People often ask whether they can sing over a track and sell it as their own. There is a lot of incorrect information out there regarding this. This article covers the facts and the reasons that you cannot use royalty-free music, stock music or library music as your backing track.
Why do people want to sing over it?
Most royalty-free music is instrumental, which means that there is space for someone to sing over it. They may want to do this so that they don’t have to write their own backing music.
Why is this a problem?
To start with, music Libraries do not allow you to make a song with their music; it is part of their licensing terms. The music is intended for use in audio-visual media. Creating your own song to sell is prohibited in the license terms.
This may differ from library to library, but there is good reason for this rule. Here are the reasons:
Stock Music Terms
As mentioned already, music libraries do not allow this use. By ignoring their terms and doing it anyway, you could be heading for legal action against you for breaching the terms of the license.
Composers use a lot of methods to generate a regular income. This includes putting their music into distribution systems where the music is available to listen to on Spotify, iTunes, Deezer, YouTube Music and many more streaming platforms. Having many people using the same backing music as the basis of their song is going to get very messy and cause the composer problems with their distributor service.
Presently, this is mainly related to YouTube, but it is going to be used in more platforms as time goes on. It is a system that creates a digital fingerprint to automatically detect the owner of the music. This then allows the owner to block or monetize their music. When you purchase a music license, libraries can usually whitelist your video so that you can monetize your own video.
Singing over a track does not make it yours and the fingerprint from the original track will still stand. If you end up putting a song that is not yours into a Content ID system, it will cause the composer problems with all of their clients who have licensed the music.
Performance Royalty Collections
Composers also register their music in PROs (Performance Royalty Organisations). This is so that they get paid when their music is used on TV or Radio. If you sing over someone else’s track and then claim it as your own this will cause problems there too. If you try to register it in a PRO, or your distributor does, this will cause massive copyright issues.
What about using Public Domain Music?
An example of music that someone may want to sing over is a traditional nursery rhyme, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for example, which is in the public domain (out of copyright). However, even if the rhyme/song is in the public domain, the music arrangement has been written by someone else and therefore subject to copyright.
Let me explain. Copyright expires, and eventually, every piece of music ends up in the public domain. Examples of this include classical music and nursery rhymes. When this happens, anyone is allowed to make their own arrangement of the music and generate revenue from it.
The copyright is then in the arrangement and recording but not in the tune. So, for example, being a stock music composer, I can create my own version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and although I do not own the melody or words, I own the copyright in the arrangement, recording and production of it.
Because the tune is out of copyright you could make your own arrangement of it, but you cannot just use someone else’s version of it.
What is the Answer?
Hopefully, this information highlights the complex issues. In short, if you want to use someone else’s music to create a song you will need permission from the copyright owner.
You should always contact the library first. Any use outside of their regular terms is ultimately their decision. Furthermore, the composer will have to be okay with it too.
Rather than using library music, you might be better off forming a collaboration with a composer where you get a share of any revenue and have specific allowances in that agreement.
When songs are written in bands, or when a singer and composer collaborate, there is an agreement made on copyright. For example, if a singer and composer agree on a 50/50 split, both of them would benefit from the revenue generated by the methods detailed above.
You cannot simply slap your vocals on someone else’s music and benefit from the revenue generated because you have no copyright in the original music. You have simply created an unauthorised derivative work and you will cause a lot of trouble by trying to make money from it.
Alternatively, if you wish to own the music outright you should consider hiring a composer to write for you. This will be more costly, but you can own all of the rights and be the distributor of the music too.