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Licensing Songs For Television Series

By Todd Brabec, ASCAP Executive VP of Membership and Jeff Brabec

CSI, Friends, The Simpsons
When a producer wants to use an existing song in a network television program or weekly series, permission must, with few exceptions, be secured from the music publisher who owns the song. The producer or music supervisor of the show will decide what song they want to use in the program and the scene in which it will appear, how the song will be used (e.g., background vocal or instrumental, sung by a character on camera, over the opening or ending credits), and the media needed (e.g., free television, pay television, subscription television, pay-per-view, or basic cable).

The producer or its "music clearance" representative will then contact the publisher of the composition, negotiate a fee, and then sign what is known in the television business as a "synchronization license."

Fees depend on a number of factors, including the music budget for the program, whether the song is a well-known standard or current hit as opposed to a new song in need of exposure, the timing of the use, the song's importance to the series episode and the particular scene in which it is performed, the number of times it is used in the program and the manner of the use (e.g., background music from a jukebox or sung by a character on camera).

Under a free television synchronization license, the music publisher gives a series producer the right to include a musical composition in a particular television program and to sell that program to any station in the world without any further payment.

As to network series, many producers will ask for an "all television" synchronization license, usually for the life of copyright of the composition being used. Since this type of license is all-encompassing, fees for the use of known songs in major series usually range from $6,000 to over $10,000 for synchronization rights; fees which do not cover any home video option rights.

© 2007 Todd Brabec, Jeff Brabec
For more information, check out the book Music, Money and Success: The Insider's Guide To Making Money In The Music Business (Schirmer Trade Books/Music Sales/502 pages) available for sale at, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Music Sales Group and