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"Music Licensing in TV, Video and Film"

By: David J. Spangenberg
© David J. Spangenberg

Pooch scribe

Face it folks: This is a Multi-media World!
Here's a "How to..." - for safely & legally putting your Music into Videos & Films!

Listen to the PoochCast™


It's all very simple and clear to me: when someone wants to find/hear a particular song, they go to YouTube! Research has reported that YouTube (and Vimeo, etc.) sites win with almost 90% in that category, including a very high rate of "tweens" and young teens - a very important demographic for up and coming bands. (For, "Why?" see:

Unsigned Acts and Drawing Fans

Musicians must face a fact, if you don't have a video, (and hopefully way more than one - even out-takes are great!) you're rarely going to get heard, let alone seen. And can you picture films, videos, whatever, without some form of Music? It's become a marriage - images & sound. That is, nowadays you have to think: Multimedia. So, let's look at what it takes to make it all happen between the Music people & the Film-makers...

1st, it must be understood, that the Recording of the Song (that is, the finished production), and the underlying Song (the lead melody & words), must be kept separate, in that they are 2 separate copyrights:

A. The Song [ © on a CD ] is under the "Performing Arts" category, and

B. Recording, [ (P) on a CD ] , is under "Sound Recording"

They necessitate 2 separate Licensing situations (though they are sometimes combined) and are considered two separate forms of income, and will often have two different owners.

The Film-maker has a choice: They may just want to use the Song, with another Artist performing it, instead of the Recording of the song.

So what actually is Licensing? Well, when you give or receive a License regarding placing a Song and/or a Recording in context with Video Images, you are not giving or taking ownership of a Song or Recording. It is like leasing them for one project (example: use in a particular film), or multiple projects (example: lead song on a TV Series), or in a Music Video, and can also be restricted/limited in its use, say, it only can be in one particular Film - and not sold for DVD's; or just for a period of time, like maybe 13 weeks for use in a Commercial.

A License is a Contract and will usually have many stipulations that need to be agreed to. For example, you may be doing it just for the exposure because the Indie Film is being made with little or no money. But what if a distributor picks it up, and puts it out, or in some way money was coming in, I, as the owner of the Song and/or Recording would want to be compensated at least at that point. Contracts should be fair to both sides.

The 2 Licenses that usually come into play regarding the use of Music in conjunction with Visual Images are:

1. for the Song: a "Synchronization License" (often called a "Sync License", and,

2. For the Recording: a"Master Use License"

I'm now going to break it down even further...

1. Licensing: The Song

There are 3 main Licenses you may need to deal with regarding Licensing a Song:

-> The Mechanical License: This License is used if you don't own the Song and you wish to put it out for sale in a Physical format, such as Cassette, CD, Vinyl, etc., that is, it is intended to be played on a "Mechanical Device". You must usually pay the Owner, who is often the "Publisher" (not necessarily the Creator), 9.1 cents per sale, which is the current copyright rate). They may ask for an advance for the 1st 1,000 sales, which would equal $91.

-> The "Digital Product Delivery ('DPD') License"): This License is used if you don't own the Song and you wish to put it out in a Digital format, such as for digital downloads and streaming. You must usually pay the Owner 9.1 cents per sale (with the streaming money coming from the Songwriter & Publisher's Performing Rights Organization, such as BMI or ASCAP).

Note #1: the Mechanical & DPD Licenses are often combined - which allows you the freedom to cover it, sell it and stream it, and the like, on any device or through the Internet, etc.

Note #2: Once a Song is released to the public, a person/company cannot be turned down from covering it by the owner of the Song, usually the Publisher, and not necessarily the Creator. This is via Copyright Law, and is called a "Compulsory License". Although you still have to notify the Publisher, and receive a License from them to use the Song, they cannot turn you down as long as you keep basically the same melody and words. There IS a fight going on by the Songwriters & Publishers to change this, so they can charge more. Stay tuned...

Important: The Publisher (owner) of a Song is a person or Company that plays the business person for the Songwriter. The Film-maker must deal with the Owner - who, again, may or may not be the Creator of the Song!

-> The Synchronization (Sync) License: This License is used if you wish to Synchronize a Song with Visual Images, such as in Film, TV, Video Games, Commercials, etc. to be played/seen on/through any media. The owner has the right to turn you down, and the price will be set or negotiated, on how it's used, how much of it is used (like 10 seconds, or the whole Song), etc.

2. Licensing: The Recording:

The "Master Use License": If you either,

A. Want to use part or all of the actual Recording in a film, commercial, TV show, Video Game, etc., or

B. Want to use pieces of it in a Song, such as using a Sample or Loop. The owner (often a Record Company) may turn you down, and the price will be set or negotiated, on how it's used, where it is used, how much of it is used, etc..

Other Important Points:

- If you wish your Recordings to be used for TV, Film, etc., they Must be "Broadcast Quality". That means, they must sound like a Major Label release. The Songs need to be recorded well, and they should be mixed by an experienced Audio Engineer. Yes, someone in their basement may get quality recordings of the instruments, but they must have someone with hundreds of hours of professional mixing experience to be able to attain the quality necessary for professional applications.

- When words are part of the Music, Broadcast Quality must include words that can be clearly understood. The words have to make sense regarding the Project Script.

- Re: Sound Formatting: A .wav file is normally preferred (Never an mp3! That is, "compressed")

- Re: Versions of the Recording (at least):

1. The complete Ready-to-go Recording of the Song as you'd put it out...

2. Don't Fade the Ending of the Song, or have a version without one!

3. A complete Instrumental Mix (without the vocals). The mix may have to be adjusted a little without the vocal. Most Engineers won't mind doing this for free, if done at the time of the original mix. Otherwise, they may charge you.

- Re: Listing information on a Web Site and/or on hard copy, the following will make it "Music Supervisor-friendly". They will love to see the following all in one place, along with the Recording...

1. The entire hook of the Song

2. The genres of Music the Song could fit into

3. What the Song is about in 1 or 2 short sentences or a couple phrases.

4. The complete "Word Sheet"

5. The name and contact info for the Copyright Owners.

- Finding the owner of the Song: If the version you want to use has been put out to the Public, you can usually find out who owns it, especially in the USA, at either (they represent many publishers though they don't do sync licenses anymore),,, or

- Finding the owner of the Recording: Talk to the "Record Company" or whomever owns (paid for) it.

- Payments/Royalties? It depends on many factors, like how and when it's used. It can run from "exposure/Resume", with a small Indie; or over 100,000 dollars as a lead song in a Major Film...

Important: I must add, there are also many, many other factors to be considered, such as: What if this small college project gets picked up by a major distributor? Shouldn't I be able to make (more) money, then? What about DVD sales, TV, etc., etc." And each situation has its own quirks & nuances.

I'm sorry, but when this kind of situation comes up, it's time to talk to someone like me, a Music Contract Specialist, or an Entertainment Attorney well versed in the Music Industry and how it operates. We'll know what you didn't know you didn't know that you need to know...


Please remember, if you have any questions, or need my help in any way guiding you through your personal maze or to handle your legal info or contractual end, please email me at:

Author's note:

You are welcome to post this article on any website, e-zine, newsletter, or in any print magazine,

if you include a link directed to

with writer's credit and copyright notice...

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David J. Spangenberg
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