Music Licensing for Film and Video
By Ron Dawson
There is perhaps no topic as important and contentious in the industry as the legal use of music in the production of videos, particularly event videos. Even if you or your client buys a song on iTunes, you’re still not freed from the obligation to attain proper licensing. And using copyrighted music in a clients’ personal videos does not constitute fair use.
By law, in order to use a song in a film or video you need two types of licenses: a master use license (controlled by the record label) and a synchronization license (controlled by the publisher). The former is for the rights to the song from the originator. The latter is for the rights of the specific version of the song you want to use. In some cases, the label and the publisher may be the same entity. But in many cases they are not.
Let’s say you want to use the 2010 Haiti Charity remake of R.E.M.’s classic “Everybody Hurts” for some non-profit video you’ve made. You’d need to get a master use license from Warner Bros. music label (from which the original R.E.M. version hails), and a synchronization license from Simon Cowell’s company (which produced the remake).
If a song is older than 70 years, it may be in the public domain, but you still may need a sync license. For instance, if you wanted to use Chris Tomlin’s “Amazing Grace,” as a hymn older than 70 years, the song is in the public domain, so there’s no master use license needed. However, you’d still need to get the sync license from Chris Tomlin’s publisher. However, if you got your 16-year-old daughter to write and sing her own arrangement, you wouldn’t need any license.
For a while the record companies did not seem to mind that there were literally hundreds (if not thousands) of professionally produced wedding videos online, all with illegal use of copyrighted music. But in late 2011 they started taking wedding videographers to court and winning large settlements, so take this very seriously.
Fortunately, there is a growing number of music licensing companies that make licensing quality music easy and affordable. Keep in mind that traditional music licenses can cost many hundreds, even tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the type of film or video, where it’s played, and how it’s distributed.
There are many quality resources out there, but a few rise to the top in terms of the variety and quality of songs in their catalogs, and in particular, their connection and understanding of DSLR filmmakers. Pay close attention to the license terms such as how long you can use a song and in how many productions.
Triple Scoop Music (triplescoopmusic.com): Triple Scoop Music’s service is tuned specifically to wedding and event photographers and videographers. Many of their songs are from Grammy-award winning artists, and you can find high-quality songs, both with and without lyrics. As of this writing, their licenses for personal videos such as a fusion wedding presentation is only $60 for an indefinite use, perpetual license. Commercial related licenses range from $99 to $299.
The Music Bed (themusicbed.com): TMB has a particularly strong connection to the filmmaking industry. They have an eclectic mix of high-quality music, including some from well-known bands like Need to Breathe. Their licenses start at $49 for single use, perpetual wedding or portrait licenses. Corporate licenses range from $199 to $399 depending on the size of the organization.
PremiumBeat: (premiumbeat.com): PremiumBeat is a poplar go-to site for small companies and agencies shooting commercial work. All the songs in their curated catalog are just $39.95 for unlimited use in perpetuity. None of their songs have lyrics (aside from a few with background vocals), so they may not be the best choice if you need songs to prime emotion, but for commercial work they’re hard to beat.
Marmoset Music (marmosetmusic.com): Marmoset Music has a tool on their site that allows you to search for songs by pacing, type of project, energy level, etc. Their licenses start at $99 for wedding and portrait perpetual, single use. Corporate rates start at $199 and climb to $999, depending on company size.
Song Freedom (songfreedom.com): Song Freedom made a name for themselves by being one of the first sites to provide pop songs from artists like One Republic and Colbie Collait. Their license rates are $49.99 for wedding and portrait single use, and $199 for commercial. Their licensing is a little confusing in that they also have a corporate licensing rate, which to me seems the same thing as commercial. Be sure to read their FAQs on the difference.
There’s one music resource on the Internet that allows you to use music for free under Creative Commons 3.0, so long as you put proper credits in the video: incompetech.com by Kevin MacLeod. You may not find the quality of music as high as the sites mentioned above, but it’s a great resource if you need a fun silent movie era song, or a popular classical music piece. If you have a client with a small budget (or no budget), this is a great resource.