Celebrity Marketing: How to License Music and Avoid Being Sued

How to avoid having music pulled from your advertising because approvals weren’t secured.

Music licensing is complex and has many approval layers.  Fees for licensed songs will typically range from five to six figures. The cost depends upon factors including song popularity and the performer.

If you find yourself responsible for music licensing, here’s a list of the definitions, key players and industry tips that you might find helpful.


  • Master Use License & Synchronization License: If you want to use a song in a TV or radio commercial, you need a Master Use License from the label and a Synchronization License from the publisher.
  • Publishing Rights:  These are the rights the writers hold.  There can be multiple writers for one song in which clearances are needed for each and each publisher to agree to same terms and fee.
  • Master Rights: These are rights the labels own…the actual recording of the song.  Often one song is associated with many labels.

Key Players:

  • Record Label: The label owns the actual sound recording — the performance of the song as recorded in the label’s studio.
  • Publisher: The publisher works on behalf of the song’s composer (the person who arranged the music) and songwriter (the person who wrote the lyrics). The composer and songwriter own the actual copyrights for the song, and the publisher represents them in all business dealings.
  • Music Publishers and Writers:  BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) an advocate for the value of music, representing more than 12 million works of more than 750,000 copyright owners. ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Artists and Producers) is another industry advocate.

 Industry Tips:

  • Re-record: You cannot do a re-record that sounds like the original Artist.
  • Negotiation: You can negotiate music; however, there is not much room to negotiate the standard license once issued.
  • Internet Exclusivity: Most publishers/labels will not agree to exclusivity for internet.
  • Exclusivity: Be sure to add exclusivity to your fee request for an accurate amount.
  • Usages: For one 30 second commercial usages could include:  unlimited lifts, edits and versions thereof (including without limitation, any foreign language versions), in the following media: TV (network, cable), In-Cinema, Internet, Industrial, (including without limitation, in-store, kiosk, trade shows, point of sale, client sales meetings (insert others which are of importance to the campaign).
  • Paying Musicians: Musicians and back-up singers are compensated.  Knowing when the song was recorded, and where and who is listed as vocalists is extremely important. SAG (Screen Actors Guild) standard rates apply. 

photo credit: David Paul Ohmer via photopin cc


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