It is probably the most frequent question new talents ask when they enter the world of film and video production:
“Can I use popular music in my videos?”
It is a very common question among people who film weddings and events whose clients naturally want to use their favorite songs from Bruno Mars or Enrique Iglesias for their videos.
So let’s get to it:
1. What the law says about the use of music in movies
By law, to use a song in a movie or video you need two types of licenses:
- A license for primary use (controlled by the label)
- A synchronization license (controlled by the publisher)
In some cases, the record label and publisher can be the same entity but often are not. Here’s an example:
Say you want to use the song “Amazing Grace” on a video. Being a hymn that is more than 70 years old, the song is within the public domain. So if your 16-year-old daughter writes and sings her own remake, you will not need any license.
But suppose you want to use the version by Chris Tomlin, then you would need a license for primary use and a synchronization license.
2. And what if I buy the song on iTunes or Google Play?
Buying any song on iTunes does not give you the right to use it in a video. The problem is not in the ownership of the song, it has to do with the artistic use of that song in another art form.
Therefore, I am convinced that the artist whose song you are using appreciates the payment of $ 0.99 on iTunes for downloading it, but will not be equally happy if you use that song in your video.
Nor does the fact of knowing someone in a band that has given you the approval to use one of his songs.
You must also consult with their label record because they don’t have the right to issue the license you need.
3. The record industry in practice
Of course, in practice, the record industry is not constantly in a battle against people using songs without the necessary licenses the same way they had the legal battle against Napster, for example.
However, large websites like Youtube and Facebook have automatic algorithms to recognize copyrighted music in their videos and mute or remove them without previous notification. (Sometimes even you can leave your Youtube video but then share the profits from advertising with the current holder of the copyright).
But why take the risk?
4. Obtaining the rights to use a song
So how do I get the rights to use popular music?
This is the one million question.
The Harry Fox Agency used to manage those rights until they ceased their service in the United States. BMI, ASCAP or SESAC cannot help because they do not manage synchronization rights (although you can use their sites to find information about the editor).
As far as I know, you have to use old-fashioned ingenuity and elbow grease to work your way to the right people at the right companies in charge of the licenses you need.
Social networks can be a big help. On Twitter, for example, you can ask directly to the band and, by chance, you get the information from someone.
But even if you find the right people, depending on where and how you plan to use the song and the size of your audience (ie, if you use the music for commercial use
, video advertising, on television or in a movie … ) the cost can be prohibitive.
So, what a poor director can do?
Workarounds to add music in your movies
We don’t know if record companies care much if you include a copyrighted song in a video of a wedding that only your family is going to watch, but if you’re going to put the video on Youtube or if your video is intended for a little wider audience, it is better not to gamble.
So, what are the options if we want to stay within the law and not to have problems?
Here are some:
Specialized music licensing sites
There are several royalty-free music subscription websites or licensing services, in which their prices range from $1 to $300 depending on many factors.
Maybe $300 may seem like a lot if you compare it with the one euro you pay on iTunes, but once you start to see that the licensing of famous songs usually costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, you realize that this is a bargain.
Some of the most famous companies on the Internet are:
- Epidemic Sound: Specially created for Youtube and social networks, the difference of Epidemic is that instead of acquiring the individual licenses of each song, it is also possible to access the entire music portfolio through a monthly subscription.
- Envato Elements: Envato Elements: For a subscription of $15/month you can have unlimited downloads of all the songs and sound effects you can imagine. No limitations.
- AudioJungle: Our favorite because it has nearly half a million songs for films distributed in all kinds of musical genres, with an integrated search engine to find the ones that best suit your project. The various types of licenses are royalty-free, files are in MP3 and WAV and their prices are well differentiated by the audience you will reach your film or video, starting with $29 for a standard license.
- Premium Beat: This platform follows the Audiojungle line, offering individual licenses for full songs and sound effects. In fact, its music library has more than 10,000 songs from a multitude of genres for use in your movie. Their license prices start at $49 for their standard model.
- SongFreedom: The SongFreedom team has managed to issue licenses of famous pop artists like One Republic, Imagine Dragons, Maroon5 and much more. Normally, the use of these popular songs are however limited to personal events and therefore we cannot use them for short films.
- Musicbed: Created by filmmakers and musicians, has revolutionized the film industry. Licenses are considerably expensive but the songs are certainly elaborate, so it is great depending on the type of music you want to use. Be careful, because their licenses are RM (we explain the differences between types of licenses).
Free online resources for royalty-free music
Well, what happens if you really have zero budget for the music for your film or trailer?
There are resources for this situation as well. The two most famous websites are Free Music Archive (FMA) and Incompetech (from the New York artist Kevin MacLeod). In FMA we can find a lot of songs without lyrics of a wide range of genres.
Of course, when the music of this type is used, usually you have to include some sort of attribution to the musician/s. This can be as simple as putting “Song Title” by “Artist name”.
Perhaps also it may be necessary to indicate the Creative Commons license under which the song is used. (Here you can take a look at the description of the CC licenses)
Music Software to make your own compositions
Music editors such as Apple Garage Band or SonicFire Pro let you use guitar riffs, drum beats, piano melody, etc and create your own background music for movies.
While this certainly is not what you want, because the time you’re going to lose creating it is worth more in money terms than a license.
Find an external composer
If you are interested in creating original productions for the film, you may want to find a talented composer who can make 100% original music.
Soundcloud and Bandcamp are good websites filled with musicians, artists and independent bands looking to increase the exposure of their work and will surely be happy to negotiate the terms with you.
Common licensing terms
Rights-managed VS Royalty-Free
Among all these sites there are typically two types of licenses you will come across:
- Rights-managed (RM)
- Royalty-free (RF)
RM licenses allow ONE use per project. That means, once you use that song in a project, you have to pay an additional license fee to use it in another project. Music Bed is an RM licensing site.
For example, AudioJungle is a royalty-free marketplace with licenses and it’s easy to determine which one you need with this little quiz. Usually, the licenses for movies or television have a slightly higher price than the standard licenses.