Have you ever wondered just how much copyrighted music costs TV and film productions? It’s a huge expense to be sure. However, it turns out that the price for the 1984 hit song “Ghostbusters” blows even some of the most recognizable tracks out of the water.
On a recent episode of The Always Sunny Podcast, Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Glenn Howerton looked back on one of the most iconic episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: “The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis.” As the actors tell it, that particular episode included the major expense of licensing the “Ghostbusters” theme song for the final joke. The song first quietly plays on the radio of a van full of gasoline that the gang is driving then blares over the credits after said van explodes.
“This is the episode where we spent the most amount of money ever on a song,” McElhenney remembered. The actors, who also serve as writers and executive producers on the show, recall the “Ghostbusters” theme costing them around $70,000 to $80,000.
“We hadn’t paid more than $20,000 for a song, including with Michael Jackson songs,” McElhenney said of the expense. “We got The Doors, The Doors didn’t even cost that much,” Howerton noted.
According to McElhenney, around 2008 when the episode premiered, producers were considering reviving the Ghostbusters franchise and wanted to protect the intellectual property, hence the ridiculous price. He said that the movie didn’t even end up happening, but at least Ghostbusters: The Video Game came out the following year.
However, in the greater scheme of copyrighted music, this kind of deal isn’t unheard of. Artists set their own prices, and some simply don’t want movies and TV shows to infringe on their artistic vision. For example, Neil Young is notoriously picky about how productions use his music.
Artists usually delegate these matters to artistic rights management organizations like ASCAP, but the rights holders ultimately have the final say. You’d be surprised how many music-centered projects have been stalled or scrapped altogether because of music copyright issues.
Regardless of the price, McElhenney and Howerton insist they’re happy they included “Ghostbusters” in the episode. Howerton admitted he had his doubts at the time: “Yeah it’s funny, but it’s not $80,000 funny,” he said on the podcast. “Looking back now, I’m certainly glad we did it.”
McElhenney even says that his young son actually took an interest in the episode once he heard the “Ghostbusters” theme. “It’s transcended generations because of that choice,” McElhenney said of the episode. “It’s a hell of a song.”