What Is Music Clearance?

Facts Companies Need to Know About Music Licensing

Marketing, training and sales teams turn to music as a way to attract and engage colleagues and prospects. However, few understand the licensing requirements associated with using music in presentations and videos. Whether using popular music or production music, if you are thinking about adding music to marketing, sales, and other corporate communications, understanding the unique licensing requirements is critical.

Music rights are complicated.

For any single piece of music, there are a number of licenses that may be required to enable what seems like a single-use. For example, a public performance license enables a company or building to play a song for an audience, but a synchronization (“sync”) license is required to set the song to a visual work such as a movie, YouTube video or even a PowerPoint presentation. A mechanical license allows a company to manufacture copies of copyrighted compositions in forms such as CDs, records, and digital downloads, but this license does not cover any performance or playback of the work.

A license from a Collection Society AKA Performance Rights Organization doesn’t cover all of your music licensing needs.

Performance Rights Organizations (“PROs”) only cover the public performances or playback of music for public consumption, not music sync or reproduction. A license acquired from a PRO (like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC in the US, or PRS/MCPS in the UK or their counterparts in virtually every other country in the world), covers public performances or playback for public consumption. Examples include playing a song in a cafeteria or on phone hold, but a PRO license does not allow the song to be synchronized with or played in coordination with a sales presentation or a video and it does not provide reproduction rights.



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Companies need music synchronization rights.

Although individuals within a company may know about synchronization rights and abide by the law, not every employee knows the legal requirements. Employees often add music from their own phones or the web to PowerPoint presentations or videos, not realizing their actions may be infringing on copyrights. Furthermore, employees may confuse a public performance license with a sync license, believing that a PRO license covers their sync use. Businesses should be aware of the legal risks around synchronization and should purchase a license before any litigation arises.

Music rights holders know how to defend their rights, and not having a sync license puts your company at risk.

The music industry earns its revenue from copyrights and so rights holders are sometimes quick to take legal action against infringement. Lacking the proper license, whether by an intentional act or an honest mistake, puts a company at risk for copyright infringement. Everyone from famous YouTubers to politicians have found themselves in legal trouble because of a lack of sync licensing or other music-rights licensing, and with statutory damages as high as £120,000, businesses are well-advised to be careful.

Not all licenses are created equal

There are a number of licenses that companies need to consider 
these are some of the most common:

  • Corporate events:
    Presentations, conferences, etcetera
  • Internet:

    These vary depending on a number of variables such but not limited to territory, native, social media( paid), (social media promotion), corporate internal, etcetera


    Film, T.V., Adverts, Youtube
Grand Rights:

    Plays, Musical Theater,

Failure to clear permission to use music can lead to reputational harm.

Musicians have huge public voices and can use these voices to leverage support against your company if they feel aggrieved. They will use their voice to complain not only about infringement but also complain about your company and its products.

The right music can make all the difference in helping marketing, sales and corporate communications professionals engage with and inspire their audience, but without a clear understanding of the licensing requirements, companies could be at risk for copyright infringement.


What is Music Clearance? (FAQs)

The most important thing to understand about using music in your project is that there are at least two types of rights that you need to purchase to use music in any audio/visual project — the rights to the song that the songwriter wrote (called a copyright or a synch license) and the right to use any particular recording of that song (called a master license).

Music publishing companies sell licenses for copyright or synch rights. Record companies sell licenses for master rights (this is a generalization but it usually works).

For instance, if you wanted to use Sinead O’Connor’s version of the Broadway musical hit “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” you would need to purchase the copyright to the song from the Universal Music Publishing Group.

You will also need to purchase a master license to use her particular recording of that song from the record label EMD/Chrysalis. If you wanted to use Madonna’s version of the same song you would need to buy the master rights from Warner Records label but you would still need to purchase the synch license from UMPG. If you wanted to re-record the song yourself, you wouldn’t need to purchase master rights from a record company at all, however, you would still need to purchase the synch license from UMPG.

As a side note, you would need to make sure that whoever you got to rerecord the song assigned you the master rights (this is often a part of the agreement that a production company will make with whoever is creating the music for their film).

A song that has no copyright protection, usually because it is old enough that its copyright has expired, is said to be “in the public domain” (often called a “p.d.” song). Because of the differing copyright laws from country to country, works that are in the public domain in the United States may still be protected in other territories.

The process of obtaining licenses to every piece of music that appears in your film or project is called “music clearance” and is usually handled by a law firm, clearance house, music supervisor or the producer of your film.


  • How do I find who owns a song?

    The performance rights organizations BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC (US) PRS/MCPS (UK) GEMA ( GERMANY) Socan (Canada) etcetera The Harry Fox Agency(US) PPL (UK) will also help film and music producers locate and clear the rights to a song.


  • Do I need to license a song if I’m only using a tiny amount of it?

    The test for copyright infringement is whether the usage is “substantially similar” to the original, as determined by a judge or a jury. If a song can be recognized, even if only two notes are used, you will need to obtain the rights to use the song.


  • How about foreign rights? Do I need to buy those too?

    You will need to obtain rights for every territory in which your project will be distributed. Feature films usually obtain “worldwide rights” to ensure that their films can be sold all over the world.
    Other projects will target their territory purchases more narrowly. If a commercial will never run outside of a territory, there is probably no need to purchase worldwide rights.
    Most publishers do not own worldwide rights on every copyright that they control. In addition, the way in which copyright ownership is split may vary from territory to territory so you may need to contact other music publishers to obtain complete rights in every territory.


  • Will I have to pay anything else besides the license fees?

    Yes, you may be responsible for paying at least some of the following: Master license fees, Mechanical license fees, Union re-use fees (AFM, SAG/AFTRA in the US)


  • What do I have to send you after I finish my project?

    You must prepare an accurate listing of all music used in your production so that the publishing companies and the performing rights/Collection societies may collect those fees from overseas and other markets. This listing, called a cue sheet, should list the name of the song, the length of the usage, the type of use (visual/non-visual, vocal/instrumental, titles, etc.), the author of the composition, the publishing company, and the performance rights society affiliation (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC,PRS/MCPS,GEMA,SOCAN etc.)


  • Should I consider hiring a production music library?

    Yes libraries are often a safe easy and cost-effective alternative as libraries offer one-stop licensing solutions as they are able to clear both the composition and the sound recording licenses and some offer bespoke custom order services such as re-records and works for hire 


  • When do I have to pay my license fee?

    Prior to the first public exhibition of your project

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