Watch: Everything You Need to Know About Music Rights

Confused about music rights? This video breaks it down.

When it comes to legal quagmires for filmmakers, issues with music rights and licensing are by far the most common. Many filmmakers are under the impression that the rights can be "sorted out" in post-production, but this is a dangerous assumption. As David Morrison from the Cardozo Indie Film Clinic told us, "music is very, very complicated, both as an area of law and as a practical issue for film.... You want to have some help, either from a music supervisor or from an attorney, in planning that stuff out well before you start shooting."

An extremely helpful new video from Audio Network breaks down the different types of music rights by their uses in filmmaking, and what you need to do to clear them:

Overview of types of music rights

Note that obtaining each of these types of rights requires their own separate licensing agreements.

  1. Sync rights: cover the composition and lyrics of a piece of music
  2. Master/dubbing rights: cover the actual recorded piece of music; usually held by the record label
  3. Mechanical rights: if you plan to duplicate your production (i.e. on DVD) and secured through a rights society or directly with the publisher
  4. Performance rights: need to be cleared if your production will broadcast on TV or be posted online; usually, the TV channel or website is responsible

Audio Network is an independent music company, breaking down boundaries to deliver authentic and creative music solutions to content creators in every industry, all around the world. The company collaborates with over 750 talented composers and artists, and has over 100,000 tracks in its catalogue, carefully curated into albums and playlists in every imaginable genre, all easily discoverable via its website.

Top photo credit:  / Shutterstock

Your Comment


I believe in giving a short or full length feature film the full treatment, regardless of the extra costs involved in paying for the rights to music licensing. If you're a serious artist, there's no excuse in trying to cut corners.

Now with that said, I'd like to share with you guys the reason why all claims on intellectual property are nonsensical and illegitimate.

No one owns ideas, and as far back as Thomas Jefferson, this was well understood: "If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me". We should do away with these barriers to entry.

July 8, 2016 at 11:21AM


Music licensing seems like an unending web of legal rights clauses that were created under an antiquated system 100 years ago. Tin Pan Alley all the way. :(
Great to see some creative forward-thinking people like, and to some extent others, bringing music and film together in a mutually beneficial way.

July 8, 2016 at 11:25AM

Paul Jay
Production Consultant

It should also be noted that there are a wide range of options available under Creative Commons licenses through sites like Jamendo, CCMixter, FreeMusicArchive, Incompetech, and even SoundCloud. These do require a little more due diligence on your part, however, as I have personally found it to be the case that an artist might put their music up without fully understanding what Creative Commons licenses entail (specifically the clause which makes them irrevocable). You may also run into the case where an artist has placed their music on those sites, but they were later pick up by a publisher/label who has logged the songs on YouTube's Content ID system. This has created the situation for me on a couple of occasions where I had the right to use a song in a commercial video due to the CC license put on it, but the publisher/label flagegd/monetized my video and refused to play ball and restore my monetization.

July 8, 2016 at 2:59PM

Victor Frost
Producer at FrostWorks Inc.

your links above for Audio Network and the last word "website" do not work. :((

July 8, 2016 at 9:05PM

Connie Florez

This is one thing that can really mess up a filmmaker. In film school we devoted a good section of time talking about music and securing rights.

Twice I've had to deal with a music artist actually taking a song you can get out one of those services and then rename the track to sell to a small record label. Then you find this out when YouTube gives you a copyright conflict and monetizes your video so that other company makes money off of your stuff. Such a hassle!

July 9, 2016 at 3:05PM

George Nelson
Director / Cinematographer

Hey, it can't hurt to ask - does NFS partner with musicbed to offer any discounts, bundles, or the like?

July 11, 2016 at 7:44AM