Music Licensing… Not this again :)


There has been a lot of information going around lately about the ins and outs as well as legalities of music licensing. Specifically, using copyrighted music in wedding videos that are only viewed online through UGC networks (Facebook, Vimeo, Youtube, blogs, personal or business websites).

Some of it’s true. Some of it…not so much. All of it is good conversation. What we’d like to talk about and clarify are a few of the misconceptions, some info regarding the music industry and our opinions on the whole deal.

First, let’s talk licensing. If you are editing a video to a song, no matter what, you need permission to use that song. Most of the time, that permission comes in the form of a license. There are many different types of licenses out there. For streaming videos, what you need is both a master/synch license.

Why do you need licenses? Why can’t you just use the song you downloaded from iTunes?

Short answer is, iTunes doesn’t sell (or own) the license to use the songs in that way. Neither do performance royalty companies like ASCAP or BMI. Long answer has to do with money.

But before you grumble about the filthy, greedy record industry and how they are ripping everyone off and have loads of money and they don’t need the wedding industries money too, let’s talk about the artist. Because by using music illegally, that’s who you’re ultimately hurting.

Before the influx of digital sales ( iTunes, Amazon mp3, CdBaby, etc…) artists sold CDs (or tapes, records, 8 tracks, what have you, depending on how far back you want to go), and they toured. This is how they made money – they sold full albums and received a percentage of that price and they toured where they were paid for playing, sold merch, etc…

Then came the single track digital buying era, which is great for consumers. It allows us to purchase a single track, download it immediately, and listen to exactly what we want within seconds. People are still buying full digital albums, but not nearly as much anymore. Let us put it into more perspective for you:

For an average artist (not Coldplay or U2 or another top 40 artist) to make just over $1000 US dollars a month (minimum wage), they need to sell:

• 1,160 CD albums if the artist is involved in a high end royalty deal  OR

• About 4,000 CDs with a low end royalty deal   OR

• 1,200 full album downloads from iTunes (or similar)   OR

• About 2,000 single mp3 sales per month from iTunes   OR

• 1.5 – 4 MILLION plays per month on a streaming site such as Spotify or

And that’s just for minimum wage, FOR ONE PERSON. If you have a band of four, multiply those numbers. (click here to read the article from which I took these numbers )

All of that to say, this industry is not easy money for the average artist. Of course they have their tours, merch sales, percentage of ticket sales. etc…but, and this brings us to the actual point of this post, with album and song sales bringing in less income, artists need some other way to bring in money.

Thus, licensing.

Licensing is one of the only other ways recording artists get paid for the work they do. By licensing a song, you are telling not only the artist that you like and respect their work, but you are telling everyone who sees your project that you respect other artists. As a photographer, if you were driving down the road and you saw a billboard with one of your images on it, what would you think? As a videographer, if you’re watching television and see a clip from something that you shot on a commercial, what would you think?

Just like you, recording artists are putting their time, talent and effort into making something extraordinary and, just like you, they would like compensation for some of their work.

So what’s the importance of licensing?

At the end of the day, it’s about respect. Respecting other artists. Respecting work. And yes, even respecting the law. We can’t make anyone license songs. We don’t want to make people license songs. What we can do is educate. We believe the educated person will make the educated choice.

And, lastly, very briefly regarding choosing music and the differences between royalty free and licensing actual tracks from real bands:

You know your footage. You know the feel of the day (you were there). You , hopefully, know you’re bride and groom. And you, hopefully, realize that Justin Bieber song they want in the video is going to be something they regret in 10, 20 50 years (or in 6 months). You don’t want them to think of anything else when watching your video (their video). You want to create a special connection between the images, the day and the music. And you want it to last. That’s why we typically encourage videographers to reach outside of the top 40 charts to find inspiration.

On the other hand, this is a business and the customer is “always” (we know that’s not true) right. Sometimes you really do have to go with what they want. But you at least need to be aware of how far the affects of your decision might reach. Keep in mind they are hiring you for your excellence and within that is your ability to know what will be best and most lasting. You are the professional.

Daniel McCarthyMusic Licensing… Not this again :)