In 2019, “Gotta Get Up” was prominently featured as the “reset” song in the Netflix series Russian Doll. The song plays each time the series’ protagonist Nadia (co-creator Natasha Lyonne) dies and returns to the same location – a bathroom at her 36th birthday party. Its use is similar to that of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” from the 1993 film Groundhog Day. Lyonne explained that in choosing the song she was struck by the “buoyant doomsday quality” of Nilsson’s life. The cost of using the song so many times took up a significant portion of the music budget. His estate also limited how many times the song could be used.
Reading this got me thinking about what nonsense music rights are for TV and movies. Why are song rights so expensive? Moreover, why should Nillson’s estate be able to limit “how many times the songs could be used? (Harry Nilsson died in 1994.) That sounds so frustrating to deal with. I don’t understand why more TV producers don’t just hire musicians to record cover versions and cut out, at the very least, the performance royalties. (I know this sometimes happens. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more.)