Commercial music – easy on the ear but sometimes a pain to use!

Spice_Girls_2008_02.jpg: Eric Mutrie from Canada derivative work: From1988 [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Why is it that with music – even if under Copyright Law there are only three basic rights to deal with (the copyright in the song / musical work, the copyright in the sound recording and the rights of performers) – the actual process of licensing music can often end up being complicated, time consuming – and costly?

It’s probably because we are talking about musical creations that, in many cases, involved the heart, soul and individual expression of song writers, recording artists and other music contributors.

It’s therefore understandable that the first question asked by artists and songwriters is not what money is on offer but how the music is going to be used (it’s not like carpet by the metre!). With some artists – especially if they were the songwriters too – if they don’t like what you want to do with their music, there is a flat denial!

And when it comes to the music publishing rights in respect of the musical works, it gets more complicated. In the old days, songwriters such as George & Ira Gershwin would both sign to the same music publishing company. These days, co-writers sensibly understand that they are not just dealing with music but also business. So just because Robbie Williams signed to one publisher, his co-writer, Guy Chambers, probably had different thoughts and signed to another company.

  1. Taking matters to extremes (always good when making a point!), each of The Spice Girls had their own publishing deal, so to gain permission to use one of their songs, all five writers and all of their publishers have to agree on the deal on offer. The music publishing rights nearly always have to be cleared first, otherwise, the record company is reluctant to take matters further.
  2. Once the music publishing/song rights hurdle is over, potential users/licensees have go to the record company that owns the so-called ‘master rights’ – and sometimes split between two owners. For example, Under Pressure by David Bowie and Queen, the master/sound recording rights are split territorially between RZO (in the USA) and Universal Music Operations internationally. NB Many music rights owners in America still consider the value of their territory to be 50% of the World so fees are apportioned accordingly.
  3. Moreover, if there were any session musicians and backing singers involved, unless their performer rights were pre-cleared for all media at the time of the original recording sessions, then you may also be dealing with Unions such as the M.U., Equity and/or the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) – or otherwise performers direct.

It’s no wonder that producers of content opt for either production (library) music and/or commissioning a composer to create an original score. In terms of commercial music, if you want the best, and want to “Do It Yourself”, be prepared to go through what can be an onerous process.

Alternatively, you can ask Musicalities to clear & handle all the music rights relating to i) songs/music publishers ii) master/sound recording/record labels iii) performers (musicians, singers, etc) and get all the music sorted for your production. We thrive on dealing with complications, rising to the challenge and happy to deliver music cleared with all paperwork sorted – in a cost -effective and time efficient manner

Look out for the next blog post: “How much does it cost – and how long does it take?”

What do you think?


“Ivan was extremely skillful in guiding us through the process of acquiring music rights for our digital programme. From start to finish he advised us promptly and clearly on the steps in the process to clear each of our chosen tracks and acquired the clearances we needed in the very tight timeline we had. I would thoroughly recommend his services.”

Niamh Dilworth, Senior Producer, Unicorn Theatre

Upcoming Events:

Ivan Chandler regularly runs Copyright Training courses.

If you'd like us to run a course just for you: click to email us or call us on 01590 719983.