically, one cannot, in the long term, support oneself, yet alone a family, on scoring shorts. They are building blocks for other purposes.
They are not building blocks for meaningful deals (and conversely, they have no real impact on later deals where the money could really matter).
The “precedents” from short deals won’t haunt a composer in demand for a higher paying job such as features.
Because the money sucks, the temptation is to try to turn a “bad” deal into a ”good” one by retaining publishing and/or Master Recordings of the Score.
The theories behind this are:
1. You’ll make meaningful Performance Royalties from use of the music in the Short. You won’t.
2. You will license the score to others and make significant money there.
While this sounds good in theory, ask yourself:
a. Are you currently set up and making significant money off the other music you already own?
b. Why would the few minutes of music you create for a short somehow be different financially than all the other music you already have?
c. If these few minutes of music are going to be so valuable from a licensing perspective, why not just compose something similar on your own and go out and license it without having to complicate it by being tied to the short?
Internally, thank the short for the inspiration then compose something similar on your own that is more easily licensable.
d. Since the time investment in scoring shorts is, well, short, why not devote similar short time investments into composing music custom-designed, and more likely to sell, for the library market?
GO FOR IT. THEN LET IT GO.
Of course, if you can keep publishing/Masters on a short go for it. It’s a nice little perk.
But, don’t get blinded into thinking if you don’t retain publishing/Masters on a short you somehow made a shitty deal. For better or worse, the scenario where you keep them is almost as equally shitty.
REMEMBER, SHORTS ARE GREAT GROUNDS TO BUILD CAREERS. AND CRAP YARDS FOR MAKING GREAT DEALS.