How Hard Is It To License Western Music For Use In Anime?

by Justin Sevakis,

Chris asks:

With the release of Jojo 4 using the hit song "I Want You" by Savage Garden. I am wondering how do they get this song to play on legal streamers? Considering it may be an expensive song. Is streaming not the same as buying all the rights as they would on a home video?

The 90s pop mega-hit "I Want You" by Australian duo Savage Garden was an amusing surprise ending theme song to the latest season of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. It follows in the tradition of Jojo's mixing its unique brand of violent weirdness with cheese and silliness. It's a perfect fit.

When a song is licensed for use in a movie or TV show, there are three distinct kinds of rights that must be in the clear: synchronization rights, a master use license, and mechanical rights. Synchronization rights cover the ability to combine a song with certain visuals. This really only needs to be done once, worldwide, and these rights are licensed from the song's copyright owner -- usually, the song publisher, which is often just a small corporation owned by the songwriter. In this way, a songwriter gets a say over whether they want their song to be used in a certain project, and gets money directly from its use. This license covers the composition itself, not the recording. Sometimes, the right to publish the song lyrics is added to this agreement, although that's really a separate right.

A master use license is then required to use the actual recorded audio of the song itself. The owner of the recording is usually the record label that published the song. This is necessary to use the recording at all, and present it in any way. If this can't be cleared, a project might resort to using a cover version of the song, or commissioning a new one.

Finally, the mechanical rights, which also come from the record label, allow you to physically reproduce the recording. This would include use of the song on a DVD or Blu-ray (or whatever other physical media format comes up), permanent downloads, soundtrack albums, branded ringtones, and all that good stuff.

When a song is used on a show in Japan, the producers will buy synchronization rights, and these days they usually get a worldwide master use license as well. After that, there's not really any additional legwork to be done to clear the song for streaming. Music streaming rights are covered by a blanket license by music royalty organizations like ASCAP (affiliated in Japan with JASRAC). Those organizations accumulate huge databases of music "cue sheets" that list what songs are used in what program. The streaming website then reports what episodes got played how many times, and ASCAP pays out royalties to the artists accordingly.

Mechanical rights, however, get pretty expensive for big hits, especially outside of Japan. As a result, sometimes these rights are only cleared for Japan, or Asia, and publishers outside of that area are basically left to fend for themselves. The licensor tells them, "we don't have the mechanical rights to give you. Either you can clear them yourself, or you'll have to use different music." Unfortunately, since the United States is the world's #1 media market, those rights are always the most expensive for us -- even when the project the song is being attached to might only sell a few thousand copies.

There's always a chance that the Japanese producers knew that Jojo's was destined for overseas exploitation, and cleared the mechanical rights for worldwide release. But that's a lot of money, and Japanese producers spending money to make life easier for overseas anime publishers... well, that sure doesn't sound like the anime industry I know and love!

While "I Want You" might cost a decent chunk of change (it WAS a top-ten hit in a bunch of different countries), it likely won't be as expensive as "Falling Down" by Oasis, which was a much newer song used in Eden of the East. Oasis is, frankly, a much more successful band that had a career spanning decades, whereas Savage Garden only had a few hits and split up within a few years. All of that matters: bigger bands with more cash and a bigger name can drive a much harder bargain (and be pickier in general) when it comes to their licensing deals. Funimation ultimately only got the right to include it once on their DVD/BD release, so after the first episode the song had to be replaced.

But "I Want You's" availability on its eventual Western DVD/BD releases may have more to do with the personality of the musicians involved, and that's where we get lucky: Savage Garden's ex-frontman and song co-writer Darren Hayes, who now lives in Los Angeles and is pursuing sketch comedy and acting, is known to be a giant nerd, and has tweeted that he's a fan of Jojo's. We don't hear much these days from his ex-bandmate Daniel Jones (who now lives in Las Vegas and works in real estate), but it's likely that both are enjoying the renewed attention their biggest hit song is now getting within the anime community. I can't speak for either of them, but that seems like a sign that they're more likely to want to help keep their song attached to the show in all its eventual releases.

But as always, time will tell.

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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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