Music Information

Music Licensing

Music licensing can be a very confusing subject. My intent with this article is to give you enough details on what music licensing is and what are your rights to use music in advertising and / or video productions.

A few months ago I was contacted by a company that was celebrating 20 years in business. They wanted to put together a radio commercial that highlighted their celebration. Their request was to use Kool and the Gangs song Celebration in their radio spot. I explained to them in order to do this they would have to obtain a licensing which would cost them quite a bit of money. This was not an option for them due to their limited budget and ultimately they told me that they "went another direction" with their advertising.

If I had agreed to use this song without obtaining a licensing I would have put both of our companies at risk. It was not worth the risk just to make a sale. Beware that there are unscrupulous production companies that will do this type of illegal activity so the best protection you have is knowledge.

The copyright law protects writers of music by giving them exclusive right to their music. Once a piece of music is under copyright protection it is illegal to use it without getting permission to the owner of the copyright.

There are actually two types of copyrights in the United States. One is the actual copyright which is denoted with the familiar C with a circle around it. This protection is for the actual melody, lyrics and arrangement of the music. The copyright is usually owned by the actual artist that wrote the piece or their publishing company.

The second form of copyright is the actual recording itself. This is denoted by a P with a circle around it. This protection covers the performance of the song caught on tape or digital media and released on CD or other media. Many times a record or production company will own this performance right.

If you want to use a song in a production, you need obtain a Master Use license from the owner of the copyright and a Synchronization license (often called a sync license) from the owner of the performance of the song.

The fees for synchronization licenses vary greatly. Low-end TV usage (music is playing from car radio in a scene) can cost up to $2,000. In a film, the fee may be as high as $10,000. A popular song is worth more, possibly $3,000 for TV and $25,000 for film. A song used as the theme song for a film might get $50,000 to $75,000. Commercials can get even more money. Fees for a popular song can range from $25,000 to $500,000 plus per year. The typical range for a well-known song is $75,000 to $200,000 for a one year national usage in the United States on television and radio.

I think you will agree with me that that is allot of money and usually way over budget for many video and radio productions.

To get around these outrageous fees, music production companies sell buyout music. When you purchase a buyout CD you do not need to obtain a licensing to use the music. You can use the music hassle free and at a much lower cost.

Buyout music or royalty-free, as it applies to my products, means that for your one-time purchase price, you can legally use the music in your productions for life of ownership. All copyrights of the music remain with Zebra Music LLC. My jingle licensing agreement allows a protected area of 200 miles. By doing this no other companies in a local market will have the same jingle.

Many other production companies offer a similar buy out music licensing. I would advise you to read the licensing agreements with other production companies and ask questions if you have concerns.

Network broadcast and international broadcast of buyout production music is cleared through a performance organization (like BMI or ASCAP). The revenue that these songs produce when they are aired is paid directly from broadcast station licensing, NOT from you as a producer. These performance organizations then in turn pay each artist based on the amount their song or songs were aired on the radio or TV.

I hope this article has cleared up any confusion or questions that you have had about copyright and music licensing.


Steve Veloudos owns and operates Zebra Music LLC. It's a one stop shop for jingles, radio production, custom music, library music, and sound design. Visit Steve's web site and get free monthly music that you can use for your productions.



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