Name that Tune, Find that Tune, License that Tune!

Guest Post by Kathryn Waugh Skene of Music Matters

The use of music in a production – whether film, television, games or advertising – is about connecting the right song with the right moving image. It’s about emphasizing a storyline, intensifying a scene and augmenting an emotion, all while staying true to the style and vibe of the project.

But there is also a logistical side to including music in your production; that includes budgets, research, negotiation and licensing. Songs, like all intellectual properties, are protected by copyright.

Let’s say your dream song is called “I Love You,” and you want to use this piece during, say, a pivotal car chase scene in your movie: you know you need a license (unless you have suddenly become an adept composer!), but you just don’t know where or how to get one?

The good news is that with a little detective work, and a basic understanding of licensing, this shouldn’t be an impossible task.

Song Research

The first thing you’ll need to know is who wrote and recorded “I Love You.” This information is relatively easy to obtain if you have a CD copy or (legitimate) MP3. Check the liner notes, or digital file, and you’ll find the writer and performer listed beneath the song title. For example: I LOVE YOU / Written by John Smith / Performed by JS Band

If you don’t have the recording (perhaps you heard the song online or on the radio) an app like Shazam or SoundHound will at least be able to uncover the performer. A quick internet search (“I Love You by JS Band”) will reveal the composer.

The next step is determining what type of licenses you need. In the world of music clearance, there are two types of licenses.

Types of Licenses

A Synchronization license covers the use of the composition, whether recorded or not . A sync. license is generally granted by a music publisher.

A Master license covers the use of a recording of a song by a specific artist. A master license is generally granted by a record label. You do not need a master license if you are recording your own version of “I Love You”.

Locating the Music Publisher

If you’re lucky, the music publisher will be listed on the song’s liner notes (for example, “I Love You” written by John Smith, performed by JS Band, @Best Music Publisher Inc). If you don’t have this information and need to find the publisher, there are several online databases you can use.

CMRRA, ASCAP and BMI are music societies which allow you to search using the song name, writer/composer or performer. Once you locate “I Love You” by John Smith you will find the publisher information listed on the song’s page. If the contact details are not available, a quick internet search should provide further information. Other resources include: iTunes, Amazon and Wikipedia.

Locating the Record Label (or master owner)

Again, this information should be easily located on the recording. If you do not have access to these details, there are a number of helpful databases online, such as:, MySpace and Artist Direct  (also see resources for locating the music publisher).

Getting the License

Now that you have completed your research on “I Love You,” you are ready to contact the publisher and label to request a license. Before doing this though, you will need to put together certain details about your project, including:

  • A short synopsis of your production
  • The length of “I Love You” and how many times you are going to use it in your project
  • How “I Love You” is being used (background, instrumental, performance on screen, etc.)?
  • A description of the scene “I Love You” is used in and if you are using it over the credits
  • What rights, territory and term are required?
  • Will “I Love You” be covered by a composer (no master required)?

Once you have gathered all these details, it is time to send in your license request. The publisher and/or record label should get back to you within a few business days with a quote. If you agree to their fee and terms, a license will be issued.

And you’re done! You can now use “I Love You” by John Smith in that car chase scene. Other than submitting a cue sheet to the relevant performance society there is nothing left to do… except to sit back and enjoy that creative marriage between song and visuals.

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