A Pop star Singing: How Much to License A Famous Song

How Much Does It Cost To Use A Famous Song In Your Content?

A time will come in your film-making or content creating career when you want to use a famous song in your videos.

Sometimes, there is one piece of music that you know will take your videos or content from good to extraordinary, but how can you licence famous music and how much does it cost?

How much does it cost to license a famous song? 

Let’s start with the money!

The cost of licensing a famous song will vary, depending on  factors including your planned usage of the song and the size of your audience.

To give you some sort of price range from my personal experience –  for independent artists, you can license a song from $0 to around $200,  for more popular artists or artists signed to multiple publishing and record labels expect to pay in the $1000-$5000 region plus. 

Finally, at the top end of the spectrum we have the extremely famous classic songs that have been known to be licensed in Hollywood movies for at least 5-figure sums, for example, “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, which cost in the region of $500,000 when featured in the feature film, “Varsity Blues” in 1999. 

As you can see, the price significantly varies. You won’t know exactly how much it costs to license a popular song for your content until you ask the music rights holder. 

Each song is typically negotiated on a song by song basis with each individual user based on their budget and planned music usage.

How do I license a popular song for my videos & content?

Firstly, it is good to know what you need before you start contacting record companies, artists and music publishers. 

When licensing a popular song (or any song) you need to purchase (or as we say in the music industry “clear”)  license rights to the following:

  1. Sync Rights – Also known as the publishing rights, these are the rights to the written song, typically owned by the composer or songwriter. 
  2. Master Rights – These are the rights to use the particular recording of the song. 

So you need both these licenses, now let’s work out how to get them!

What is the process of licensing a famous song for your indie film or content?

It is really daunting when you first start on this journey of music licensing popular songs from major record labels. 

The process of licensing a popular song will change depending on the song you choose, so it is really difficult to pin down a set process or road map to getting your song licensed. 

To help, or at least give you some sort of idea of how I navigate this world, I am going to take an example of a popular song and show you how I would go about licensing it.

Like I said, the process will change depending on the song but hopefully the following example will;

  1. Show you how the world of music licensing operates.
  2. Show you where to start. 

#1 – Step 1 – Pick Your Song

This is an easy step – pick the song you want to use and know the name of the artist.

For the purposes of this example, I have logged into Spotify and looked at the biggest tunes of 2020.

At the top of the playlist is “Yummy” by Justin Bieber. Let’s work out how to license it! 

how to license a famous song

#2 – Step 2 – Find Out Who Owns the Copyright

Once we have picked our track, we need to find out who controls the copyright.

Click on the “show credits” on Spotify and this will bring up who owns the copyright on the song. 

If you have a CD recording of the music, just look inside the CD cover sleeve to see who owns the copyright. 

Show composer credits in Spotify

The image below shows the official Spotify credits for this song.

In this case we can see that the song is performed by Justin Bieber and the individuals who wrote this song are listed. 

Five people wrote this song!!! 

a list of composers in spotify

I am looking at the credits as I am looking for clues as to who owns the music rights.

We can see that next to “Source”, we have RBMG / DefJam

I know these are the record labels responsible for the songs so are a good place to start to learn more about licensing these songs. 

Under these song credits you will find either music publishers or record labels associated with the song.

It is time to do a little detective work and look up these companies online to see if they have any song licensing information listed on their sites. 

#3 – Step 3 – time for detective work

We have our song and we have a record label, so now let’s check out the record label to see if there is any information about licensing music on the record label website.

A quick google of “DefJam“, tells me that this record label is part of the Universal Music Group. 

universal music group

This is a big win as the Universal Music Group is well established and a major music publisher with very clear instructions on how to go about licensing their music.

A quick look on their website, under their contact us page, tells me how to go about licensing their music – or at least where to start!

The following is a quote taken directly from the Universal Music Group Website telling you how to license music for a project. 

I am interested in licensing music for a project. How do I go about doing this?

Licensing requests should be directed to your local Universal Music Group office. To find details of the office in your country please click here. If you are in the US and would like to license the master recording of a Universal Music Group artist please contact the copyright and licensing division at 310-865-0770 for further information.

If you would like to obtain rights to use a song or lyrics from a song that is administered or published by Universal Music Publishing Group you should contact UMPG’s Film & TV Licensing department via the UMPG website by selecting “license request” at the bottom of the page. If you are unsure whether UMPG is the proper contact for your request, information on a song’s publishing company is usually found on the album’s packaging.

Remember, we must obtain the “Sync Rights” and the “Master Rights”. “Sync Rights” are typically controlled by a music publisher and are the rights to use the written song and lyrics. 

Therefore, in the second part of their information, they direct us to the Universal Music Publishing website where we can also make an enquiry regarding the “Sync Rights”.

I found the following information very clearly on the Universal Music Publishing Website which tells me exactly how to license a song from them.

1. If the song is a Universal Music Publishing copyright then you will need to contact our licensing team via inboxlicensing@umusic.com, letting us know what song you are looking to use and a brief description of your project.

2. We will then be able to confirm our share of the publishing and send through the appropriate synchronisation form.

3. Based on the information that is provided, we will then send through a ballpark quote for the use which would be strictly subject to final writer approval.

4. If you would like to proceed to clearance based on the terms of our quote we will then send out for the relevant writer approvals.

5. If the request is approved we would then issue our formal approval along with a request for contracting and invoicing details. All approvals are subject to final contract so the use should only proceed once all paperwork is completed.

6. Please note, we cannot guarantee your request will be approved by our writers.

We now have a point of contact to start asking about licensing this song, “Yummy” by Justin Bieber. 

In this instance, I would contact both UMPG & UMG to start getting as much information as possible. 

With this example, we got lucky in that the song is licensed with Universal Music so we found someone to contact quickly and they are a major music publisher so have very clear instructions and systems regarding licensing their music. 

background music depiction

What happens if I can’t find contact details for a particular song?

In the above example, we got lucky in that the chosen song was managed by Universal Music Group (UMG) who have a very clear system of licensing their managed music. 

But what happens when you can’t easily find the music publisher and/or record label?  

In this instance, the best practice to follow is to find the contact details of publishers through PROs – Performance Rights Organisations. 

Most professional composers belong to one of these organisations. 

Here are the contact details for some of the worlds largest Performance Rights Organisations. Just click on the link in the following table.

Your country will have their own PRO body if you can’t see it on here. 

United StatesASCAP  |  BMI  |  SESAC
United KingdomPRS PPL
Latin AmericaACEMLA

As mentioned earlier, you need to clear two types of copyright when licensing a song – the sync rights and the master rights.

The above organisations maybe able to help you with the sync rights but you may also need to contact a record label separately to clear the master rights.

This is when music licensing becomes a bit hellish!

#4 – Step 4 – request your song

Once you discovered who to contact regarding your chosen song, you will need to formally request to license it. 

The publisher or record label will need the following information which you should include in your first contact email:

  • Your Name
  • Your Company Name if Applicable
  • The song you want to use including the full song title and full artist name.
  • How you plan to use the song, for example on Radio, TV, YouTube etc. 
  • The number of expected views, for example, national TV broadcast or YouTube audience size.
  • The financial intent of your content – for example, is your use for commercial gain such as product advertising or a non-profit cause such as a charity event. 

Based on the above information, the publisher will issue you with a quotation.

It is really important to point out how you plan to use the music and if it is for a non-profit or low profit production as you could negotiate more favourable rates. 

#5 – Step 5 – patience

Once you have found the music publisher and record label for your chosen song, or contacted one of the PROs to get this information, the next step is to wait. 

From my personal experience it can take ages to get the rights cleared on a song. You may need to chase this if you are in a hurry. 

For example, last year I sent a request to license a famous 1980s song in September to hopefully get it in time for Christmas.

It is now January 4th (four months later!) and I still have not heard anything back from the PRO. 

Thankfully, I was able to cover the need with my own compositions, but still…..that was a long and frustrating wait!

Allow plenty of time when licensing popular music and don’t leave it until the last minute.

royalty free music for free

Where can I find popular music to license for free or without hassle?

From my experience of working in the music industry, licensing popular or famous music is not much fun and is best done if you have a high budget.

It is even better if you can hire a professional body who specialises in clearing music rights for content. 

There are alternatives however if you wish to get great “radio chart sounding music” but without the high license fees and long wait times.

Below is some of my own music which you can license for free. 

Just drop me an email via louise@louisebyrnemusic.com if you would like to licence this music for your content, telling me how you plan to use the music and I will send you the paperwork and tracks.

I am currently expanding my free music library to include my commercial POP and ROCK music for free which will be part of my Royalty Free Library in 2021. Exciting times!

Just follow me on Spotify (Streamertrax) to find out when these are live in my library.

Happy content creating ☺️

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.

2 thoughts on “How Much Does It Cost To Use A Famous Song In Your Content?

  1. Andres says:

    You mentioned you were going to give the cost of the Justin Bieber song, but that critical information on as left out. Can you please update and let is know what the final costs involved were for this license. Thank you so much!

    • Louise Byrne says:

      Hello. You are right, this is missing!
      I never followed up and it fell by the wayside.
      Thank you for reminding me.

      Just processed a fresh request and will update with the latest price.
      (FYI – this could take a couple of weeks to get an answer….it is not a fast process!!)

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