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Stock Music 101

How to License a Song

Steven Howsley | October 10, 2020

The Essentials of Custom Music Licensing

When it comes to music licensing, you may wonder how some commercials and films end up with the music they have in their projects. For many video projects, music can be a big deal and as a creator you want the song or score used to be the perfect fit and emotionally impact the viewer in a way that fits the tone of your video.

Now as nice as it sounds, you can’t just go to the iTunes Store and download a song from your favorite artist and use it in your project. In the world of commercial music licensing, there are generally two approaches to licensing music: custom and royalty free.

We wrote a whole post about breaking down the differences in details of commercial music licensing here, but today would like to talk more about the nitty-gritty behind licensing a specific song for your project.

Landing Your Dream Song

If you have a particular song in mind and it is not royalty free, you’re likely going to be dealing with a more complex set of conditions and stakeholders to use the song in your project.

At the most basic level, you’ll end up signing what’s called a synchronization license with the publishers and copyright holders of the track to define what the song will be used for, the media associated with it, and the duration of the license.

As it can probably be assumed, the more popular or prominent the artist or song is, the more complicated and expensive it is going to be to license. For example if your artist is on a major label, you’re going to need to go through the music rights holders at the label and any other stakeholders involved in order to meet review and approval.

By working with a major label artist, you were not only getting the benefit of using their song but also the weight of their personal brand as an endorsement. For that reason, licensing tracks from major artists tend to be the most expensive and complicated way to go. More common in the commercial advertising world these days, artists are signing more comprehensive brand endorsements which tend to contain a more integrated contract that goes beyond just the sync license.

As a starting point, it is typically best to work with a custom music licensing or ad agency who may have the connections you need to make your dream song happen for your project. These custom music licensing businesses connect the dots between the brand in the rights holder of the songs, assisting in the negotiation of terms and general workflow of the project.

The Other Option

What’s the alternative? Alternative to working with major label artist and custom licensing houses, you can contact smaller independent artists individually to negotiate license terms or work from a stock music archive like ours to find a similar track without the hassle. While stock music isn’t for every project, the digital archives have been improving in quality and can be a great fit for most commercial projects.

Written by Steven Howsley

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