By Mike Bielenberg
Let's assume you are a creative professional being compensated to create a video for a client. Let's also assume your client will NOT be broadcasting the video on television nor distributing it on DVD, but WILL be distributing the video on the internet (their website, YouTube etc), presenting it at meetings and even showing it at a trade shows. Let's also assume that you, the creative expert, are expected to handle any and all copyright clearances for the video, including the soundtrack.
How do you ensure your soundtrack is cleared for all these uses and that no embarrassing copyright issues will emerge down the road? The digital marketplace offers lots of music that can be used without paying any license fees, but there will always be a direct relationship between the amount you pay to use a piece of music and the amount of control you (or your client) have over that music. For example, that $0.89 you spent on iTunes for a Van Morrison single only allows you to enjoy that song on your iPod...and nothing else. But move that decimal point four places to the right and you can probably use it in your independent film until the cows come home. Here's the breakdown of everything in between:
I. Royalty-free music libraries
(*Full disclaimer: I co-own a royalty-free production music library).
For as little as $10, a production music library will deliver a high rez version of a piece of music to you along with a license document (or at least a receipt) that lists both you and your chosen track specifically. Because you're getting compensated by your client, it would be valuable for you to have a paper trail like this. Most royalty-free libraries will even conduct the music search for you at no charge. They know their library better than you. So why sift through thousands of tracks when you should be editing video?
What's the catch? Most stock music libraries won't carry famous songs that your client knows. They may carry "sound-a-likes", but that information definitely won't be listed on their website. You have to discuss that directly with a sales rep.
Also, a royalty-free music library is the most expense solution offered here. $10 is definitely the bottom of the price range whereas the average price is probably between $30 and $50 per track. If your client is willing to pay this fee in return for a relatively high degree of control over their music, then this is your best option.
II. Your own video software
I recently edited together a family video using iMovie and Soundtrack Pro and entered it into an online contest. While there wasn't a huge library of tracks, I quickly found something that worked well and incorporated it into my video quickly.In order to stay competitive, many video software makers completely buy out the copyrights to instrumental music tracks and bundle them with their product. Soundtrack Pro's license agreement reads as follows:
"You may broadcast and/or distribute your own soundtracks that were created using the Audio Content, however, individual audio files may not be commercially or otherwise distributed on a standalone basis, nor may they be repackaged in whole or in part as audio samples, sound files or music beds." That type of license should work fine for your project.
What's the catch? Selection. I've worked for organizations that bought copyrights outright and I can say from experience that a collection that is "wholly-owned" can never be as dynamic, large or comprehensive as a user contributed music library. You're at the mercy of what content Apple is willing to acquire. It's easy for libraries like that to become "stale" and overused.
III. YouTube's AudioSwap
YouTube's approach to copyright infringement has evolved into a simple ultimatum given to all major labels and movie studios: YouTube's software will block their copyrighted content, but wouldn't they rather just let it happen and share the ad revenue?
The answer from many of the major record labels is "yes".
Therefore, you could theoretically synchronize your client's video with Aerosmith's "Dream On" in hopes that Columbia records lets you slide on copyright infringement. Just be sure to cross both fingers and kiss a rabbit's foot as you upload the video.
In order to offer a less risky alternative, YouTube has received permission from lesser known bands and musicians to create an online music library from which creative professionals like yourself can choose a track from that library and let YouTube automatically synchronize the music track with your video. Some of these tracks are fairly well known.
What's the catch? Your video will ONLY play with that music on YouTube's website. And the music rights holder controls which ads run alongside your video. If your client plans to include this video in an email campaign or just embed it on their website, that may not be a deal breaker. But they ever want to present the video at a meeting or gathering of any kind, they'll need to ensure the location has an Internet connection.
In order to use this music for free, your client is essentially entering into partnership with this rights holder to help them earn more ad revenue for their song. Also, the rights holders of this music can withdraw their music from YouTube, and thus your video, at any time. Your client may ultimately be ok with these risks, but you should at least make them aware.
IV. Creative Commons
I've included this option last because Creative Commons rights are both complicated and, in sprit, not always supportive of commercial usage. There are no less than six (!) types of Creative Commons licenses. Assuming your client intends to directly or indirectly generate revenue from this video, you'll have to confine your music search to tracks that fall under the license called "Attribution-Only".You may find a "diamond in the rough" from this subset of music available through Creative Commons, but be aware that "Attribution" means you must credit the artist at some point in the video. Most clients are ok with that.
It's all about choosing what kind of parameters you and client are most comfortable working within: lack of control (AudioSwap or outright infringement), a music license that may cost up to $50 (stock music libraries) or a limited selection (creative commons or your video software).
Mike Bielenberg is a professional musician and co-founder of MusicRevolution.com http://www.musicrevolution.com, a production music marketplace where media producers and business owners can license high-quality, affordable royalty-free music from an online community of musicians.