How Do Japanese TV Shows Use So Much Anime Music?

by Justin Sevakis,

Henpaku asks:

I noticed that certain Japanese TV programs (mostly those showing entertainment specials with famous guests doing weird Japanese people things) use a lot of anime OST. In fact a show just a few days ago used some BGM from Majestic Prince, and I sometimes hear sound effects unique to Gundam or Evangelion. A lot of anime OST seems to hit T.V. from some major titles to titles that really aren't major at all. Whats the deal with this? How does this happen? Who gets paid? is it in royalties or just per use?

When a producer licenses a song for use in a TV show or movie, there are three legally distinct rights that must be acquired. The first is called "performance rights" -- that is, the right to play or perform a song (in any form, be it a cover version or a specific recording) to a public audience, either in person or via broadcast of some sort. These rights are easy to get -- you just have to pay a set fee to whatever performance rights organization covers your country. In US, it's ASCAP. In Japan, it's JASRAC. Canada has SOCAN, and the UK has PRS. These are all organizations that are in charge of collecting music royalties from each public performance of a song, and distributing those royalties to songwriters. Each of them have a very orderly and reasonably priced system for doing this.

The second right that's required is "synchronization rights." This is the right to associate particular film or video footage with a song. This has to be negotiated separately with both the copyright administrator for the composition itself, as well as the record label that owns the sound recording of the performance you want to use. The license is usually a one-time fee, based on what the nature of the project is, and how the song will be used. For example, using a 30 second clip of a song as background for a local talk show that won't be broadcast outside of a small country would cost far less than using it in a big Hollywood blockbuster.

The third right that's required is "mechanical rights." This is the right to take that recording, and make either digital or physical copies of it. This is licensed from the record label. This is necessary to sell a DVD or digital download containing the song. But more than that, it's required for broadcast.

That's a lot of legal ground that has to be covered. It's a pain to do, but for a show that will never be broadcast outside of Japan or released on home video, it's far cheaper to license music than it is to compose or record something new. But if you have to license something to use in a TV show, it sure would be easier to license something from a local Japanese record label. There's no language barrier or cultural gap, and no need to explain the differences between a Japanese talk show and a Western one.

Anime makes up a pretty major percentage of the amount of scripted programming that Japan produces every year, and therefore anime soundtracks are a pretty good place to find interesting incidental music. And so, music supervisors on Japanese TV shows will often dive into the anime soundtack well, trying to find some interesting music cues to work in various weird or comedic situations. Of course, Shiro Sagisu's Evangelion OST makes for some pretty riveting music, but there are thousands and thousands of soundtracks to choose from. The music supervisors likely don't have to dig very far to get something useful.

Once the music supervisor selects a song and pursues it, the composer and record label are usually happy to license the rights for that production. After all, it's additional revenue without having to produce anything new. Some compositions are licensed for TV usage again and again, simply because they're cost-effective and work well with the format. The money to an otherwise forgotten soundtrack could potentially keep coming in for decades.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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