Navigating Music Rights

video editing Chicago

Music Licensing and Video Editing in Chicago

Music is such a universal experience: people from across the world respond to sound and music in remarkably similar ways. It has the power to create mood and alter one’s emotions, even when we’re not conscious of this change. Even babies are wired to respond to music, before they can understand what music is. In our line of work – video editing in Chicago – we understand the difference a piece of music can make to the overall effect of film. But before we can use any piece of music in creating our final mix, we need to make sure that we’ve followed the correct legal procedures.

What are Music Rights and Licensing?
Any recording of an original song is copyrighted – from independent musicians who own their own music, to large music labels and producers who have rights to distribute and profit from their musicians’ work. Music licensing means obtaining permission to use a piece of music. In order to do that, you need to determine who holds the copyright, contact them, and pay the relevant fees for licensing.

Why Do I Need Help with Licensing?
It sounds simple enough, but obtaining the rights to music can actually be complicated. For instance, if you want to synchronize a piece of music to match the visuals on-screen, you need a synchronization license. This allows the sound editor to cut, alter or re-record the piece in order to fit the visuals; how the song is used and modified will determine the fees for this license. A synchronization license is also completely separate from a master recording license, which permits the use of the song as it was recorded with no alterations. Then there are licenses for live performances, reproduction of songs for soundtracks and secondary distribution, theatre performances, and more. For commercial video editing and production, it’s usually best to trust a professional to obtain the correct licenses – otherwise you could end up with a lawsuit on your hands!

When Do I Obtain the License?
While most sound editing and mixing happens during post-production, it’s wise to begin with licensing as early as possible. Choosing specific music, budgeting for the licenses, and beginning the licensing process can all be done during pre-production. Because music licensing sometimes requires negotiations with the copyright holder, waiting until the last minute can seriously delay your production timeline, and lead to unnecessary expenses. We’d also recommend considering a few alternative pieces, in case you cannot obtain the rights to your first choice of song.

Alternatives to Licensing
Fortunately, there are some alternatives to licensed music. ‘Public domain’ refers to any item of media – music, images, video, or literature – that is open and free to the public, and cannot have a copyright placed upon it. In the United States, any song published before 1922 is public domain; this is why so many classical pieces are still used for advertising, film, and television. If you’re just looking for atmospheric background music for a corporate video or independent film, there are a number of online music libraries – often organized by genre or mood – that supply royalty-free music. And lastly, if you really want to avoid legal trouble, you can commission your own original score by hiring a composer. Just make sure you copyright your piece before someone else uses it!

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