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How To Get Permission To Use a Song

Full Question: I’m making a short film and want to add music, but how am I supposed to contact famous artists to get permission?

Answer: Whether you’re a filmmaker, YouTube star, or video game designer, at one time or another you’ve probably thought about adding music to enhance your audio-visual creations. Sometimes royalty free stock music just won’t cut it. But if you decide to add music without permission, you could end up facing a takedown notice, or worse. So how do you go about getting permission? Isn’t it almost impossible to get in touch with famous artists like Drake, Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, or Taylor Swift?

Let’s take a step back for a minute and discuss the kinds of licenses you’ll need, then we’ll discuss how to go about getting them.

When it comes to licensing music, there are two distinct copyrighted works: the musical composition (the lyrics and musical score) and the sound recording (what you actually hear). A synchronization license (“sync” license) is a license that allows you to use the musical composition in an audio-visual work. And while a sync license would allow you to, for example, record a cover-version of the song and use it in your audio-visual creation, it doesn’t give you the right to use the sound recording made popular by the recording artists. In order to use that recording, you’ll need a master use license. Together, a master use license and a sync license will allow you to add your favorite songs to the films and video games you create.

The good news is that you don’t have to contact famous celebrities directly in order to obtain these licenses. There are several music rights organizations that can grant those licenses, or provide contact information to a music publisher or record label that can grant those licenses. SESAC, a music rights organization based in the United States, provides sync licenses for many popular songs. You can search their database here to determine whether or not the song you’re interested in using is a part of SESAC’s repertory, and if so, you can request a sync license for that song directly from SESAC here. Another option is to search the repertories of performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and GMR, to determine who the publisher is and how to contact the publisher to obtain a sync license.

Master use licenses, on the other hand, are typically available from the record label. Do a little research to determine which record label owns the rights, then contact their licensing department or business & legal affairs department to obtain a license.

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