sign up for our
NEWSLETTER

Home Shop Subscribe Advertise Articles Directories Classifieds Calendar FAQs Contact Us Login

HOME STUDIO
Music Licensing: How To Add Music To
Your Voice Over Project - Without Liability

By Mik Seliverstov
Musician & Tune Pocket Founder & Managing Director

When used in moderation, music can add tremendous value to your voice over demo or client project.  

And with so much music around us, one might think that finding the music you can use is easy.  

Here are some basic facts, though, to help you navigate the often confusing waters of music licensing.

LIKE THAT SONG!  

It's very tempting just to grab a popular tune and plug it into your project. Sadly, the copyright laws do not allow us to use others' intellectual property as we please.  

As a rule of thumb, you must obtain the permission from the copyright owner to use any copyrighted material, even for non-commercial projects.  

Here are few typical mistakes that can land you (or your client!) in hot legal water:
  • I can use any music, as long as I give credit! Sadly, that's not true. Giving credit is nice and appreciated by the artists, but it does not grant any special rights.
  • I can use any music as long as I don't make money! Once again, it does not matter whether you make money or not. You still need permission to use somebody else's work.
  • I can use any music under fair-use law! If "fair-use" is your line of defense against copyright claims, keep in mind that fair-use primarily applies to commentary, parody, news, and similar uses - and generally does not work for business projects.
WHY CARE ABOUT LICENSING?

If you're running a business or doing freelance work for clients, my suggestion is never to use unlicensed music. The common risks include:
  • You won't be able to showcase your work on social media. Many platforms employ sophisticated copyright protection systems that flag infringing content.
  • You're risking a legal action by the copyright owner.
  • Your reputation as a freelance voice actor can take a big dent by negative feedback from clients who discovered unlicensed content in their projects.
PROPER USE OF MUSIC

Using music in a commercial project legally does not always meant you have to pay a high licensing fee. You can even start for free. Here are some options:

Public Domain Music

That covers music with expired copyright. Note that copyright laws do vary from country to country, as well as the copyright expiration time.

Furthermore, often when a composition is indeed in public domain, the RECORDING of that composition is still be copyrighted.

Creative Commons Music

Many indie musicians distribute their music for free under the Creative Commons license. Generally, that means that you can use their music free of charge if you agree to certain conditions.

There are different types of creative commons licenses, so pay attention to the details. The two typical limitations include the requirement to credit the musician, and not using music in commercial projects.

Permission Process for Famous Song

What if you want to use a famous song? It's not impossible, but will require some work and adequate budget.

When it comes to commercial music, the rights are typically split between the record label and the publisher. The publisher controls the composition (that is, the words and the melody), while the record label controls the actual recording of that composition. You will need to obtain the license from both the label and the publisher.

PERFORMANCE LICENSE, TOO

If your client plans to broadcast the resulting recording (for example, on radio) you also need to know about the performance license.

Most artists are members of performance rights organizations (PRO) in their countries. The PRO collects the performance royalties when music is performed in public places or transmitted to the public over the radio or television broadcasts, and in some cases by the Internet.

Most broadcasters like TV and radio stations already have the necessary performance licenses that cover all applicable music, but this will be your responsibility to verify that if want to use PRO affiliated music.

As you can see, unless you're working for a high profile client who demands a well known soundtrack, getting a license from prominent artists isn't the most practical option for small business owners and freelancers.  

EASY ALTERNATIVE: MUSIC LIBRARY

Is there an easier alternative?

For most freelancers, the easiest option is to purchase licenses from a production music library. The libraries typically source the music from independent producers and offer affordable licenses for commercial and small business use.  

There are literally hundreds of large and small music libraries and marketplaces offering affordable royalty free music for small business owners and freelancers.

Most libraries will let you choose between a variety of royalty free music licenses, but it will be your responsibility to read and understand the differences between different licenses offered by each library.

Always pay attention to the fine print. Some libraries may require you to purchase a new license for every new project, while others may have more generous terms or offer unlimited subscriptions.

And it's always a good idea to make sure you will get an official licensing certificate with your purchase.

Hope this helps. And good luck finding the perfect soundtrack for your next project!  
-----------------
ABOUT MIK
Mik Seliverstov is an independent musician and the founder of TunePocket - a global collective of independent music producers that is one of the most affordable music licensing platforms, offering thousands of music tracks, loops, and sound effects for commercial and freelance use. Users choose between an unlimited subscription or download just a couple soundtracks for a small project and save over 50% compared to most popular music licensing outlets. VoiceOverXtra readers can save an additional 10% with promo code VOXTRA10.



Your Daily Resource For Voice-Over Success
Tell Us What YOU Think!
Please Note: Since we check for spam, there will be a slight delay in the actual posting of your comment.
Your Name:
Your Email Address (will not be published):
Your Comment:
Your Comment:
Security code:     
Comments (2)
Don Elliot
11/12/2020 at 9:51 PM
Great piece! Thank you for your respect of musicianís rights and promotion of the ideas of using libraries. I donít understand people that think that musicians work for free. Ask violators whether they themselves work for free. Therein lies the answer. Lol. Again, thanks for your contribution here.
William Bruce McFadden
11/10/2020 at 12:04 PM
Very informative and useful information. Thank you.

(Love your logo)
Back to Articles
On Michael Langsner's Voice-Over Roadmap Podcast
Inspiring interviews help your VO career
For essential voice-over business strategies
Voice over tools, tips and techniques