Music Licensing Tips for the Documentary Filmmaker

To license music for your documentary film, the first thing you need to know is that there are two rights to every song. There is the person who wrote the song (who owns the publisher rights or sync rights) and the person who recorded it (who owns the master rights). To use a piece of music you must determine who owns the rights and get permission from both entities. Here are some tips for using music in your documentary:

1. Purchase Original Music – The best route is to purchase or commission original music. You can pay a musician or composer for exactly what you want, have an attorney draft a work for hire agreement, and you own it. No licensing fees!

2. Festival Rights – A great strategy for documentaries that have not yet obtained distribution is to seek festival rights. If you are going to take your documentary on the film fest circuit, you can obtain a festival license which is generally the lowest rates for specific limited rights. Festival rights agreements can also include option rights for when your documentary does secure distribution.

3. Streaming Rights – Even if your movie is merely streaming online, you must still obtain a license for any copyrighted music.

4. Royalty free music – Royalty free music is not free music. Royalty free means you do not have to pay a royalty for each use. Instead, you pay one set fee for the music no matter how many times it is used.

5. Music Libraries – Music libraries can be a great option for obtaining music to use in your film. These companies have an established and curated collection of music and sound effects to choose from, they have already obtained the necessary rights, and generally will post an upfront price.