Socially Distanced: The (Live-Streamed) Musical!

My last blog post covered the ins and outs of obtaining proper licensing for live-streamed audio-visual events. However, that was merely talking about individual songs – not entire theatrical performances, like musicals or plays. My not-so-secret secret is that I adore musicals. Even the deeply tragic ones bring me so much joy. Fortunately, the concept of live streaming musicals is catching on. And thank goodness, because I would feel utterly deprived without them! Not shockingly, I want to use this blog entry to talk about copyright and licensing as they pertain to live-streamed musicals.

I want to note that this post, like my last post, is written under the assumption that your performance will not constitute Fair Use, that you are not using materials in the Public Domain, and that you are not using materials you created entirely on your own. 

In a normal world (one without 6-foot bubbles, masks, and peculiar Zoom holiday gatherings), if you wanted to put on a musical, your first step would be to look into the various theatrical licensors and figure out which one of these agencies has the rights to the particular title you are looking for. Theatrical licensing agencies are very helpful when it comes to obtaining licenses to perform a live version of a show. It is important to note that copyright law is a bit complicated in that it requires different licenses for different types of productions. While it is likely that one of these agencies would be able to help you obtain a “Standard Performance License,” it’s not guaranteed that they would be able to grant you a “Streaming Rights License.” That being said, theatrical licensors are quickly adapting to challenges brought on by the pandemic and are working feverishly to secure permission from rights holders to allow for live-streamed productions of their shows.

So, as an aspiring musical director, you have two possible paths that you could take. You could either research your title and contact the author’s representatives directly to discuss obtaining the requisite licenses to perform the piece virtually or you could contact a theatrical licensor. Even if the theatrical licensor does not hold the streaming rights to your title, they may still be able to help you by contacting the author(s) and/or his/her representatives for you.

There are quite a few theatrical licensing agencies including: Dramatic Publishing, Dramatists Play Service, Pioneer, Music Theater International, Concord Theatricals, Broadway Licensing, and Theatrical Rights Worldwide.

One of these agencies likely holds the rights (at least the non-streaming rights) to the musical that you are looking for. Music Theatre International (“MTI”) has an entire page of plays and musicals that they can grant streaming licenses for, so I am going to use them as the theatrical licensor in my hypothetical walk-through.

Let’s say you want to put on a production of Annie (because who doesn’t love little orphan Annie). Once you found the title on MTI’s Website you would need to create an MTI account to apply for a Standard Performance License. A separate Streaming Rights License would be included in your production contract. You would need to apply for, and return, this license in addition to the Standard Performance License.

Your next step would be to set-up your event using the streaming platform ShowTix4U, where you can manage your ticket sales. ShowTix4U also deals with the issue of royalties and automatically calculates and pays them for you by subtracting them from your ticket sales balance.

Finally, you would stream your brilliant rendition of Annie on the ShowTix4U Website!

If you were unable to find a theatrical licensing agency with the streaming rights to the title you wish to put on you have two options. One option is to contact the agency that holds that specific Standard Performance License for assistance in obtaining the streaming rights. The other option is to contact the piece’s authors (or their representatives) directly. If you take either of those paths you should ensure that you have answers to the following questions and that you include them in your request for a Streaming Rights License:

  1. What is the title of the piece?
  2. What online viewing platform do you intend to use?
  3. How many people do you anticipate will watch the performance?
  4. How will viewers be granted access to the performance? Will they need to buy a ticket? Will they need an invite?
  5. What will you charge for tickets?
  6. When will the performance/live-stream take place?
  7. Why do you want a Streaming Rights License for the title?
  8. Who are you? What does your organization do?

If you are lucky, your performers will be singing and dancing in no time! Speaking of time, licensing can be a rather lengthy process. Make sure to plan ahead and request all permissions/licenses as soon as possible.

Although it may seem a bit daunting to obtain proper licensing, remember that this is how artists get paid and protect their work. If we want wonderful things in the world, like Love Never Dies (the truly outstanding sequel to Phantom of the Opera), we have to protect and promote the work of artists by obeying the rules of copyright law and obtaining proper licensing when we reproduce their work!