Typically, commercials will pair their actors' dialogue with background music. Whether your company decides to license a huge pop song, download a Creative Commons track from the web, or create your own composition is totally up to you. Below, we've outlined some of the unique ways to employ commercial background music, without spending a lot of money.
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How does basic copyright work?
Whenever a person creates a sound recording, they own the copyright for their work. Of course, we recommend formally registering all songs with the U.S. copyright office, especially if you plan to sell them. If you're looking to use an artist/band/composer's music for a commercial, however, things can get a little complicated.
Let's say Indie Rock Band has created the perfect song for your tech startup's debut TV commercial. First, you'll need to find the songwriter, performing rights organization, and publisher for that particular track. This should be easy to locate online or on the album packaging. Next, call the performing rights organization (either ASCAP or BMI) to get the publisher's contact info, and then ask the publisher for a mechanical license to use the song.
Once you get permission (in verbal and written form) from the publisher, you'll still need to contact the record label (and in some cases, the artist) for a final blessing. As you can see, this process can be time-consuming, but it's worth jumping through this many hoops if the song is vital to your production. For most commercial background music, though, it's best to stick to stock music or creative commons.
Using Stock Music
Sites like Shutterstock make it easy to obtain a royalty-free music license for commercial projects, with straightforward pricing and a huge archive of music to choose from. Royalty-free licenses are less messy for the licensee, since they only need to pay a one-time fee to use a song as many times as they like. On Shutterstock, there are two music license types: Standard and Enhanced.
A standard license gives you unlimited web/podcast rights, broadcast rights for up to 1,000,000 people, and theatrical rights for an entire country. For unlimited broadcast, theatrical, and web/podcast rights, you can purchase an enhanced license.
What is Creative Commons?
Finally, there are countless resources on the web for Creative Commons music, which is free for commercial or non-commercial use. In this case, creators still retain their copyright, but elect to share their work with the world (as long as you credit them). Sites like Jamendo and SoundCloud have thousands of Creative Commons songs that are free to download.