Using other people’s music in the modern world can be a very complicated process. Even though it might feel like you’re constantly hearing different artist’s music in all sorts of different contexts, it can be very hard to get access to music owned by someone else. Artists want to be paid for the art that they create, and if people could use whatever music they wanted for free, then artists would be struggling to make ends meet even more than they already do.
Getting permission to use music is definitely the right thing to do from both a moral and legal perspective, but it can still be tough.
There are a lot of steps in place to help protect the intellectual property of artists and music labels in the world. Music ownership organizations are very good at identifying when a song that they own is being used in a way that requires permission, so trying to fly under the radar doesn’t often work. Moving forward and asking forgiveness later is never a good idea.
Putting the time in to make sure that every use of music that you do is fully legal is extremely important. Here is how to use all of the music you want while staying within the bounds of legality.
Table of Contents
- Find Out if the Song Requires Permission to Use
- Decide What Rights You Need
- Reach Out to the Owner of the Copyright and Determine Payment
- Get the Permission Officially in Writing
- How to Use Music With Unison
Find Out if the Song Requires Permission to Use
There are a lot of different types of songs in the eyes of the law. One way people can use music without the permission of the owner is by using music within the public domain or music with a Creative Commons license. These are songs that people can use without the express permission of the owner due to their age, public prevalence, or the artist’s preference. Many users of this kind of music will still credit the original creators and owners of this music, just because it’s a kind thing to do.
Another way to use music without permission is by just using it privately. If you are creating a video, song, or another piece of content that will be used privately and won’t be posted anywhere public, you can use any song you’d like. Music companies can’t ask you to pull down privately used songs, so you’re totally clear there.
However, if you’re going to be using a song publicly, odds are good that you will need to get permission to use the song from the people that own the music, typically the publishers. To do this, the best place to look for the information on who the owner of the song is at ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. These are performing rights organizations that hold the vast majority of information about who owns a specific song. To find out who owns the song’s copyright, look at one of these organizations first.
Once you find the right publishers, the performing rights organization will likely provide you with information about how to contact the owner about usage rights and permission. Once you know that information, you can move forward with the process of getting the actual rights.
Often, the publisher will also be easy to find on the packaging or other forms of external media covering the music.
Decide What Rights You Need
There are actually different rights that people might need for different types of music purposes. There are generally six different types of music licenses that exist, and understanding which one you will need for your specific purposes can inform how you go about the rest of the procedure.
If your main intentions are to create a cover of the song, you will need a mechanical license. This is a specific type of permission that will allow you to re-record a specific composition’s music and words.
It allows you to go about creating a fully legal cover of a song in a way that allows you to distribute it and make money off of it. The original composers will still make money off of your recordings, but the recording itself can be yours.
If you want to add music to a video, TV show, or song, you will need to get a synchronization license, or a sync license for short. This gives you the right to take a song and incorporate it into another work of art or content. This is how various companies can use the music of various artists in their ads, movies, or video games.
Public Performance License
If you want to play the music in a public place, be it a store, restaurant, or concert, it is typically best practice to get the permission of the publisher to do so. This allows the owner of this specific license to use the master recordings in a public setting.
Master licenses are often acquired alongside a synchronization license. This gives the owner of the license permission to use a specific recording of a song, known as a master. This doesn’t allow a licensor to re-record the song. They are limited to the master that they purchased.
Print Rights License
These licences give the owner of the license the ability to print and/or rearrange the actual musical notes or lyrics of a song. This is how book publishers create books that hold the musical notes for other musicians to recreate and learn.
This is a license that allows the works of art that were created with the use of another artist’s song to be shown and displayed in a theater. This can be a movie theater, an actual acting theater, or any other type of theater.
Reach Out to the Owner of the Copyright and Determine Payment
Getting the permission of the copyright owner can be simple after reaching out through performing rights organizations and informing them of the intended use of the song. These publishers will almost always charge money for the use of the song, and a good portion of this music will go back to the original artists.
Each time you request to use a song, the cost will likely be determined on a case-by-case basis. There are typical rates, but they can vary depending on the publisher, the artist, and the way in which the music will be used. The best way to get a proper estimate and quote on how much it will cost is simply by reaching out to the publishers.
Get the Permission Officially in Writing
Finally, once the payment is cleared and the permission is granted, be sure to get the permission and legal qualifications in professional writing. This will help ensure that the whole translation and distribution or permission is legalized and can be accessed at a future date. The terms will likely be laid out very clearly, stating exactly what you can and cannot do with the music.
How to Use Music With Unison
The right samples can help inspire you to create even better, more effective music. Here at Unison, we’ve got tons of different musical products available for sampling that won’t make you jump through legal hoops.
Try out one of our Artist Series Sample Packs, which will streamline your workflow by giving you professional-quality, proven samples at your fingertips, or go for a Vocal Pack, that allows you to save hundreds of dollars by not having to hire a vocalist. And for musical inspiration, we have a variety of MIDI Packs that let you create pro-level chords and compositions without needing music theory. If you need high-quality musical inspiration and tools, look no further than Unison.