After countless hours sourcing perfect footage and slaving at your computer to piece it seamlessly together, you’re finally done! Or are you? You realize what you’re missing is the perfect song. Maybe you’ve heard about music licensing, but aren’t sure how it works. How do you even go about licensing a song for your project?

While music licensing can be a long, winding and expensive road to travel, it doesn’t have to be. Right here, you can learn the basics of music licensing and step away with a roadmap that will have you on your way to a finished masterpiece in no time.

When do you need to license a song?

When deciding whether or not you need a music license, first ask yourself how your video containing the song will be used. There are two different types of use to consider:

  • Private use: If the video will be shown only to friends and family and will not be sold or published online (i.e. YouTube, Vimeo, social media, etc.), then you don’t need a music license.
  • Public use: By making the video publicly available online or selling it, you will need a license.

Which rights do you need?

In order to use someone else’s song in your video, you need to acquire two different kinds of rights, Master rights and Publishing rights.

  • Master rights: Master rights control a song’s sound recording. The owner of the master rights is whoever financed the recording, which, if the artist is signed, is usually the record label.
  • Publishing rights: Publishing rights control a song’s composition (notes, lyrics, structure etc.). The songwriter retains control of these rights unless signed to a music publisher, who in that case, would own the rights.

How do you license a song?

Now that we understand when it’s necessary to license a song and which licenses we need, let’s get into the actual process.

  • Choose the song: First, you’ll need to find the song you want to use. Maybe you have the perfect song already in your library. If so, great! If not, you may need to do a search online to find a song that fits your video.
  • Research who owns the rights: After you’ve found the song you want, you’ll need to find the rights owner(s). It could be the artist, a record label, publishing house, or collection society.
  • Request the licenses: Now you’ve identified the rights holders, licenses for the song will need to be obtained. You will need a license from both the owner of the master rights (master license) and the owner of the publishing rights (synchronization license), which can often be different parties.
  • Negotiate price: The next step is to negotiate a price for the license. There are several factors that affect the price, which include popularity of the song and/or artist, the type of project, and how the song will be used (e.g. main theme vs. background).
  • Draw up a contract: Lastly, you need to draw up or source a contract that details how the song will be used; compensation, type of usage and other terms.

Is there an easier way?

Yes! There are several music licensing services available, like Songtradr, that simplify and streamline the process, making it easier for both buyer and seller.

Songtradr has a vast catalog of pre-cleared music from which to choose. The intuitive search allows you to find the perfect piece of music using search variables such as keywords, budget, or usage types. You can also select music from playlists curated by some of the industry’s top music supervisors, A&R reps and experts in music licensing. Another neat feature is the site provides the tools for any user looking for music to post a Wanted Listing where they can advertise their project and its parameters i.e. genre, keywords, vocal type etc. By using Songtradr’s custom-built pricing fader, prices are automatically calculated for each license type or you can negotiate and/or make offers with rights holders. An automated legal contract is provided on purchase and you can begin using the song immediately, often saving you time and money.