This article is not like others in its subject… It is not going to be a sales brochure that paints a nice bright picture of how simple it is to use royalty free music for everything. I certainly think that royalty free music licensing is a good idea and I do advocate its use, but for this article, I want to explain what it is, its origins and the issues inherent with its use, often misunderstood by suppliers and users alike. I aim to give you a brief overview of its many aspects.
First off, my experience in this industry has shown me that a vast number of people don’t fully understand what Royalty Free Music is. This is not surprising given its misleading name.
The term royalty free music refers to the type of license agreement rather than the type of music. Royalty free music can cover any genre and is usually created by independent composers, bands and artists who control all of their own copyrights.
Many sites sell licenses for royalty free music downloads that can be used instantly in numerous products / productions without any further royalties having to be paid.
Also, with web technology now being so easily accessible, there are many sites that allow composers to upload their own content for royalty free music licensing. Personally speaking, I believe this isn’t ideal as there is no quality control and identity theft can be a problem. It is highly recommended that you use a reputable provider for your royalty free music and one that has quality controls in place for music submissions.
With recent advancements in affordable pro audio equipment, there is now an abundance of composers, bands and artists that write music solely for royalty free music libraries. The libraries effectively provide a platform for independent composers to generate a regular income. Most reputable libraries are committed to promoting and marketing their music to a level that a composer could not easily achieve on his / her own.
Independent composers who write, record and produce their own music own all of the copyrights. This means that they can give permission to anyone who wants to use it, or they can give permission for a library to sell royalty free music licenses on their behalf.
Simply speaking, there are 3 main copyright areas:
- Synchronisaton – the right to include it with something else, usually visuals i.e. film.
- Mechanical – the right to make duplications of your product / production containing the music
- Performance – the right to use the music in a publicly available space i.e. music in a bar.
There is a lot of confusion about royalty free music from most users perspective. I am not going to cover the reasons in this article, but it is worth knowing that when you purchase royalty free music, you are nearly always granted a license to synchronise and make a number of mechanicals, although the terms vary from vendor to vendor. You do not automatically have a license to cover performance rights. This is true for almost every royalty free music vendor, although there are a very few exceptions that have 100% royalty free music.
Why is this?
Historically, the royalty free music license was created to enable TV producers to quickly add music to a production without having to deal with the complexities and expense of licensing through conventional royalty collecting societies. The royalty collecting societies did and still do have complex ways of charging a license, which is greatly more expensive than royalty free music.
TV producers are not really concerned with performance royalties as the responsibility to pay this would be down to the broadcaster / TV station. TV / Radio stations have to pay a blanket license to broadcast music. This is paid to various Performance Royalty Organisations globally.
As a result, composers often join a PRO to potentially collect a share of that blanket license. In many cases, and usually unbeknown to the composer, they actually assign or give away part of their copyright to the PRO (the performance right). This means that their music can never really be 100% royalty free.
Many new music uses now have additional licensing imposed on them by PRO’s including website use, YouTube and other video sites. These sites are expected to pay a blanket license and from what I hear, many web TV stations are being forced to obtain a license.
Although you may consider this good for the composer, these license fees very rarely end up in the pocket of small independent composers. The impracticality of monitoring every use of music means that a composer’s / artist’s share is worked out on statistics and always goes in favour of the mainstream high profile artist. Realistically, an independent composer will only benefit from a PRO when their music is used in a major broadcast. In such cases, they can end up with a nice royalty cheque. The lure of this is often the main and quite possibly the only reason a composer joins a PRO. In my opinion, this system is completely out of touch with the modern world and PRO’s should give additional flexibility in their agreements. However, I want to concentrate more on delivering the facts in this article rather than it just be about my opinions – I can save these for future posts.
I hope this piece has given you an insight into how royalty free music licensing works, although at this point, I imagine you may be thinking that it should really be called ‘Part Royalties Paid Music’ or ‘Royalty Free(ish) Music’. You may or may not have to pay additional performance royalties depending on several factors, including what country you are in, whether the composer can grant permission directly, whether they are in a PRO, what PRO the composer is in, what the PRO’s policy is on your situation, whether the PRO has a collecting method in place and so on. There are many opinions and legal technicalities on this subject and in my opinion, this is due to out dated copyright law and inconsistent practices from PRO’s.
So what does all this mean?
The opinions on the problems the music industry is facing are vast and varied so I am not going to add mine at this stage. All I will say is, use royalty free music from a reputable vendor and you will be licensed. If you are concerned that you should be paying an additional performance license, contact the vendor for individual advice on your particular situation and usage. In the grand scheme of things, the industry has many big challenges ahead and hopefully things will be simpler in the future.
By going to the expense of licensing royalty free music, you are doing a good service to independent composers around the world and helping to sustain an economy. Surely this can only be seen as a good thing!
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