Guitar Player With Text ARE-YOU-DOING-IT-WRONG_

Music Licensing for Filmmakers & Content Creators: Are you doing it wrong?

I have been in this music licencing & production business for over 10 years now working with filmmakers, video production companies and content creators helping them get the right music and music licence for their content.

I’ve learned how hard it is to keep up with the ever-changing music industry & music copyright laws governing the use of music in film and content.

I do feel sorry for the average filmmaker and even professional production companies. These filmmakers are trying to make a living from good film or online content and then they get their work stopped due to music licensing conflicts.

Filmmakers and content creators have so much to think about already… then add the stress of music licensing into the mix and that is enough for most people to just crack and give up!

I hang out regularly in online filmmaker forms and notice the same questions about the use of music in film & content coming up again and again and again….

Guitarist Playing with Text Music Licensing for Filmmakers

In this blog You’ll Learn:

  • The two main types of Music Licensing.
  • The biggest mistake most people make when licensing music (and how to avoid it).
  • The main reason music licensing is so confusing.
  • BONUS: I’ve created a simple checklist you can download to make sure your music is best cleared for your content. This will help avoid some of the most common mistakes made by filmmakers and content creators when licensing music.

The cost of getting it wrong can be catastrophic for a small business or an entrepreneur, with fines and penalties that can exceed $30,000

Sourcing and clearing music for use in films, media or other content can be one of the most stressful, annoying, headache inducing tasks for filmmakers, creatives and content creators.

The task is equally painful for filmmaking professionals as it is for newbies, as the law guiding how we use music online and how music copyright is monitored in this digital world of streaming is turbulent and ever changing.

The cost of getting it wrong…

The cost of getting it wrong can be catastrophic for a small business or an entrepreneur, with fines and penalties that can exceed $30,000 (in the case of willful infringement) as well as the possibility of a criminal prosecution.

With Music Licensing being such a headache, with such high stakes, I can see why so many people use the same tired old loops again and again or rely on that limited library of stock tracks that everyone else is using on YouTube.

Science has proven that different music releases different chemicals in the brain which can motivate, build trust, and even heal the listener.

But that doesn’t mean you can afford to overlook the importance of music in your production.

We all know that getting the backing track right sets the tone and mood of the production, whether you are driving sales with advertisements, motivating your clients with your training videos, or moving your viewers to tears with your films, getting the music right is essential.

Science has proven that different music releases different chemicals in the brain which can motivate, build trust, and even heal the listener.

Such a powerful aspect of your production should not be overlooked.

So, in today’s blog I’m exploring some of the main aspects of music licensing and looking at how it can go wrong.

Not sure if these rules apply to you?

Music Licensing impacts anyone who creates content that uses music, for example:

  • YouTube Creators
  • Video Game Developers
  • Advertising Agencies
  • Student Filmmakers (just because your film is for a student project does not automatically mean you are exempt)
  • Influencers
  • Course and Webinar providers

So, even if you think your content doesn’t need a complex licence, it is ALWAYS worth double checking..

Download Link to Music Licensing Checklist for Filmmakers

The Two Types of Music Licencing

Although there are millions of songs, tracks, beats, performers, creators, and composers there are two main ways to Licence Music.

Indirectly

There are several downsides to this method, the first is the sheer cost of the licenses

The most popular way to licence music is indirectly through a third party such as a Music Publisher (Universal, EMI, etc) or a Music Library (Audio Network, Premium Beat).

Music Publishers have existed for hundreds of years but the Music Library is a far more recent creation and only came about with the invention of sound in film.

Both of these options manage a composer or songwriters’ music in exchange for a large cut of the profits.

If a content creator wishes to use a piece of music managed by a Music Library or Publisher they must first purchase any one of a number of synchronization licenses offered by the library or publisher.

These licenses vary vastly in price ranging from less than a hundred dollars to several thousand depending on the type of project and the projected success of the project (e.g. the number of times a movie might be downloaded).

There are several downsides to this method, the first is the sheer cost of the licenses. Then there is the time, effort, and stress it takes to read through all the different licenses to ensure the correct license is purchased.

But one of the biggest issues, to my mind, is the tiny cut that the musical artist takes home, while most of the money listed on the price tag goes to the Publisher or Library to cover “Administration”.

Directly

If you get a composer who also recorded and owns the master rights to a song on your film crew, then you are in a great position.

The alternative method is to go directly to the musical artist, composer or songwriter.

Just a few years ago it would have been next to impossible to manage global music licenses between content creators and independent composers. But now, of course, the internet has broadened opportunities and allows songwriters to work directly with those who want to use their music.

There can be issues here too.

First of all, there needs to be a clear contract between filmmaker and composer. A project could go viral and suddenly the composer is wondering where their cut is! Without a clear contract in place, a dispute of this nature could easily end up in the law courts.

However, the freedom this method offers and the opportunity to cut out the middleman, still means that licensing directly from the composer is still my preferred option

There are two levels of copyright that must be cleared with every song  – the sync rights and the master (mechanical) rights.

The person who wrote it controls the “sync rights” and the person who recorded it controls the “master or mechanical rights” respectively.

If you get a composer who also recorded and owns the master rights to a song on your film crew, then you are in a great position.

Assuming they are a DIY musician and own all copyright in their music from composition (i.e. sync rights) to recordings (i.e. master / mechanical rights), any music copyright issues that might arise you can just pass to them.

As the full music copyright holder, they have the power to take on YouTube or any other party that might be claiming music copyright infringement on your video content which uses their music. They will fight to protect their music as much as you will fight to protect your video content.

This is how I work. I am an independent composer and control all copyright in my work. If you are interested in browsing a music library with fair pricing and simple licensing that comes directly from the composer without any middle men, with sync rights and mechanical rights already included, then you might want to take a look at my own music library.

The Biggest Mistake Most People Make When Licensing Music (And How To Avoid It)

In my experience, I’ve found that a growing number of users are incredibly savvy when it comes to some of the basics of understanding copyright.

Most creators understand that they can’t just use a chart topping track in their video without music licence clearance.

I am often surprised by the amount of people who are still completely unaware of the Collection Agencies

There is also a growing awareness of public domain music, creative commons licenses, and Royalty Free stock music.

[If you want to read more about Royalty Free Music you can check out my Filmmakers Guide to Royalty Free Music.

However, I am often surprised by the amount of people who are still completely unaware of the Collection Agencies, most commonly referred to as Performance Rights Organizations (PRO’s), such as the PRS and ASCAP…there are many many more depending on where you live in the world as each country typically has their own collection society. 

If you ever show your movies to paying audiences in public, hold major public events with entrance music for speakers, provide fitness classes with pumping beats to keep your clients moving, or have a cafe, stall, or shop with the radio switched on, then you need to know about PRO licences. In the UK you could need a PRS Licence / PPL Licence. The UK .GOV website sums it up nicely:  https://www.gov.uk/licence-to-play-live-or-recorded-music

Side Note: This Government website also states: “You do not need a licence to play royalty free music.”  Don’t make this general assumption. I have seen a lot of companies selling music marketed as “royalty free music” but still subject to a public performance licence as mentioned in their small print. Always check with your music supplier. 

Anything that is deemed “a musical public performance” is subject to a PRO fee.

If you ever produce content for broadcast either on TV, a streaming service, or even on a website, then you need to know about PRO cue sheets.

These PROs (Performing Rights Organizations) are Collecting Agencies who collect royalties on behalf of composers.  

With the faint promise of huge but distant payouts, composers and songwriters readily hand over their annual fees to collection agencies in the hope that they will get their fair share if their music is ever played on the radio or appears on TV.

Meanwhile broadcasters, theatres, and supermarkets pay a licence fee for the right to play music in their venue or on their channel. Anything that is deemed “a musical public performance” is subject to a PRO fee.

Some horror stories include how a woman was fined for playing music out loud to her horses

Knowing whose music is played, for how long, and to how many listeners is a logistical and administerial nightmare of epic proportions! The system seems to rely almost entirely on estimations and the [totally voluntary] completion of cue sheets which are intended to be submitted by music users (like filmmakers for example), telling the PROs – “Hey, I used this music here, pay the composer a royalty” –  but there is little to no actual checking. As you can imagine the PRS alone in the UK racks up a huge amount of uncollected royalties.

In days gone by it was simple to monitor the few TV channels, radio stations, and theatres that regularly broadcast music to ensure that they had paid their fees and submitted their cue sheets letting their national PRO body know what music was played and when.

It was more difficult to monitor shops and cafes and other public spaces where music might be played. As a result collection agencies have been known to overcompensate by making examples of people who flout the rules.

Some horror stories include how a woman was fined for playing music out loud to her horses and another tells of how a woman was charged with a £1,000 fine for singing to herself while she stacked shelves in a store! Both counted as public performances, i.e. the broadcast of PRO registered music in a public space and as neither business had a PRO licence, they got issued with a fine.

How To Avoid The Problem as A Filmmaker or Content Creator

Even if you buy Royalty Free Music you must check with your music licence provider to check if the music is PRO registered to avoid getting stung by this fee. A quick question to your music supplier could save you a lot of pain and money down the line.

If in doubt about a song, you can contact your local PRO collection society directly.  (e.g. PRS in the UK or ASCAP in the USA) to see if the music is PRO registered and if your usage is liable for public performance fees.

If you are liable and are happy to pay PRO fees, ensure you fill out a cue sheet, with all the correct song ID numbers, so that the composer who created your music is given the royalty they have earned and it won’t just ‘rest’ in the  Collection Agency’s bank account. Ask your PRO agency about where to get a cue sheet and where to submit.If you want a more in depth look into Royalty Free Music head over to my Filmmakers Guide to Royalty Free Music.

The Main Reason Music Licensing is so Confusing

It is really important that filmmakers and content creators ask a lot of questions about their music licence as just one tiny sound-bite or one uncleared tune can stop your project dead mid-production.

Music Publishers can have different rules to Music Libraries. And one library can have different rules to another library.

But I have seen people asking the same basic questions over and over again in forums and on social media but I’ve never really seen anyone able to provide a complete or 100% accurate answer. Questions such as “I have cleared this music but why is YouTube Content ID blocking it?” , “Is royalty free music free?”, “What is public domain music?” , “What is creative commons music”? , “Can I use royalty free music in my software app?”

I’m not a Music Lawyer or a Copyright expert but I do have more than a decade’s worth of experience dealing with music licences from a composer’s point of view so I know I can provide some insight to those who are struggling on the other side of the contract.

But the truth is, that the main reason why these questions are getting asked over and over AND why no-one is able to answer them robustly or correctly is that the music industry is constantly changing!

New music publishers are popping up every day, all over the internet. While many of them cut and paste a standard contract others are coming up with brand new new ways of licensing music.

The music industry is turbulent and has not yet fully evolved to cope with the digital world.

Music Publishers can have different rules to Music Libraries. And one library can have different rules to another library.

Add to this the fact that different countries also have different rules and that although you may create the content in one jurisdiction, you might licence the music from another, and go on to broadcast that content in another!

The music industry is turbulent and has not yet fully evolved to cope with the digital world. It is in a state of flux and although it may have settled itself in a decade, right now, many companies are making it up as they go along.

YouTube Content ID is just an administration system, it does not prove legitimate copyright ownership like a court of law.

YouTube is an excellent [or terrible?] example of this. The rules around their content ID system have changed dramatically over the last 18 months. Even now many users are complaining that the system is fundamentally flawed and legitimate copyright holders are getting blocked or having strikes against them with little or no power to contest once a decision has been made. Remember, YouTube Content ID is just an administration system, it does not prove legitimate copyright ownership like a court of law.

Unfortunately, this means no-one can answer these complex questions simply, quickly, and completely. Even when I see others struggling, my ‘help’ often becomes a 10-page essay which might not be quite relevant to the situation that the OP has found themselves in.

TEXT WITH 50% ROYALTY FREE MUSIC OFFER

BONUS

So, to help out my filmmaking and content creating friends and not bombard forums with 10 page essays, I have come up with a strategy you can use and put in place to ensure you give yourself the easiest and best chance of success when souring music for you film or content.

It cuts out a lot of the cr*p and covers the really important universal points of best protecting you and your film content from music copyright claims and infringements.

It is a concise & clear checklist for you to follow when sourcing music and clearing the use of music.

Use this checklist as a guide and you will give yourself the best chance of success in getting your music licensing sorted. The music police can come knocking and you can answer the door with a smile! 😊

Download Link to Music Licensing Checklist for Filmmakers

Click here to read “A Filmmakers Guide to Royalty Free Music”. It’s the perfect “next step” after reading this post.

Alright, my friends, I hope this post has helped you realise the major importance of having an understanding of music licenses without putting you off using music completely!

Got questions? Leave a comment! Let’s chat.

I really hope this helps you out and allows you to focus more on your filmmaking and less on the stressful world of music licensing.

If you do find it useful, be sure to share this post with your filmmaking and creative friends so more people can start working on getting this right,

Chat later,

Louise.

Louise Byrne Music Producer Profile

Louise Byrne is a UK based Composer and Music Producer who writes & produces music for filmmakers & content creators.

Her music has been used globally by major broadcasting houses & brands such as MTV, Discovery Channel, Discovery Science Channel, The History Channel, Fox Sports, VISA, BBC, NBC Sports & many more.

      

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as a guide only for educational and informational purposes. It is not legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *