Music for Documentaries
Holding a degree in Business Administration and Programming, Pablo established Legis Music in 2016. With a focus on the royalty-free music industry, he has contributed extensively to the field, authoring over 150 articles on various aspects of music licensing. His efforts have been instrumental in developing one of the most straightforward and liberal music licensing frameworks available today.
When creating a documentary, you are probably wondering: can I use famous or well-known songs?
Is it possible to use free music?
Where can I get licenses for its use?
In this article, we will solve all the doubts related to the use of music in documentaries so that you have all the possible information at your fingertips.
Can I use famous music in my documentaries?
This is the most frequent question asked by new artists who are starting out in the audiovisual world, as it is understandable that they want to use songs by world-famous artists.
Despite the fact that using them would mean reaching viewers in a deeper way because they are composers of songs that almost everyone knows, it is not a simple process:
In order to use famous music in any kind of music project, it is necessary to acquire two types of licenses: use or master license and sync license.
The master license is controlled and managed by the record label, while the sync license is controlled and managed by the publisher (in many cases the record label and the publisher may be the same entity, but this is not common).
This means that in order to obtain the above licenses, you will have to find a way to contact both – which is no easy task.
Bear in mind, these societies do not manage synchronization rights, so you will have to find a way to locate the record label and negotiate with them.
One way might be through the artist’s or band’s official social media channels.
However, if you have been lucky enough to reach the right people to acquire both licenses, you will find the downside of having to shell out astronomical amounts of money: the price could skyrocket to several thousand dollars.
As you can see, licensing famous songs is a process that takes time and effort for a result that is not assured.
Is it necessary to license songs?
Either because you can’t get the licenses or because they are too expensive for your means, you should be aware that it is illegal to use the songs without first obtaining the licenses.
Illegal use of the songs could result in heavy financial penalties, with legal and criminal liabilities in the worst-case scenario.
So what other options are there?
Before explaining what this type of music consists of, it is necessary to know what copyright is.
These, in a clear and simple way, are those rights that belong to the authors of works, in this case of musical tracks or sound effects, by the mere fact of creating them, protecting them and establishing limitations of use on them.
In the case of copyrighted songs, the purchaser would have to pay according to, for example, the number of views of the media resource in which the songs are included.
In addition, they would have a specific period of use and, if they wanted to extend this period, they would have to pay a supplement.
Here is a clear example: Imagine that you use a song that is protected by copyright for one of the scenes of your new documentary.
The more times the documentary is viewed, the more royalties you will have to pay, and the more you can only use the song for a certain period of time, previously agreed with the copyright owner.
With Royalty-Free music, this does not happen, as it is another type of license that is characterized by not having to pay royalties, but you only pay once, and you can use the song as many times as you want.
If you search the Internet for the term “royalty-free music“, you will find dozens of platforms that offer it.
However, you have to be careful, because many sites that offer royalty-free music do not include all the economic rights to their songs and do not give any prior notice of this.
This would be a complicated situation for you for several reasons:
- You will have to pay separately for the rights that the license does not include. This adds an extra cost, and you will also have to go through the cumbersome process of acquiring licenses. 2. You risk your documentary being claimed for not respecting copyright.
However, there is a solution to this problem and that is to use royalty-free music under a so-called direct license.
Simply put, it is the license that covers all the necessary rights, allowing you to use the music in your documentaries, distributing them on any platform and in any country in the world, without any fear of take downs.
This is where Epidemic Sound, the only platform with this licensing model, comes into the picture.
The company is currently one of the best positioned music platforms in the music licensing industry, which is used by world-renowned companies such as Loréal, GoPro and Pinterest, as they have more than 90,000 sound effects and more than 35,000 music tracks, all created by the best independent artists.
Within their subscription plans, you can find the ‘Commercial Plan’, created specifically for commercial productions.
Epidemic Sound’s Commercial Plan.
To enjoy the benefits of this plan, which we will explain below, your company must meet the requirement of having an annual turnover of less than ten million dollars.
This license will allow you to upload your documentaries to social media and online video-sharing platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitch or Vimeo.
In any case, if you want to know more about the permitted and non-permitted uses and the licensing conditions, you can access this link to the official Epidemic Sound website.
Having clarified this aspect, it should be noted that one of the great advantages of the ‘Commercial Plan’ is that you can use their songs in the way you want: only the voice or only instrumental; or you can also cut and select the scrubbing you want and need, all automatically from its own platform, without having to use external sound editors.
So, the main advantages of this plan are:
- Unlimited monthly music downloads. - All rights included. - Possibility to ‘clean’ productions from copyright claims. - Personalized music recommendations.
How much does it cost?
You have two options: monthly payment or annual payment in advance.
If you decide to choose the former, you will have to pay $49 per month.
However, if you opt for the annual payment, the price is reduced to €25 per month, for a total of $299 per year, giving you a saving of almost 50% on the price.
Other royalty-free platforms
While we will name later other platforms on which to get this music, we would first like to highlight a new feature we have introduced in Legis Music:
Launch of three exclusive plans in 2023
We consider it vitally important that our customers can access royalty-free music easily and cheaply.
Therefore, these plans have been designed so that you only have to pay once to get them, allowing you to enjoy unlimited songs for life and have the peace of mind of not having to worry about copyright claims in the future.
Thus, you can choose the plan that best suits your needs:
- Starter Plan. It is the most recommended for using the songs for personal and home videos. It also allows you to use the music in all social networks and on any web page.
- Personal Plan. If you are looking to get numerous songs to use in your personal projects, this is the license for you. The Personal Plan offers unlimited music downloads, which can be used in social networks and streaming platforms, YouTube, apps, video games and audio books; as well as podcasts, virtual classes and online ads. Its price is $49 in a single payment and for life -if you use it for 3 years, it will be like paying $1/month-.
- Business Plan. This plan is specially designed for freelancers, companies and those who work for clients. It is the most open license of all, as any use case is covered and it also offers unlimited music (the only thing that is not allowed is to resell the songs). Its price is a one-time payment of $99 for life -if you use it for 2 years, it will be like paying $4/month.
As you can see, if there is one thing that makes our licenses stand out, it is the opportunity to enjoy them forever and paying only once.
Below is a table with the three plans and their respective prices.
|Starter Plan||Personal Plan||Business Plan|
|Price||$19 for life||$49 for life||$99 for life|
Artlist has a bank of more than 8,000 music tracks with a wide variety of musical genres that are distinguished by the filters of ‘Mood’, ‘Genre’ or ‘Instruments’.
A great advantage of Artlist is that it offers different versions of the same song, that is, you can enjoy extended, shortened or instrumental versions, among others.
To enjoy both its music and its sound effects you will have to purchase one of two plans: ‘Creator Pro‘ or ‘Team‘.
The ‘Creator Pro‘ plan is for filmmakers and freelancers who want to publish their documentaries on any platform in the world, including branded and commercial projects.
It is priced at $16.60 per month billed annually.
Once purchased, you will be able to enjoy their large catalog without worrying about anything for the duration of your active subscription.
In addition, you will be able to use the downloaded music after your subscription expires; once used, your license will cover the use forever.
On the other hand, you can use the “Team” plan if you are a company with a team of between two and seven members, as this recently added plan is a multi-access account with a license that covers all members and the projects they create.
The price is $28.20 per month billed annually for two components, increasing progressively depending on the number of people on the team.
Audiio is another platform that stands out in the royalty-free music sector.
It offers more than 30,000 different songs and sound effects from which you can choose by “mood”, “genre”, “duration” or “instruments” depending on what you are looking for to accompany the scenes of your documentary.
Although they have three different plans, with ‘Audiio Pro‘ you will have access to unlimited downloads and new music tracks and sound effects on a daily basis, as well as the possibility of publishing your documentary on any video platform during the year covered by the license.
All this for the price of $199 per year.
Specialized online platforms
In case you want to use copyrighted songs, all is not lost, because there is a possibility: specialized online platforms that offer to license of famous songs or cover versions of them.
These companies are in charge of obtaining and offering the necessary licenses for many of the most popular songs for different audiovisual uses in a legal, fast, and much cheaper way.
Their prices vary from one website to another, but, to give an example, Easy Song offers their team of licensing experts for you starting at $299. And for cover songs, these can be easily obtained within one business day for a small fee of $16.99 or less.
Just go to their website and find out which songs they offer and if any of them match what you are looking for.
If this option still doesn’t quite convince you and you decide not to use well-known or royalty-free music because the documentary is low-budget, you have the possibility of accessing Creative Commons licenses.
Creative Commons music
Creative Commons music is music that is protected by free and open licenses, in which the author is the one who establishes the limitations for the reproduction, distribution, diffusion, and copying of his or her work.
These licenses have two conditions: they can be used if the final product is not for profit and the credits must be cited in the medium where the reproduction is made.
Thus, if you use a song in your documentary that is under these licenses, you must attribute or mention the author of the song in the credits at the end.
There are 6 different Creative Commons licenses depending on a series of conditions, which we explain in more detail in this article.
However, these have several drawbacks:
- Restrictions and research time. It may happen that you find a song that fits perfectly with your project, but because it is the authors themselves who decide what limitations the licenses have, you cannot use it in the way you would like. So, you will have to check the licensing conditions beforehand to find out which one best suits the song you want and for what purpose you want to use it. - Licensing conditions can change at any time. Once you have chosen and used a song under a Creative Commons license that suits your needs, it may happen that after a while the author decides to change the conditions. - Three of the six licenses offered by Creative Commons do not allow songs to be used for commercial purposes. - Some of the licenses prohibit modification of the original song, i.e. if the song has vocals, you cannot choose, for example, to download it as an instrumental.
This is why film producers generally opt for royalty-free music.
Through this article, we have tried to clarify the most frequent doubts about the use of music in documentaries.
In this way, we have tried to explain that, although there is the possibility of using famous songs (with all the processes and costs involved), it is more advisable to use music by independent authors under Creative Commons licenses or royalty-free music (highlighting those under the direct license offered by Epidemic Sound).
It is the safest, most convenient, and most economical way to accompany film scenes with a musical background that manages to convey the desired message to the audience.
Do not hesitate to access the aforementioned platforms and browse through their endless playlists of music and sound effects, as we can assure you that none of them will disappoint you.
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