Music on videos

When it comes to making videos, music is like magic dust – sprinkle it liberally over your edit and it can transform a stodgy set of awkwardly cut together images, making them light and flowing and coherent, as though they were planned that way all along. It can somehow make a tedious interview seem less tedious and can help tell a story by setting a mood or letting you know something amazing is about to happen. It’s because of this magic dust effect that it’s really tempting to slap a music track on just about everything, and I’m sure there have been times when you’re watching something and the spell is broken – you suddenly become aware of the terrible music carrying on in the background, with no connection to the rest of the content and no reason for it being there.


Thankyou for the music.

I like to spend a lot of time on music – choosing the right track or tracks and then editing them to fit in with the story I’m telling at the time – getting the music to reinforce a point being made, or in some cases taking out a swell in the music when there is no corresponding swell in the content at that point. Like a lot of things, this can be overdone and I think music should be more like Spot the cat in Hong Kong Phooey – working hard in the background to sort things out, but never really getting noticed and never stopping other elements from taking the credit for how well things are going.

Music licensing

Most people know that we can’t really use commercial music in our videos – a track by Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran may fit perfectly with our message but it won’t be long before the lawyers will be asking you to take it down, or getting it blocked wherever it’s posted. If you really want to use a track by a band or artist, it’s possible, but be prepared for a long email journey around the owners of the recording, the owners of the song, the publishers, the artists and the songwriters, all of whom will almost certainly be different people or corporations and all of whom will want you to check with everyone else that they are happy for the track to be used. When you do get everyone’s permission, you will then have to sort out payment, which could be to several parties, and then there is no standard fee, it’s all up for negotiation. I have done it, but it’s a painful enough process for me not to want to do it often.

So how come we can hear music by commercial artists on TV programmes? Well, most broadcasters in the UK have longstanding ‘blanket agreements’ with most record labels, which means that you can use a track, let the BBC or ITV or whoever know which track you used, and they sort out the payments for you from an amount of money they set aside just for that purpose. How the money gets divvied up I’m not that sure, but presumably a track that gets used four times in a month gets more money than a track used just once. Even then the process of reporting the music is quite complicated as you have to check that the record label is on the list of those that have signed agreements with the broadcaster, and also check that the owners of the music are on a list too, and that the writers are all signed up to this, and it’s also not on a list of artists who are too precious to let their music be used by tv, or are in dispute with their labels or are in prison and can’t be mentioned ever again.

Library Music

As more and more programmes are made by large companies with foreign sales in mind, or showings on Dave, there is less and less commercial music on TV nowadays, which I think is a shame. But the costs of re-editing a programme cut around a particular track and replacing the music with something cheaper are too high for most companies, and it’s too much hassle too, so we get much more ‘library music’ on TV shows now.

Library or Production music is specially written for use on TV or video, and it’s provided by companies who, for a fee, will let you use it without any further restrictions or tedious reporting of where it’s shown and so on. If it’s used on TV, it still gets reported to the broadcasters who pay a royalty, if it’s used on a video then it must be licensed for that particular project and money must be paid to the library, who then pay the composer.


It’s tempting to use a track on a video without paying – most library sites let you download mp3 versions to see whether the music fits with what you want to do before paying for it, and it’s very easy to ‘forget’ to make the payment and just use the guide track on the finished product. But that’s wrong – the musicians, composers, recording studios and music libraries all need to make a living, so all music used on videos needs to be licensed. Luckily, there are some very good libraries out there at the moment, and with increased competition the fees have come down – big players like picture library Shutterstock have entered the market, so it’s now possible to license a well produced track for as little as £30. Most production companies should absorb this cost in their overall fee – in the past the fees could be much higher so they had to be passed on. The important thing to note is that the production companies making your video should tell you about licensing and let you know they have bought one – and send you a copy of the license if need be.

Do the right thing.

YouTube has the facility to ‘whitelist’ videos which have a license – they have bots listening to videos to check for music. If your video is not on the whitelist then there’s a real danger that, in the worst case, it will be taken down – not great if you’ve just sent out a link to all your clients. More likely your video will have adverts played in front of it (not great either) to ‘monetise’ it, to claw back the royalty fees that YouTube pays to the copyright holders for unauthorised use of their work. If the video is taken down, it’s vital to have the license to show that the use of the music is authorised, so that you can get it reinstated quickly. Even if the video is hosted on your own website, it’s only fair that you have a license in place, as otherwise it’s being used for free and the musicians don’t get paid and if they don’t get paid they won’t make their music available to us and it all goes horribly wrong. Cue sad music, licensed of course.