Soundtrack Solutions

How do you get rights-free music for your edit? Ask a local.

Zach Giffin, Alaska

Words: Heather Hansman

The most contentious part of low-budget ski movies isn't usually gun violence, or police run-ins. It's music. Ask any professional filmmaker about music rights and you see the creases on their forehead suddenly appear. On the amateur level, plenty of athletes use songs they don't have rights to, but it's risky: artists will sue or sponsors will pull support in fear of litigation. Not everyone has Cali-P or a state-of-the-art studio on standby.

Solution? If you're Black Diamond athlete Zack Giffin, you go native and troll the local music scene of Hokkaido or Bariloche or Haines.

"It would be so much easier and make my videos so much more appealing if I could just drop in my favorite I-Wayne/Capelton fire track," says Giffin, who, along with his brother Sam, has been putting out movies as Right on Brother productions. "But, if you want to see how militant a peace loving Rastafari herbs-man really is, all you need to do is use his art to promote a corporate brand and tell him there is no money to pay for the music."

But mountain town bands are often keen to get their music heard by skiers, and Giffin says his quest to meet local musicians has turned into one of his favorite down-day hobbies, even if the music is occasionally unlistenable. "I often meet really great people who sound fantastic in person, but when I evaluate the album for potential usable sound tracks, something makes it impossible to put it to skiing," he says.

On a recent trip to Alaska, he met John, a would-be rapper working the desk at the Juneau Best Western. He took a demo CD—which he says he always tries to pay for, in case he doesn't use the music—and ended up putting one of the tracks, "Creeping Dirty" over footage of him skiing glaciated spines.

"As I expected, I've heard from a bunch of people hating on it. I got comments like 'Black Diamond turns gangster' and 'worst music ever,'" he says. "What I hear is how little people understand about music rights and minority cultures."

Here's the edit. The Haines hip hop starts right around the two-minute mark.