Royalties and Legally Using Music In Your Show

As a follow-up on my post about choosing the right music for show, here's a glance at some of the laws and such regarding using music in your show. The issue is this: Any time music is played publicly the music publisher, and in turn the artist, should be getting paid. If nobody is giving money to one of the rights management organizations to cover your show, somebody could potentially face heavy fines.

I don't like royalty-free music.

There is music available, called such things as "Royalty-Free", "Buy-Out", "Production Music", which allows you to circumvent copyright laws. When you purchase the music you also purchase the rights to use it without paying further royalties. It's very popular for video productions on a budget, and becoming more prominent in the magic show world. My issue is that most of the royalty-free music sounds like royalty-free music. It's often made by synthesizers, and sounds rather thin or cheesy. I very rarely find it inspiring, or the sort of thing I really want to use for my show. Some independent musicians are releasing their music with a "creative commons" license. Depending on the details, it means you can use their music in your show gratis, without royalties, and you don't have to pay for it up-front either. Great deal... if you can find the music you want. Here's a list of places to find creative commons music. Happy hunting! ### How to use "real" music legally

*Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, or hold any other relevant title that would make this legal advice. Do your own research and due diligence to ensure you are within your rights.*There is a system in place to make sure that the publishers and artists get paid for radio airplay and other public performances of the music they own. In the United States it goes through either BMI or ASCAP, and in Canada the licensing organization is SOCAN. A radio station would pay a blanket fee to BMI/ASCAP, and file a report of thier playlist. The funds are pooled, the play-counts are tallied, and the money is divided accordingly. Music played in any theatre, restaurant, bar, or other public gathering place is also subject to these music licensing fees. As the performer, generally, this licensing is not your responsibility. You cannot get a personal license to cover all your performances. Licenses are paid by a venue to cover all music played within its walls. A professional theatre would pay the monthly fee to cover all the shows that come through. Schools in your area are likely covered by a license paid by the entire school board. The legal concerns come up, however, when you find yourself performing in an ad-hoc venue that does not have a blanket license. If you're using music in your show in such a venue, and your neighbourhood ASCAP enforcement guy drops by, somebody could be paying fines in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars... per song. This is serious business. I've done my research here in Canada, where SOCAN does offer a one-time-use license for a "comedy or magic show" performance (wherein music is used as background) to the tune of $36.60 per event. (PDF link to license application) If you are the producer of a show in a non-licensed venue, this paperwork will have you covered. BMI/ASCAP (or your country's licensing agency) will have something comparable. So here's what you can do to make sure you're not left holding the bag (of fines). 1. Add a clause into your contract to pass off responsibility. It's up to the producer and/or event planner to ensure the venue has adequate licensing. 2. Check with your venue and ask if they have a blanket license. 3. You could have a royalty-free back-up playlist of different music to use if licensing is not available or plausible. 4. Know how to get your one-time license before it's needed.

Published: June 29, 2011

Channel: Blog

Access: Public

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