Music Rights for Film – Short Guide to Independent film makers

In film making, variety of elements are needed, the screenplay, actors/actresses, crew and the most important- the music. Big film makers with lots of budget can afford to pay high licensing fees to use popular music/songs. These production companies can have their own dedicated licensing departments to arrange agreements with music publishers.

It can be a different scenario for independent film makers or small movie production companies. It is because they do not have its own lawyers or experts in music licensing working for them all the time. It is essential for them to know the music rights for film. Knowing these rights can be helpful for them to get permission to use copyrighted music on their film project.

If you are an independent movie/film producer that wants to legally music in your project; then make sure you know the rights that you need to be cleared before you can start working in your project.

What are the important music rights for film?

1. Right to synchronization – these are popularly called “sync” rights. These are the rights for music to be used and synchronized together with film visual images. In layman’s term; this is synonymous with the film “sound track”. The licensing fee for sync depends on the music publisher and the licensee budget.
It can be as low as $5 to as high as thousands of dollars for popular hit songs.

Film camera

Film camera

For more information about licensing fees/cost, you can read the following posts:

Typical music licensing fees and cost for different projects

2. Right to use the sound recording/master recording rights – these are called “master recording rights”, the owner is typically the recording producer. Some independent music publishers are also recording producers and they also hold the rights of the sound recording.

For most of the time, the owner is the recording label; the one that finances the recording project. Another good example is the indie artist/producer that both write and produces the song. The artists wrote the song and then using his/her home studio, the master recording of that song was created. To make sure the artist original work would be protected; the artist obtains both the copyright of the song and the master recording.

The indie artist can then license this work to any interested parties such as movie/film and TV producers. Take note that in a situation like this, the artist functions both as a music publisher and a master recording rights owner.

If you plan to use the song but decides to create your own master recording for the use in the projects; then you do not need to acquire sound recording rights. You simply need to ask permission from the music publisher to cover the song. Once granted; you start making your own master recording of that song and use it in your film.

The licensing fee depends on the music publisher and the budget of the film producer. It can be as low as $5 to as high as thousands of dollars for very popular songs.

Normally in a film production where music needs to be synchronized with the film visual images, then the sync and use of master recording rights are only required (which 95% of the indie film producers should need to be cleared). But these are not the only rights which you might need to acquire for your film project.