How To License a Song For Your Film or Video Production

Posted on July 19th, 2013 by in Advice, Video Production

music notes header

Adding music to a visual feature can help add energy, drama, and much more, but the digital world is full of confusing and misleading information. There are several ways to correctly go about sourcing and using a song for your film or video production, here we lay out some easy to follow steps to guide you along your way.

License Types

There are three different license types that you should know about, and be prepared to pay for depending on your project:

1. Sync License
A Synchronization License is needed for putting music to your film or video production, for instance if you plan to share on Youtube or Vimeo. This would also apply to trailers, short docs, commercials, video games etc. Important note: if you are using a cover version of a song, e.g. Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, then you will need two licenses; one to cover the original composition from Dolly Parton, and one to cover Houston’s recording of the song.

2. Mechanical License.
This is necessary if you plan to put the music on a DVD or CD soundtrack. Note: most producers/production companies often include the rights for DVDs or “all media now known or hereafter devised”, meaning that you retain the rights to re-release in any future media format without having to renegotiate or pay any additional licensing fees.

3. Public Performance
If you plan on screening your movie anywhere in the outside world, from a major movie theater chain to a one-off pop-up projection screening in a local shopping mall, you will need a Public Performance License.



band in studio flickr creative commons
Image via Joe Holmes on Flickr. Creative Commons License

Licensing Options

Route 1: Traditional Licensing

The traditional route mainly applies when you have a very specific song in mind that you want to use, and often when that song is linked to one of the major record label groups. It involves you tracking down and approaching the rights holders of a recording to ask to use it, and then negotiating a fee and terms.

In order to obtain a Sync License, you usually have to track down the song’s publisher, who either represent or have bought the rights from the original writer of the composition. You should be able to find a name on any physical media of the song, or in an official Youtube video, which may lead you to any number of publishing companies. Some of the big ones you may have heard of include Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Warner/Chappell Music, or Universal Music Publishing Group to name a few. Use their websites to contact the publishing department and explain what your project is and how you would use the song in question. They will often come back with a fee, which may or may not be negotiable.

If you need to buy a Mechanical License, you must find the copyright holder of the composition, which may be an entirely different person (or persons) to who performed the song. Most mechanical licenses can be purchased through the Harry Fox Agency, an agency which collects and distributes license fees on behalf of music publishers in the United States.

Public Performance Licenses are often handled by one of the three main performing rights organizations in the US; BMI, ASCAP and SESAC, who all have databases of the songs and artists that they represent.

The key in going the traditional licensing route is to do your research. The more you know about the piece of music you are trying to clear, the better position you will be in when it comes to negotiating. You may also uncover that the song you had in mind has been much battled over and disputed in the past, and so you may have to go down your list of other song options before sending off requests.

Route 2: Licensing Agencies

There are a number of licensing agencies who act as a middle man of sorts, having access to databases of music and musicians for you to work with. You may browse their sites and end up dealing with the musicians directly, or you may submit details such as style, theme, mood, tempo and the company may come up with suggestions for you; each operates slightly differently and can yield different results. Much of the music is owned by smaller independent labels and musicians, and so fees can be a lot less; the flip side is that you may spend a lot of time searching for the right song. Licensing agencies include Rumblefish, BeatPick, and YouLicense.

If it all goes wrong, or comes back too expensive, or seems like too much work, there are a number of other options for you to choose from…



cc.logo.large

Route 3: Creative Commons Licensing

Creative Commons “develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation”. In short, it is a ‘new’ way of offering up content licenses for free, with various conditions made for proper attribution, non-commercial uses, sharealike uses, modification, etc. Their website offers a great start for finding songs and other media with one of their six types of license. Similarly, they can also point you towards Public Domain works, for which there is no known copyright, or that are no longer restricted by copyright.

Route 4: Hire a Composer

Another option is to hire a Composer to create new music for your film or video production. This can provide good value for money if you wish to have original music for the entire length of the production rather than just one song. Also, you will then own the rights to that music, which you could use to earn future revenue from your project.

Route 5: Record a Cover Version

You could go as far as to ask a musician or band to produce a cover or ‘sound-alike’ of the original song you intended to license, or at least use that song as inspiration and a guide for their works. A band who records a cover version of a song still needs a mechanical license for distribution, and the process would be the same as mentioned in the traditional route above.

Helpful Links:

The Harry Fox Agency http://www.harryfox.com/
BMI http://www.bmi.com/
ASCAP http://www.ascap.com/
SESAC http://www.sesac.com/
Rumblefish http://rumblefish.com/
BeatPick http://www.beatpick.com/
YouLicense http://www.youlicense.com/
Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/
Composers search the Media Match database.



by Lee Jarvis.
Follow Lee on Twitter @leejarvis and get TV & Film Production updates from @mediamatchjobs


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses to “How To License a Song For Your Film or Video Production”

  1. TV/Film Industry Round-Up; 2013-07-19 | applycareer.com Says:

    [...] Advice: How To License a Song For Your Film or Video Production : (Media Match Blog) [...]

  2. How To License a Song For Your Film or Video Production | gooncareer.com Says:

    [...] Media Match [...]

  3. Michael - Evolvemedia.com Says:

    I ever heard a case relating to license of the song used in a movie. It’s good when the filmmakers examine first the song that will be included in his or her work. Asking permission to the creator and singer of the song could be the right step. After this step, you can get how to make a song license legally. At least you can avoid the law problem because of this.

  4. Michael - Evolvemedia.com Says:

    I ever heard a case relating to license of the song used in a movie. It’s good when the filmmakers examine first the song that will be included in his or her work. Asking permission to the creator and singer of the song cloud be the right step. After this step, you can get how to make a song license legally. At least you can avoid the law problems because of this.

Leave a Reply