Music supervisors love it when the outside world references the less “sexy” side of the craft. The parts of our job that are not just breaking bands and making mixtapes for directors. This clip from David Letterman a week or so ago made the rounds on Facebook, and it hits on several major misconceptions about placing music in media. You may have seen me point them out on Facebook, but I thought it would be good to do so here as well:



1.  The artist does not necessarily own the rights to their music.

Many filmmakers believe that the label, manager, or even the bass player alone will be able to provide the approval needed to use the song. Those who reach out to the label are on the right track, but there are still more steps to take.

Every song has two “sides” – the “master recording” and the “publishing”, or the song itself. Cover songs provide a fairly simple way to illustrate this.

Imagine there is a song called “Party Time” by The Cool Kids.

The Cool Kids recording is released by Label A, and the song “Party Time” is published by Publisher A, which publishes all songs written by The Cool Kids.

The Nerds create a cover of this song. The song is released by The Nerds’ label, Label B. Songs written by The Nerds are published by Publisher B.

If I wanted to use The Cool Kids’ version of “Party Time” in my web series, I would reach out to get approval from Label A and Publisher A.

If I wanted to use The Nerds’ version of “Party Time”, I would reach out to get approval from Label B and Publisher A.

Usually there is only one master recording owner (the label). However, there is frequently more than one publisher on a song. For a song to be “cleared” for use, 100% of the master recording and 100% of the publishing rights need to be approved.

All of that said, this concept is the cornerstone of music clearance and one worthy of an entire post and I promise there will be one.

2. Yes, music can be either wildly expensive or straight up denied. See my post 3 Reasons You Can’t Use That Song.

What was Paul thinking by providing a ballpark cost of $1K for an Eagles song? Seems like he should know better. That amount doesn’t get you very far with major artists, and sometimes even indie ones.

3. ASCAP and BMI are not publishers. They are performing rights societies who pay out performance royalties to the publishers and songwriters every time a song is publicly performed (e.g. heard on television, in movie theaters, bars, venues, etc.) These companies are not the ones to call in order to get permission to use a song in your film or television show (see above). The ASCAP, BMI and SESAC websites, however, can inform some of who to contact.

There is such a thing as an ephemeral use, however per my colleagues, it is my understanding that this only applies to live news and sporting events, and not programs that are taped and aired later. Since I personally haven’t worked on such programs, I can’t speak to the involvement of performing rights organizations in those clearances. I welcome comments from anyone who has experience.

4. There is no “minimum length” of music you can use before having to clear it. The moment a song can be identified, whether by your ear, Shazam, or by the rights holders, it needs to be cleared. Even if it’s only a few seconds of a song.

In short, the role played by the producer in the headset, attempting to manage the differing wishes and opinions of all those on the stage, is much more analogous to actual music supervision than your cool friend who makes you the best mixtapes.

I think I speak for all of my peers when I say, I feel you girl.