What is music licensing exactly and when would you need to buy a license to use a music track?

In this post I’ll attempt to explain in simple terms what music licensing actually is compared to just downloading a song for sale, and when you are likely to need to purchase a music license for a track to be used for a specific purpose.


Music Licensing Explained

what-is-music-licensing-and-why-would-you-need-itWhen you buy a song from somewhere like iTunes – or even if you download a free track – all you are purchasing is the right to play that song for your own listening pleasure. You don’t own the song. Ownership remains the intellectual property of the creator and/or music publisher.

If you want to use a music track for any other purpose, then you either need permission from the rights holders, or you need to purchase a sync license to legally be able to use that music in whatever your project happens to be.

Music licenses are not free, and generally they cost considerably more than the price of buying a track to play for your own listening purposes. The price varies from place to place and depending on what you want to use the music for.

For example, licensing music to be played as the backdrop for your wedding video will be a lot cheaper than a license to feature a track in a movie trailer or video game.

As I said, each licensing website will charge different prices, and on some sites the artists/publishers can set their own prices. So how much you pay will depend on both the website and the type of sync license you purchase.


When Would You Need A Music License?

Generally you will need to purchase the correct type of sync license for any purpose other than your own listening pleasure. In some cases you may be able to seek written permission from the artist/publisher, where they grant you free license to use a piece of music, but usually you will have to pay for the privilege.

Here is a quick list of some instances where a sync license will be required for you to legally use a piece of music, either in its entirety or in part:

  • treble-clef-with-piano-keysFilm/Cinema – Commercial and independent
  • Network TV
  • Commercial TV
  • Film trailer
  • Corporate video
  • Wedding video
  • All advertising media
  • Advertising online
  • Online video (such as on YouTube)
  • Video games (including trailers)
  • Apps
  • Documentaries

The above list is not exhaustive, but they are some of the main examples of needing a music license to legally use a piece of music in a project. You could create (or have created for you) music yourself, thus negating the need for a license, but otherwise you will have to pay a fee to use music.

If you go to a music licensing site and the purpose for what you need the music for isn’t listed in the options, then it’s best to contact the site owners to clarify exactly what type of sync license you will need. Better to get it right than be sued.

There is another point to consider as well regarding the price of sync licenses. If you want to use a popular song by a famous artist in a project, it’s likely going to cost you bucket loads more than using a song or instrumental track by someone less known.

Many music tracks available for sync licensing are instrumentals as compared to music with vocals. The reason for this is, those artists deliberately creating music tracks for the licensing market – in particular film and gaming – know that the film producers and game makers tend to want instrumentals over tracks containing vocals. Sometimes they will want vocals, but generally instrumentals are more suited.


Where To License Music

songtradr-logoA quick Google search will bring up an array of places where you can license music and sound effects for your projects. Some offer better quality of sound and design than others, but there is something to suit every budget and every project.

I create tracks specifically for music licensing purposes, and I license my music tracks through a company called Songtradr. They offer licenses for all types of projects and are worth checking out if you are after some music for a film or project of your own. Songtradr handle all the legal side of things. All you have to do is make the purchase and the Songtradr staff will handle the rest.