Licensing: a One Stop Shop

If you have ever tried to get a license to use a Public Enemy song in a movie or TV show, you will know that it’s no simple task. As a matter of fact, you will get a taste of the infamous frustrations involved in licensing music. Music licensing for use of a song in movies, TV or advertisements is quite simple under ideal circumstances, and is simpler with “licensing stores.”

When you license a song, you are licensing a sound recording. Sound recordings are generally made up of lyrics, sheet music, and the musical performance of the song itself. In acquiring a license, you will usually seek clearance from the record label (who are typically the copyright owners of the master recordings), the music publisher and the songwriter. It is sometimes tricky to obtain license from music publishers and songwriters if the musician opposes the use of his or her music in certain contexts – such as alcohol commercials. In most cases, you must obtain more than one type of license.

  • If you will be using the song on the radio only, without a visual component, then you will need a transcription license from the music publisher.
  • If you want to use the song in a manner that will pair, or sync, the song with a visual component, with the option to re-record the song, then you must get a synchronization license from the music publisher. If you want to sync a particular recording of a song, then you need a master use recording license as well.
  • If you want to use a particular recording of a song on TV or in a movie, without actually re-recording the song, you will need a master use license that is easily obtainable from the record label or whoever owns the master recording.

The difficulty in obtaining a license for TV, film or other media outlets is the costs involved and the number of people from whom you must obtain a license from. In many cases, there is a flat fee for license. However, there is on universal license fee for synchronization license. This leads to varying fees for the use of different songs, and can force some people into using a replacement song instead of the originally desired song. This is where the frustrations come in.

Say, for example, you want to use “Bring the Noise” by Public Enemy in a TV show. You will need to obtain both a synchronization and master use license. So you go to Def Jam to get a master use license. Then you go to Public Enemy to get a synchronization license, only to find out that you will need to obtain additional synchronization licenses from each of the six recordings that are sampled within that song. Next, you must make sure that you are obtaining a license from the correct person since ownership and publishing rights often changes hands.

An innovation in music licensing is licensing stores – online sites that provide a one stop location to shop for pre-cleared songs to use in TV, movies and/or in other visual components. The launch of Sir Groovy provides such a location. Sir Groovy allows you to search pre-cleared songs, without the worry of figuring who you need to contact in order to use a song. Although Sir Groovy is a marvelous service, it is not all inclusive of all copyrighted songs. This a great step forward for the future of music that will hopefully inspire other creators to come forward with a more extensive database of pre-cleared songs or a contact database to link media creators with the publishers, songwriters and record labels.


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