Fugees' Pras Michel on Hitting Up Eurythmics, Tears for Fears & Seal for Film Music

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His political documentary 'Sweet Mickey for President' is due next year

At Thursday's (Nov. 6) Music for Documentaries panel at the Billboard and Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference, it took no less a figure than a Fugee to illustrate the difficulty of obtaining rights to music for documentaries -- films most often with significantly smaller budgets than feature films like, say, Iron Man.

Speaking as an artist, the Fugees' Pras Michel said he's been approached many times by studio films to use the Fugees' music. "When you have three writers on a song or multiple writers, it depends on the individuals," Michel said, referring to his fellow Fugees, Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean. But he also stressed how the goals of artists versus publishers differ. "My publishing deal with the Fugees is with Sony, and they're looking for a check," he said. "For the three of us, it's more about what kind of deal is it, does it coincide with the brand of the Fugees."

For his upcoming documentary Sweet Micky for President, a film Michel produced about the pop musician Michel Martelly running for office in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake just as Wyclef decides to run, Pras found himself on the other side of the rights clearance equation. "When doing this documentary, which is my first documentary," Michel said, "I just decided I wanted to put in every song I love."

A laudable goal, indeed, but as Michel learned, not one that is easily attainable. "I had [co-panelist] Karyn [Rachtman], who is the producer and I'd say, 'I want to use "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" by the Eurythmics,' and she said, 'Well, Pras, you don't have a million dollars.'" Michel said he called Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox, but he couldn't get the rights. Then he went to Tears for Fears, for what he called "one of my favorite records, 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World.' But they had just licensed it for The Hunger Games. I said, 'F--- this, what can I use?'" Michel exclaimed. "I'm an artist and I'm just thinking in my little world and I just want to use this. And sometimes it's just about your relationships."

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Next Michel homed in on Seal's "Crazy. "Again Karyn said, 'I don't know how you're gonna pay for it,'" Michel recalls. "And I said, 'I don't know, maybe we should call Heidi Klum?' And she said, 'They just got divorced, remember?' It just happens my cousin knows Seal, so I got on the phone with him and he was like 'I love the Fugees.' But sometimes you do these and they have to coincide with the brand, especially with artists like Seal that wanna make sure it's OK." The Fugee said it didn't work out with Seal because the film was too "political," but he was open to him perhaps using it in another film.

So Michel came up with another plan. "We went and created a new song. I don't know if it's actually better than Seal, but it's a whole different level and it's more fitting. It was written for the movie, so it feels better." The song, "Came to Win," was recorded by Michel's new band Get Fr3E.

Michel summed up his experience of licensing music for documentaries thusly: "It feels more like the Ivy League of filmmaking," he said. "It's very proper. You're not making Iron Man."

Sweet Mickey for President is slated for release in 2015.

This story first appeared on Billboard.com.

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