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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Using Royalty Free Music Correctly


This guest blog is by Bjorn Lynne, a composer, producer and owner of Lynne Publishing. See bottom for more information about Bjorn.


With today’s easy access to amazingly powerful hardware and software, everybody can be a media producer. Whether you are producing videos for friends and family, TV programmes for local television, Podcast episodes for your special interest group, or simply have a public venue (bar, cafe, gym, spa, hotel, etc.) that you wish to fill with background music, it’s important to learn a few basics about legal use of music.

Many years ago, the only people who really needed to know the ins and outs of music licensing were the people who worked for professional production studios and broadcasters. But today, everybody can be a broadcaster and a media distributor. Services like internet sites, YouTube, Podcasting and more have put the world at everybody’s fingertips, and from your bedroom you can transmit your ideas, your words, your video and film, your voice and your productions, to every corner of the world. With this opportunity comes the need for music. Music helps bring your production to life and to get your message across.

You can’t just “take” music from anywhere and use it in these projects. Remember that even if you’ve legally bought a CD in a record store, or purchased a music download legally from iTunes or Amazon, really you have only purchased a license for personal use of that music. And if you’re producing a video that you want to upload to YouTube or a web site, or using music in a Podcast that can be downloaded by others, or even playing background music in your store, then you are no longer using that music for only personal use. You are then distributing that music, or you are performing the music in a public place -- and you are not allowed to do that unless you have specifically obtained a license to so.

This is where “royalty free music” or “stock music” libraries come in. From these services you can quite easily and relatively cheaply buy music that actually includes a license to distribute the music within certain parameters, and/or to play the music in public, without paying royalties. That’s where the term “royalty free” comes from. This term does not mean “non copyright music” and it does not mean that the music is free of copyright. It simply means that you will license that music for a one-time sum, instead of paying royalties based on exactly how much you are using it.
The term royalty-free music can also be a little unclear because in some cases the music can be licensed for a one-time fee for certain types of uses, but other types of uses may still be subject to paying royalties via the Performing Rights collection societies, such as PRS.

There are essentially three different uses of music that each need to be licensed, as and when needed.
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  •        Sync Rights: This means the right to combine the music with film, or other multimedia. Most typically it means that you use the music as background music in a film or TV commercial. But it can also mean that you add the music to a video game, an App, a YouTube video, etc. To legally do this with music, you need to obtain the Sync Rights or a Synchronisation License.

  •             Mechanical Rights: This means the right to produce physical items that contain the music. For example, a video DVD, an audio-CD, a memory stick, or any other physical objects that carry the music. This also applies when the music is used within a film. So, for example, if you use music as background in a film scene, and that film is duplicated onto 1,000 DVD’s, then you need the Sync License (to put the music onto the film in the first place), and you need the Mechanical License (to manufacture physical items that contain the film that contain that music).

  •            Performing Rights: This means the right to play the music in public. “In public” basically means any place where other people besides yourself and your family and immediate friends can hear it. Typically this will mean in a shopping mall, a hotel lobby or similar, but it can also mean to play the music, for example, in a dentist’s waiting room, or as telephone on-hold music. Whether you’re just playing the music itself, or you’re playing a film or game that contains the music, you need the Performing License to that music.


Now. A lot of music these days that you can find in stock music libraries, or royalty-free music libraries, tend to be royalty-free for Sync Rights and Mechanical Rights, but are not really royalty-free for Performing Rights. So typically, when you buy a music track from a stock music library / production music library, you will make a simple, up-front, inexpensive payment that includes the Sync Rights and the Mechanical Rights for the music track, but your payment does not include the Performing Rights.

This may not be a problem, because let’s face it, a lot of media producers aren’t going to play the music in a public venue anyway. You may be producing a video for broadcasting on local television, but in that case the broadcaster will already have a blanket Performing license, so you don’t need to obtain one. A lot of potential users of stock music simply don’t need the Performing rights.

If you DO need the performing rights, or you suspect that you may need them, be sure to read the small-print in the license that the stock music library offers.

Some royalty-free music libraries, such as the popular one at Shockwave-Sound.com, offer music in two different categories: PRO music and Non-PRO music. In this case “PRO” does not mean “professional” as you may first think; it means Performing Rights Organisation. Music that is “PRO” is composed by people who are members of a Performing Rights Organisation, and when you license that music, the license purchase does not include the Performing Rights. You’ll have to get the Performing Rights from the PRO in your country (in the case of the UK, the PRS – www.prsformusic.com). But the music categorised as Non-PRO is composed by composers who are not members of any performing rights organisation, and for these tracks your one-time license purchase from Shockwave-Sound does include the Performing Rights as well as the Sync- and Mechanical rights.

It may be unfair to expect every bedroom film-, app- and media producer to understand all of this, and a lot of people haven’t got a clue. As I mentioned earlier, going back 20 years or so, the only people who really needed to know about all of this was people working in professional film studios. But today, every PC and every Mac is ten times more powerful than even the most professional gear 20 years ago, and now everybody wants to be a producer and a broadcaster. And that’s when it becomes necessary to know about this stuff.

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About the author: Bjorn Lynne has a background as a composer and producer of music for film, video games and installations. He is originally from Norway but he has lived and worked for 10 years in the UK. He has a page at IMDB, runs a small music publishing label called Lynne Publishing, and is an eager recreational tennis player in his spare time.