Music Licensing at Work

Every creative video marketer must go into a new project with a vision. A color pallet. A mood to portray. A sound that sets the tone.

When it comes to selecting the music for a video project or presentation, creativity can sometimes take a back seat to real-world logistics. Where will we find music? How do we obtain it? How much will it cost? Are there licensing risks associated with it?

Here’s a look at five different paths you can take for music licensing, and the pros and cons associated with each:

1. Use existing popular music.

By popular music, we mean music that’s been on the radio and is well-known. To get the sync license, which provides permission for use of the song, you would contact and negotiate directly with the music publisher or song copyright owner. This type of license is required to set music to visual works such as movies, YouTube videos and even PowerPoint presentations. To get the master use license (provides permission for use of the sound recording), you’d contact and negotiate directly with the record label.

The Pros: Whether it’s music from today or music from the ’50s, the benefits to using this type of music are obvious.  It’s immediately recognizable and can quickly convey the mood or the era to your audience.

The Cons: This is the most difficult to obtain.  Unfortunately, very often, you won’t even get a response to your license request.  The price tag tends to be in the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the popularity of the song you want to use and the way in which you want to use it.

2. Use production company music

Production companies offer one-stop shopping where you can get both the sync license and the master use license.

The Pros: Production company music is very easy to obtain. Because production music companies are in the business of music licensing, they make the process very easy, through websites where users can preview, pay for and immediately download the music.

The cost can be as low as $30 for some production music.  It’s usually less than $1,000 – in most instances, significantly less than $1,000.

The Cons: Some production music companies might have limitations to their licenses. For example, some don’t allow you to use the music in a political advertisement.  The downside here is while production music may be very good, it’s probably not immediately recognizable music.

3. Try music by an independent artist

By independent artist, we mean a musician whose music isn’t distributed by a major music company, so not as well-known. 

The Pros: This music is going to be less expensive than popular music but probably a little more expensive than production music. Depending on the musician’s fan base, it might be recognizable to a niche audience.

The Cons: A potential risk comes with indie musician groups who produce and perform original music but might not be diligent or have fewer resources when it comes to documenting the ownership of the music they create.

4. Find Music Under a Creative Commons License

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that provides free license terms and conditions for use by copyright owners who want to make their creative work more available for use under uniform, relatively relaxed terms without getting into complex negotiations.

The Pros: These licenses allow the material to be used without the payment of any fees.

The Cons: There are different variations on Creative Commons licenses.  Some don’t allow commercial use.  It may be risky to use material licensed under Creative Commons licenses because the licensor offers no assurances (in the form of representations, warranties or indemnities) regarding the work.  Therefore, any use is at the user’s risk.

5. Commission Original Music

Commissioning original music comes with several different variables–  the cost will depend on the commercial stature of the musician writing the commissioned music for you. Some production houses will connect you with musicians who can compose and record original music for you.

The Pros: It’s one of a kind, and therefore can be tailored to the company’s needs. And if you have a well-drafted agreement for your acquisition of the original music, there should be minimal risk.

The Cons: It can be a lengthier acquisition process, since you need to take the time to find the musician, wait for the music to be written and to be recorded.  And of course, it is still necessary to negotiate an individual agreement for the work.

Interested in learning more about music licensing at work? Listen now to CCC’s on demand webinar with Joy Butler: “Using Music at Work: Balancing Creativity and Compliance.”

Author: Joy Butler

Joy R. Butler is an attorney and author with over twenty years of experience counseling clients on business, licensing, technology, and media matters. Through her Washington, DC-based private law firm practice, she provides transactional and advisory services primarily to mid-market companies and small businesses. Ms. Butler excels at explaining complicated legal issues in understandable terms and proposing practical solutions to business problems. Her writings relevant to music licensing include The Permission Seeker's Guide Through the Legal Jungle: Clearing Copyrights, Trademarks and Other Rights for Entertainment and Media Productions, recently updated and expanded for 2017. She has also authored books on internet law and contests and sweepstakes law and regularly blogs on intellectual property, media, and licensing issues at Ms. Butler is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Harvard College.
Don't Miss a Post

Subscribe to the award-winning
Velocity of Content blog