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Top 5 Music Licensing Myths Debunked


1) Licensing music is a loss of copyright control.

Licensing music is not a loss of copyright control but a transfer of the right to use a song for a certain purpose. Under the laws of the United States, a song is copyright as soon as it is fixed into a tangible medium of expression. Basically, as soon as you record your song it is automatically copyright. (Note: If you want to take someone to court for a copyright violation, you must be able to prove you recorded a song by a specific date. This is why registering with the US Copyright office or other public registration is important). As the copyright holder, a songwriter has multiple rights which they can license separately or all at once. Some of these rights include the right to sync music with images (sync license) or distribute a song via digital downloads (mechanical license). The copyright holder still maintains control of the copyright to the song and the other party has a right to use the song depending on the type of license. A license CAN limit the future use of a song from the songwriters perspective, especially when an exclusive song license is used.

2) Music licensing is always for money.

This is not always the case. Although it is nice for the songwriter to receive an upfront amount of money for the right to license their song, a song can be licensed in exchange for any benefit. For example, if I need music for my video, I may work with a songwriter to license their song in exchange for a prominent placement in the credits. In another case, a composer may license a video game theme song in return for guaranteed mechanical royalties down the road. In a time when thousands of new songs are uploaded to the internet weekly, it’s important to realize the benefit of exposure for a song while also taking into account a songwriter’s needs to be paid adequately for use of their work.

3) Most unique writing projects are legally work-for-hire.

Work-for-hire tends to be misunderstood and overused as a means to commission a song. There are two ways a song can be written as a work-for-hire. The first is if the songwriter is an actual EMPLOYEE creating the work within the scope of employment with a company. And were not talking about the IRS’s definition that basically says anyone you pay is an employee. The employer must actually be “directing, or supervising the creation of the work, in a very specific way.” As a songwriter is usually given the right to compose the piece as they see fit, it would be difficult to apply this definition to most writing cases.

The other option is if the composition meets certain rules to actually be considered as a work-for-hire. If all of the following criteria are not met, then the work is not a work-for-hire and the songwriter still owns the copyright:

-The work must be comissioned (created at the request of someone)

-It must be created under a written agreement

-And it must be created for use in one of the following: A motion picture or other audiovisual work, a collective work (a collection of individual works), a compilation, a translation of a foreign work, or a supplementary work (a work supplementing another work like an intro to a book).

The language here is a bit tricky so always be careful with work-for-hire scenarios and ensure a lawyer is consulted so that everything is in compliance.

4) Royalty-free music license means the songwriter never gets paid again.

This again depends on the way the song is used. The person licensing the song will probably not have to pay further royalties in the future to the songwriter (unless they decide to sell the song – see mechanical license above). The networks that are distributing the song cannot use music royalty free and WILL pay royalties if the song is played on their network. This is most always the case for public performance of a song. So if a company comissions a jingle song on MusikPitch, they will only pay the one-time prize amount. When that ad jingle is later played on the radio or TV, the station playing the song will pay the performance rights organizations (PROs) for the right to play that music. Those societies will in turn pay the songwriter. If a film underscore is written, then the studio will only pay the one-time fee for the music and won’t have to worry about paying royalties for each play of the song in the movie during theater showing. If the movie makes it onto NBC television later, then NBC will pay performance royalties to the PROs. So it is true that the initial purchaser of the music will be getting royalty free music, but it doesn’t mean that the music is royalty free for everyone who plays it.

5) Music licensing has to be done through a label or music publisher.

Although this may have been the case a couple of years ago, this is definitely not the standard today. It is still common for an organization seeking music to license that music from a label or music publisher. Labels control a large portion of popular music from the past couple of decades along with music publishers. In order to use a popular song, one must discover who owns the rights to that song and work with them to license it for their purposes. This can be a hassle and many film/TV studios, music supervisers, and others have realized the benefit of using independent artists. The licensing costs for using independent artists are much less than trying to license a song from a record label or prominant publisher. If a studio really likes a specific song that is out of their price range, they can always commission a composer to write a similar sounding piece at a much lower price. Their are also tons of music libraries online to search for inexpensive music to license. Of course, the newest option of crowdsourcing music on sites like MusikPitch may be the easiest (and most fun). Simply run a contest for the music needed and let songwriters around the world compete by composing or searching their catalogs for the perfect song match.


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