A Checklist for Using Music in Film or other Audio-Video Content

Are you a director or producer looking to use music in a movie, TV program, commercial, music video or other audio-visual content? If so, here is some information regarding what music copyright licenses you may require to do so legally:

What licenses must I get to use a song in my audio-visual content?

If you are using a pre-recorded song or another pre-recorded piece of music on your film, there are generally two main rights you need to clear; that is to say, you will likely need to get two different licenses to use the music (and may also need a third).

  Synchronization License: This is the right to synchronize a song or musical composition with your visual image. It must be obtained from the copyright owner of the musical work, which is usually the music publisher. You can usually find out who the publisher is, with appropriate contact information, using ASCAP's Clearance Express (ACE) at www.ascap.com/ace. Other organizations (such as Broadcast Music, Inc.) also maintain robust databases with information.

  Master Use License: This is the right to reproduce a specific recording of a song in your film or other audio-visual content. You clear this right with the entity (usually the record label) that owns the specific recording you would like to use. Alternatively, companies such as SoundExchange can provide this information online. You can obtain appropriate contact information for records labels by calling ASCAP's Film/TV department (323-883-1000).

  An ASCAP License (only needed if you are streaming or broadcasting the video via your own website, mobile app or station): If you make your audio-visual content available for streaming or broadcast on your own website, mobile/app or other distribution platform, you will be publicly performing the content, including the musical compositions in it. Therefore, you must also secure the necessary public performance licenses which are generally granted by performance rights organizations (PROs), such as ASCAP. You can determine which PRO license you require by searching the PROs' online databases. You can secure an ASCAP license agreement for a website/mobile app online. If you have trouble with the online form, you may live chat with a representative on our website or call 1-800-505-4052 to speak with a representative over the phone.

If you are only placing your video on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or another social media site, you will generally not be required to obtain a performance license for your use of ASCAP music, as such platforms obtain their own performance license. If you have any doubt, please call ASCAP at the number posted above to determine if you require a public performance license.

Note that ASCAP does not issue single song licenses. ASCAP offers only bulk licenses, which cover the entire ASCAP repertory. If you require the use of only one or two songs in your video, and require a performance license, please contact the publishers directly. To do so, please revisit the "Synchronization License" bullet point above for how to obtain this license.

What do license fees cost?

Synchronization and master use license fees are generally determined by various factors, including how the music will be used, the duration of the use, the number of times the music will be used and where the film or media will be performed. These fees are often negotiable and not standard. Reduced fees can often be negotiated for educational usage or for film festival usage by independent film producers. These film festival licenses may have numerous deal points, so you may wish to speak with an advisor to assist your negotiation.

If you require a public performance license from ASCAP for your digital platform, the fees may vary based on your platform's annual user sessions and annual revenue. Many of ASCAP's website and mobile app blanket licenses cost less than $1 a day.

What information should I include in my request for synchronization and master use music rights?

  Submit a synopsis of the film/media and the project's budget

  Provide as much detail as possible on how you intend to use the song: main title (opening credit) or end title (closing credit); feature (song is the main focus of the viewers' attention) or background (song plays in the background of a scene); number of times the song is used, duration and placement for each use.

  Specify where your film will be screened. For example, is your film a student film being viewed solely in an educational environment, or is it an independent film, which will screen at festivals?

  Ask how the fee will increase in the event of possible future performances in different types of media.

  If you are planning on securing soundtrack rights at the same time, ask how that affects your fees.

What if I hire my own songwriter or musicians to create the music?

If you are hiring your own songwriter to create original music and you are recording the music yourself, you can negotiate all these music license rights directly with the music creators you are hiring.

What are the consequences of screening or sharing my audio-visual content without securing music rights?

Use of a copyrighted work without proper license may be considered infringement under the U.S. copyright law, potentially subjecting you to statutory damages. Moreover, considering that you will hopefully work more often with publishing companies and record labels as your career matures, it is best practice to develop a good relationship at the start by, in part, ensuring you have cleared all necessary rights. Moreover, clearing necessary rights at the start will be important if you wish to have your audio-visual work distributed by third parties.

Additional Resources
ASCAP Cue Sheet Corner
How to Acquire Music for Films:
Find a composer for your project at the ASCAP Composer Spotlight