I like this song! Can I use it in my video?
In this tutorial we’ll go over few options that would allow you to use copyrighted commercial music in your marketing or corporate videos without violating the copyright law.
Why use background music?
Multiple marketing studies have suggested that music helps to enhance the success of video marketing campaigns.
Just to recap, here’ are the top 3 reasons most marketers and business owners opt to include music in their promotional videos:
1. Music helps to grab attention even before anything happens in the video.
2. Music helps to control perception. Do you want the viewers to perceive your brand as confident and trustworthy? To perceive your service or product as comforting and worry-free? Music can help you to achieve exactly that!
3. Music helps to set the mood and creates emotional connection with your target audience. Think, how do you want the viewer to FEEL when watching your video? Exited? Comforted? Alert? Emotional?
Not every video needs music
However, don’t think the music is a magic wand that can instantly bring you sales and clients. It’s just one part of a complex marketing puzzle.
Here are two extreme examples:
a) Animated explainer video with no spoken word.
b) Recording of a conference presentation.
I wouldn’t use music in the conference presentation video, as it would only distract the viewers. On the other hand, watching the explainer animation in silence just wouldn’t feel right.
Use common sense and your best judgement when deciding if you should use background music in your marketing video.
Can I legally use copyrighted music in commercial marketing videos?
Either if you make marketing videos for your own small business or create content for your clients, you will eventually find yourself in need of legal background music.
As a rule of thumb, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner to use any copyrighted material, even when working on strictly non-commercial projects.
Don’t make these mistakes!
1. I can use any music as long as I give credit!
That’s not true. Giving credit is nice and is surely appreciated by the artist but it grants you no special rights.
The only exception I can think of is using Creative Commons with Attribution license that actually requires you to give credit, in order to use the music.
2. I can use any music as long as I don’t make profit!
Once again, it does not matter whether you make money from your video or not. You still need permission if you plan to use somebody else’s content.
3. I can use any music under fair-use law!
One can make an argument that you still can use copyrighted music under fair-use doctrine of the US copyright law.
If you plan to use fair-use as you line of defense against copyright claims, keep in mind that fair-use primarily applies to commentary, parody, news, and similar uses and won’t work for business videos.
Should I care about music licensing ?
If you’re working on a media project for your business or for a client, my suggestion is never to use any unlicensed content, especially music.
The common risks include:
1. Your video gets muted, removed, or “complemented” by third party ads.
2. Legal action by the copyright owner against you or your business.
3. Your reputation as a freelancer video editor gets ruined by negative feedback from clients learning you put unlicensed content in their videos.
Let me repeat. Never use unlicensed music in your business or client videos! Period.
How to properly license music for commercial business use
When it comes to commercial music, in most cases, the rights are split between the record label and the publisher.
The publisher controls the song (that is, the words and the melody), while the record label controls the recording of that song.
Therefore, in order to use a commercial song in ANY video, you must obtain two licenses:
1. Sync (synchronization) license from the publisher.
2. Master license from the recording label.
The publisher may vary from a large company with thousands of artists to individual songwriters who publish their own work.
You can find publisher information by searching through the major performance rights organizations (PRO) catalogs:
On Wikipedia you can find the most complete list of PROs by country.
You can also try to identity copyright owners by searching the US Copyright office database.
Still can’t find it? Get in touch with the artist or their management and ask.
Be prepared that it may get quite expensive to license a popular song.
Here’s what Gael MacGregor, an experienced music & film industry professional, says about the license negotiation process:
“License fees may vary widely, with the fees based on how it’s used, how many minutes/seconds are used, how many times it’s used, if it’s also used as the opening and/or end title, the overall budget of the project, and so on. Licensing is a wild west kinda proposition — with publishers setting the fee. Whatever the market will bear — or whatever they can negotiate with the requesting party — is what it will cost.”
Thus, be ready to consider alternatives!
A quick note about performance rights
The Sync and Master licenses will give you the right to use copyrighted music in videos and similar media projects.
However, if you plan to broadcast or publicly play your video, you may also need to obtain a so-called performance license.
Most professional composers are members of a performance rights organization (PRO) of their country. The PRO collect performance royalties when their members music is performed in public places or transmitted to the public over the radio or television broadcasts, music-on-hold, cable television, and by the Internet.
Music licensing is complicated! Is there an easier way?
Tracking down the publishers and negotiating the license fees may not be neither quick nor easy. Trying to figure out if you need a performance license may complicate things even further.
The two biggest issues with negotiating the licenses are time and money.
If you are on the budget, you can consider one of the following options.
Legal free music
Public domain music
That covers compositions and recordings with expired copyright. Note that copyright laws vary in different countries and so does the copyright expiration time.
Furthermore, even if the composition itself is in public domain, the recording may be still under the copyright. That’s often the case with classical and jazz records.
Music available under Creative Commons license
Many composers and musicians distribute their music for free under the Creative Commons license.
Generally that means that you can use Creative Commons music free of charge. However, there are different kinds of creative commons licenses, so pay attention to the details.
Often you will be required to give credit, may be restricted from using the music in commercial projects, or will be obligated to share your work under the same terms.
Keep in mind, that even though Creative Commons music won’t cost you in terms of dollars, you will be searching through a vast pool of music that neither was specifically made for marketing video, nor was made to adhere to any particular quality standard.
Not to say that free music is necessarily bad (not at all!) but be ready to search through a really mixed bag.
Stock / production music (made specifically for licensing)
If you have a bit of a marketing budget, consider purchasing a stock music track from a music library.
These days, many large and small music libraries offer affordable instrumental music for commercial use priced specifically for freelance video producers, YouTubers, independent software developers, small business owners and marketers, and so on.
Most libraries will offer a variety of royalty free music licenses depending on how you intend to use the music.
However, when choosing music library pay attention to licensing fine print. Some libraries will require you to purchase a new license for every new project, while others may have more generous terms.
Related: What Is Royalty Free Music?
A quick Web search will give you plenty of options to choose from in terms of both licensing terms and price.
Just to give you an example, here are few songs available at our own royalty free music library. You can license these songs to use in any commercial marketing video, including corporate video, real-estate video, on-hold music, mobile app, political ad, and so on.
Every downloaded music track comes with a licensing certificate that names you (or your business) as the license holder.
Making lots of videos?
Save on music licensing fees with affordable royalty free stock music subscription.
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