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What Is Music Licensing And Why Is It Important for You to Know

Copyright theft is a serious issue. It’s a crime punishable with a prison term, at worst, and a hefty fine if you are lucky. Unfortunately, in recent years, the instances of people committing the crime have risen dramatically.

Clearly, copyright infringement covers a vast array of types and severity, but it’s something that you’ll want to avoid as much as possible. Film and video producers often need to consider the intricacies of music licensing, and it’s a veritable maze of complicated terms and legalities that would make most scared stiff of transgressions.

What Is Music Licensing

When you are looking to add great music and SFX (Sound Effects) to your film, video or social media posts, you will start to look for a way to do so, preferably one that won’t break the bank or lead you to break the law.

Music licensing law is almost deliberately confusing, either to scare you from considering using licensed tracks without permission or to force you into hiring the services of a legal professional to help guide you through the very convoluted process.

Here’s a guide to the types of licensing you might come across.

Types of Musical Licensing

Copyrighted Music

So, if you have an unlimited budget or perhaps work within the studio system, you’ll no doubt have a bank or mainstream tracks that you feel would be perfect for your feature.

Maybe your production even has a music supervisor who has worked long and hard to draw up a setlist of songs that fit certain scenes and themes within your movie.

In other words, imagine you are Quentin Tarantino, or maybe Edgar Wright, two directors who are absolutely amazing at finding the flawless track for every scene.

The costs associated with this approach are immense. So much so that even established producers will encourage directors to re-think their choices. Getting licenses for copyright music from well-known popular artists is a real minefield.

It’s not only the cost that you would have to factor in; there’s also the very real possibility that the owner of the publishing rights may just flat out turn you down. After all, they don’t need the money and may not be all that interested in allowing their life’s work to appear in your Slasher Horror epic.

To be clear, this music licensing path is only really going to be relevant for those with very deep pockets and an extreme amount of patience.

Public Domain and Copyright Free

If you literally don’t want to pay a single cent for the musical accompaniment to your film’s visuals, there is an option, albeit a very limited one. That comes in the form of music that is free for your use in almost all circumstances.

Copyright-free music tends to cover music that’s more than 75 years old and will generally revolve around output that has seen its copyright expired.

So clearly, the music in this tranche of licensing isn’t going to suit many modern productions. Maybe it works well if you are shooting a period piece set in Victorian England, but it won’t go well with your Fast & Furious imitation.

Music in the ‘Public Domain’ is also generally available for creative projects, though not so often cleared for commercial use, and is a catch-all term that covers a very tiny fraction of the market.

This is music that has either deliberately been released for public use, without a license, or is deemed in the ‘public domain’.

Again the amount of musical content this covers is very small,  and you are going to be very lucky if you find something that you genuinely feel complements your film, as opposed to simply taking the song or track because it’s free, and therefore compromising your entire endeavor.

Royalty-Free Music

This brings us to perhaps the fastest growing niche in the music licensing ecosystem, royalty-free music. Sometimes, inaccurately, referred to as non-copyright music, royalty-free music is available for your use for a one-off payment.

This payment, usually as part of a subscription service with a royalty-free music provider, is much cheaper than you might imagine, and given the accessibility of the process, it’s something that will appeal to filmmakers and those who often produce content.

A royalty-free music provider offers thousands of tracks, samples, and SFX files, all handily categorized in a database that you would surf. In this way, you get to check out a large cross-section of quality music on your way to finding the perfect music for your project.

The best in the market will make this music available in several sound file types, and the content is yours to keep and a blanket license, which most providers offer, means you can then freely use these items as you wish.

Most importantly, you’ll do so without the fear of getting a knock on the door, an email sent to your account or a letter in your post box informing you that you’ve crossed the music licensing line and can expect some very bad news indeed.

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About the author

Sophia Britt

My name is Sophia and I live in the suburbs of Chicago. I offer real world experience to readers on how to save and smartly spend their money. Plus offer advice on organization, career, business, travel, health, home, education and life.