Academy bans CD music mailings

New regulation sows composer discord

The era of the “for your consideration” soundtrack is over.

After decades in which composers and songwriters received specially pressed LPs and CDs of the music scores and songs of potential nominees, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has moved to ban mailings of all “recordings, sheet music (and) musicvideos of eligible songs or scores” to members.

New rule, posted Monday, caused a stir among composers, their reps and studio music execs, some of whom say they will formally protest the ban.

Acad exec administrator Ric Robertson said the rule was recommended to the board of governors by the music-branch executive committee. “They wanted to make sure that members are basing their evaluation of scores in the context of the movie,” he said. “There’s always the danger that if one is just listening to the CD, you’re obviously not doing that.”

Music-branch governor Charles Bernstein said members of the committee felt they were inundated at Oscar time with CDs, and “They’d like to not get these things in the mail that have nothing to do with the voting. It really wasn’t needed in order to make a judgment about how the music works in the movie. If anything, it had the opposite effect: It could encourage people to vote for the music aside from the film.”

Fox Music president Robert Kraft expressed surprise that screenplays could still be sent out but not soundtracks. “You’re sending the words of the film? Why couldn’t we send the scores?” he asked. “If a composer is considered, as I have been told, the last writer on the movie, shouldn’t we be allowed to submit that contribution for consideration?”

Studios, and some publicists, spend thousands of dollars each year sending the 240 members of the Acad music branch specially pressed CDs of the scores and songs they most want to promote.

Publicist Ray Costa, who represents John Powell, Christopher Young and other composers, noted that many scores today contain music that the credited composer didn’t actually write — the result of a trend in which directors increasingly choose to license pre-existing music in addition to the new, original score — and the CDs can help to clarify the distinctions in the minds of voters.

“The Academy has had very specific rules about that,” Costa said. “The benefit of the CD is that people aren’t credited for music they didn’t write.”

As another Acad member pointed out, this move sounds good on paper, “but if you had a song or score in contention, wouldn’t you want it sent to members?”

In 1986, Herbie Hancock won the Oscar for “‘Round Midnight,” even though much of that score was not original. Last year’s “Babel” win was also criticized in some quarters because, in addition to the original Gustavo Santaolalla music, there was music licensed from earlier works and music by other composers.

One music-branch committee member, who asked not to be identified, suggested that this rule may be revisited next year. As for this year, “That ship has sailed,” he said.

As for the criticism that branch members are inundated, all Acad voters are asked to send mailing info to studios and have the option to request that they not receive certain items, such as screeners, scripts — or CDs.

This change is just the latest in a series of tweaks made in the past few years to music-branch procedures for both nominating and voting in the music categories.

The CDs that are sent to the members are specially pressed to avoid content (commercial packaging, songs on the soundtrack not written by the composer, etc.) that would conflict with Acad rules on mailings.

Scores not commercially available often show up on eBay and fetch hundreds of dollars from fans. For example, Warner Bros.’ two-CD promo of John Williams’ “A.I.” score, containing much more music than the commercial CD, was a highly sought-after item for months after the 2001 Oscars.

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