Acquiring Music for Your Projects


Did you ever wonder about the music you hear on a TV show or film?  This isn’t just a casual question for a producer.  A producer cannot just decide to use a piece of music without getting clearance.

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. Please consult with a legal professional if you want to use music in your project.

There are three main ways to obtain music for a soundtrack:  existing music, original music, and stock music. The Music Supervisor is the lead in the procurement of music, ensuring the applicable permissions/licenses/clearances are obtained for existing music, supervising the creation of an original musical score, or obtaining stock music.

Existing Music

There are two types of licenses that are applicable to legally allow existing music to be used in a project.  A synchronization license involves use of both the master sound recording (actual studio recording, owned by the record company) and the musical composition (a song not in audible form; e.g. words and musical notes as in sheet music; as written by the songwriter). A master use license gives the producer the right to use the original sound recording of a musical composition. In a sense, a master use license requires a synchronization license to also be obtained if the music is to be in the project.

If it is decided to use a cover of the song (where the singer is different from the original artist), then a master use license would not be required (but a synchronization license would be required). But the appropriate contractual agreement with the singer would have to be obtained.

Original Music

A more cost-effective way of obtaining music, as compared to using licensed music, is for the producer to hire a composer to write and record original music. A composer can be hired on a work-for-hire basis. The publishing and recording rights to any music composed specifically for your project belong to the producer. A contract with the composer will be required to specify details such as fees and screen credit.

One of my filmmaking colleagues told me about her interaction with music artists. For one production an artist allowed the music to be used for free; but in another production a fee arrangement was set up, and the music could be used for that production only. In addition, she has established long-term relationships with other music artists which may come in handy in the future.

Stock Music

Another alternative is to use stock music (AKA production music). This is music that has been specifically composed and recorded for a stock music house. It is a way to obtain royalty-free music. All rights to the music have been cleared by the stock music house. The music provider is paid a fee, which may be for a one-time use or perpetual use. A stock music house tends to have a very large inventory covering multiple styles of music.

Another source of stock music is YouTube. It has a free library of such music, although its selection is not as extensive as would be available from a stock music house.

I recently made inquiries on Facebook and Twitter on this subject. Here are some of the stock music houses responders mentioned:

Music Cue Sheets

A music cue sheet documents the time and place where a piece of music appears in the project.  It is used to calculate how the stakeholders will be compensated.

A music cue sheet documents the following items:

  • the title of each composition
  • the use and timing of each music cue
  • the composer(s)
  • publisher(s)
  • their performing rights affiliation; for example, ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) or BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated).



Filmmaking is not easy.  The legalities are extremely important.  This post exposed just one aspect of ensuring the people associated with the project are protected from litigation.

Please provide feedback or questions in the Comments.  I would really enjoy hearing from you.


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