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What You Need to Know About Licensing Music for Film Projects

Music for Film
  • On 03/08/2011

There are a lot of things to consider when you are producing a film project. The most important of these is to make sure that the right message gets across to your audience.To do this, you should consider the quality of the scene, props, effects and, of course, music for film.

Music is a very important element of any visual project because it sets the mood and elicits the response you want from your audience.

To make sure you have the right music for your film project, you need to carefully consider the following points.

The use of pre-existing music

Two kinds of licenses are available depending on your intended use of music in your film:

Synchronization license aka. Sync

This will give you the right to synchronize music to a scene in your film. You can get this license from a music publisher.

Master use license

This music license allows you to use a recording of a song or reproduce it for your film. This is issued for one song at a time and you can get this license from a record label.


You need both a sync license and a master license if you want to use a specific version of a recording. Example, if you want to use the original version.

The importance of a composer

Sometimes, hiring a composer to work hand in hand with you in the creation of a film is better than getting license for pre-existing music. A custom score will give you the greatest chance of achieving just the right tone and emotion for every scene in your film project whereas this may be hard to do with pre-existing music.

Finding the right composer

To find a composer to fit your film project needs, consider the following questions:

  • Is there a particular style of music that you want for your film?
  • Would the composer’s residence or location be important?
  • How much experience do you need your composer to have?
  • What will be the composer’s role? Are you looking for a collaborator?
  • Would the manner a composer works matter to you? E.g. do you want your composer to communicate often with you or would you rather just send the composer a copy of the film and expect the finish score after a couple of months?

It will easier to can start looking for a composer using your answers to the questions above as basis.
Start by asking your colleagues.

Try asking recommendations or simply ask about the composers who have worked with them in the past. Attending a film festival would also be a great opportunity to find a good composer you can work with.
You may also want to consider the composers of past films that you enjoyed.

Lastly, do a search on the internet and visit a composer’s website or connect with a composer through social networking sites like MySpace.

Budget considerations

You should also take into consideration the upfront fee you will be paying your composer. Current industry standard is to have 10% of a film’s budget for licensing or composing new music.
Still, the rates will vary on a case to case basis depending on the amount of music required and the composer’s experience.

Ownership of the film score and other concerns

This item should be stipulated in your agreement after prior negotiations with the composer. If you want to keep the publisher’s share, you will have to pay the composer the appropriate upfront fee.
This agreement allows the composer to retain the writer share and receive royalties.

However, most independent filmmakers are often unable to pay this fee.

In this case, the composer keeps the publisher’s share. And remember that it is best to always consult a lawyer to know the best option for you.

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