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Using Music on YouTube

Posted on 18 June, 2015  in General

I’m going to be talking about using music in your video productions that are headed online – DVDs, Broadcast and Mobile are very different and require different sets of rules/licences. That said, there are quite a few misconceptions about using commercial music in your video productions going online – and no one seems to talk about it.

Coming from an online broadcaster background, when producing clips, my team would have to make a record of what music we used, including artist, record label, duration used and the like.
PRS and Music Licences

When producing the first of my biking videos (yes, DSLRs can be used in sports!), I was unsure as to what the rules were for using background music on YouTube. I phoned up PRS for Music, a UK organisation that “exist to collect and pay royalties to our members when their music is exploited in one of a number of ways – when it is recorded onto any format and distributed to the public, performed or played in public, broadcast or made publicly available online.”

I called up PRS for Music and asked them about using commercial music in my biking videos. From the outset, I was very happy to pay them some money – I saw on their website that they have a limited online music licence that starts at £107 + VAT – very happy to pay that just so I can use the music I want in my productions.

After talking to one of their representatives, once I mentioned I was producing short clips for YouTube and wanted to use music as background music to moving images – they said that they have a blanket licence with YouTube, meaning that you can use what you want when you want.

Now, to me as a music user – that sounds great, but I do wonder if the music industry is missing a trick here. I’d be quite happy to pay for a licence or on a track by track basis. What if YouTube had a reporting/pay function when you upload a video for music rights. Sure, some people may not use it, but broadcasters and video producers like myself would use it simply for accountability.

One thing PRS did mention was that if the music publisher didn’t like how I used the music, they can ask YouTube to remove the audio track (I’ve seen an example of this, so know it to be true). Now, I would happily have paid a licence just to ensure that my video would remain untouched by publishers hands – wouldn’t you?
Some tips/ideas

So here’s a few tips that I’ve recently formulated. Credit music when you use it, usually at the end in form of credits (song title, artist, album/single name, label, copyright date). Also, I would tend to use music that isn’t widely known i.e. something not in the charts. This can serve two purposes. One, the music is less recognisable and less likely to cause anyone problems, and two, for the sake of longevity, using music that is popular will significantly date your video.

And one thing that you should always try and do – contact the artist or label and ask them whether you can use their music. Honesty is the best policy, and if they say yes, you’ve got something in writing regardless. If you’re approaching unsigned artists, they are usually very happy for you to promote their music and get exposure. Smaller independent labels may be similar.

There are two other things you can do. Contact a local music producer (you may even have one in your social circle already, or family) and partner up – they allow you to use their music in exchange for you to make their music videos – its that kind of collaboration that if balanced right, can make for a great creative partnership. And not forgetting, if all else fails, make your own music. There are a few programs out their that let you put a few loops together – such as Apple’s Soundtrack Pro – just be careful, this tool is in the hands of a lot of people, so go buy the extra loops just to be better assured that you’re not using the loops everyone else is using.

What are your thoughts about using music in your video productions online? Is it a fair system? Do you have any tips or advice to share? Say it in the comments.