Music Business

How To Get Permission To Use A Song: Our Guide

Photograph of the blog post author, Pete Briley

Pete Briley

22.7.2021

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If you’re planning on using recorded music, you will most likely need to think about getting permission to use a song from the copyright owners. In this article, we’ll delve into copyright permission for songs and how to get copyright permission for music.

how to get permission to use a song

A couple of notes to get out of the way. There are a couple of different types of ownership involved when it comes to a song. If you write a song, you are the creator of that intellectual property. Naturally, you own the idea of the song (the chords and the words, etc.) Also known as Publishing. 

If you record that song, then you (or your label) own the recording of that idea or what the listener actually hears. This is known as the Master 

If someone wants to then cover your song, you are still entitled to a royalty as the owner of the intellectual property. But the new recording is distinct from the original recording and therefore owned by whoever owns that recording. 

In this article, we’re focussing on the use of recorded songs in video or using a segment of a recorded track as a chorus refrain. And also obtaining permission to use that recording.

Rather than going through what’s required if you want to cover a song written by someone else. 

What Might Happen If You Don’t Get Permission?

money on piano

Famously, singer-songwriter Stephen Fretwell received a call from a publisher friend. He asked if it would be okay if he used Fretwell’s tune ‘Run’ for the title sequence of a new BBC sitcom. The musician refused and said he didn’t want his song as the title sequence for a comedy series.

Fortunately for Fretwell, his friend ignored Fretwell’s refusal and included the song in the title sequence for Gavin and Stacey. This earned Fretwell significant exposure following the huge success of Gavin and Stacey.

As Fretwell tells it “I was like, ‘I told you not to put that on that show’. And he was like, ‘No, you said you wanted it on’, and he was smirking at me,” Fretwell continued. “And… it’s the best thing anyone’s ever done for me.”

The above is a great story – but also incredibly rare. Typically, using copyrighted recordings without permission has much fewer positive consequences. It can be that you are simply asked to take any media that uses a copyrighted recording out of the public domain

For example, if you’ve sampled something from a movie in your single, etc. that single will need to be removed from all platforms where it is available. 

You might also find that social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube identify the use of a copyrighted recording by identifying the content ID. This can result in your video being muted or automatically taken down.

Use Of Recordings

The use of recordings without permission can also lead to any revenues generated, such as ad revenue on YouTube, paid over to the copyright owner. Some individuals may even find themselves at the bad end of a lawsuit for using recordings they don’t own.

One common misconception is that you don’t need to obtain permission to use a recording if the video you are making doesn’t make any money. This is incorrect.

Anything that will be used for public consumption needs to have permission or a license.

How To Get Permission To Use A Song

You might by now be thinking “How do I get permission to use a song? Do I need to buy copyright music?”.

We answer both of these questions below! Keep reading for everything you need to know.

Step 1

record player masters

The first step is identifying who owns the rights both for the Publishing (the intellectual property side) and the Master (the owner of the recording).

Step 2

writing letter

Once you have the copyright owner(s), you can contact them and request permission. The key information to provide to the rights holders is:

  • Identify yourself
  • Explain what media the song will be used in
  • How long it will be used for – forever (in perpetuity) or a limited period of time (such as 1 month). 
  • How much of the recording will be used in minutes and seconds
  • Where in the world the recording will be used. 

Step 3

piano with money

Once you have provided your information, the rights holders will likely provide a fee which they will require for your usage.

This fee could be negotiable, depending on the type of project you are working on.

Step 4

hand shake negotiation

Once the terms of the sync have been agreed upon, permission can be granted. It’s worth noting that sync fees depend on the type of usage and the project budget. 

For example, an indie film will have a much smaller budget than an international advert by a big brand. So the fee applicable will vary depending on your project.

How Do You Find The Copyright Owner Of A Song?

girl listening to music

Finding out who can give copyright permission for songs will often depend on where you are based and also where the copyright owner is based. For the USA, ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC are the main organisations that represent copyright owners. 

For the UK, PRS for Music represents owners of intellectual property (songwriters/composers/etc). PPL represents performers on records and record labels. These two are the main organisations. 

All of the above have databases you can search to find owners and also information on what kind of license you might need. 

How To Ask For Copyright Permission To Use A Song

When searching the databases of organisations like PRS, you’ll see that contact details are typically available there. Reach out with the pertinent info outlined above and go from there!

Alternatively, once you have the name/company of the copyright owner, you can reach out via contact details on their website.

How Much Does It Cost To License A Song?

faders with money

The cost of licensing is totally dependent on the use case and the potential audience size associated with that. 

Projects with a big budget and a far-reaching distribution (like a globally-released movie) will generally offer a higher sync fee than a project with a smaller audience and distribution. 

How Music Gateway Can Help

music gateway logo

In addition to the services they provide to musicians, Music Gateway also provides music supervision and music clearance services for filmmakers.

If you are looking to clear music usage for your project, whether that’s a film, a series, an advert, a video game, or any other media, Music Gateway’s sync team can support you in all of the above steps. 

From tracking down the rights holders and negotiating the usage and fees, through to legal clearance so you can use the music without any copyright claims. We can even help with budgeting for your project.

In addition, Music Gateway also has an extensive network of high-quality independent artists and their catalogues across multiple genres. This can help creatives build a more unique soundtrack to their projects as well as supporting a smaller budget.

We have worked on projects such as NCIS: Los Angeles, Bulletproof 2, Bloodline, Friends from College, and for big brands such as New Balance. Check out our Testimonials for more.

Now You Know How To Get Permission To Use A Song

tape stock photo

We’ve unpacked the question of how do you get permission to use a song. You might be thinking that it all seems a bit complex, and that is totally understandable! But of course, in many cases a visual media project without music can be like toast without peanut butter – it just isn’t as good!

The key takeaway for any creatives looking to include songs in their project is that for anything in the public domain you will need permission from the copyright owners to use that music.

The good news is that whilst navigating how to get copyright permission for music can be a little complicated, organisations like PRS exist.

They have lots of guidance on their websites and companies like Music Gateway are available to support you. So you can focus on the important work of perfecting your project. 

Have you ever asked for permission to use a song? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comment section below! If you think your friends might find this article useful, why not share it on social media? Be sure to tag us @musicgateway!

If you enjoyed this article, why not check out another on our blog? Here are our articles on Sync Agents, the Beginner’s Guide To Sync Licensing and What Are Royalties In Music? to get you started!

Are You An Artist?

Discover what our sync team can do for you, find how Music Gateway can connect you with the perfect collaborator, and get your music played in TV, film, games & ads. Also, come to us to license our music! 

Not a member of Music Gateway yet? Why not! Take advantage of our free trial, and join us in our mission to empower the global creative community. The game is changing, be a part of it…

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