In Knowledge Center

We’re regularly asked by clients if we can add a popular chart topping song to their video. The answer is: yes, BUT… We’ll walk you through the steps to license popular music and the less costly alternatives.

While it is possible to use a Top 100 Hit or classic rock song in a video production, you have to proceed with caution and a hefty budget. That’s because there is a multi-step process to negotiate and acquire the rights to include that song in your production. But what if you’re absolutely certain your video needs that Lil Nas X or Coeur de Pirate tune?

Greatest Hits Music Cassette

For Bigger Budgets:   Licensing a Song

To get permission to use a popular song -or even a lesser-known Indie one – starts with  investigation into who owns the copyright. A single song may have taken a dozen or more people to create: the songwriter or writing team, the performer(s),  the producer(s) and the record label.  They are part of ‘a copyright list’ and some on it may hold composer rights, performance rights or both sets of rights if they both wrote and recorded the tune. To use the song in your production, you must come to an agreement with each rights holder on its copyright list and obtain a license (which includes its terms like the intended use, for how long a period of time, in what regions of the world and for what price). You may also end up paying royalty payments, so that a fraction of any revenue your project makes will go to the copyright holders. Navigating this licensing process can take weeks to months, and typically ends up costing several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars.

But what if it’s a really short excerpt?

Do you still need to go through this entire process for just a couple seconds from a song? Yes! You always need to get permission, no matter how short a clip you want to use, or else risk  thousands of dollars in copyright fines.

Okay, but I’m friends with the band

What if someone on your team knows the drummer and she says you can use their song? That’s a nice first step but as noted above, there are many parties involved in licensing a piece of music. You still need signed agreement from each copyright holder.

Your production company can help negotiate these rights for a fee.  If you are producing a larger budget video or ad where the song feels crucial, this legwork and associated cost may not be an issue. But for most other productions, there are other more affordable routes to getting great music.


Royalty free music, not to be confused with copyright free music, is music where you don’t need to pay an ongoing royalty payment. You pay for and license the music once for a specific use. That doesn’t necessarily mean the artist who composed and/or performed the piece doesn’t get royalties – but rather the music company who licensed the track is the one paying those royalties. Because these pieces are composed especially for this kind of use, the costs are low – often below $100 in most cases.


A few examples of the many royalty-free libraries include


Each library represents thousands of pieces of music and composers and are searchable by genre, mood, artist and even beats per minute.  Watermarked versions are available to test how each track works with your video, and your video production company can do the work of providing a list of interesting options to narrow down the perfect style and sound.


Any music that was published before 1923 would be copyright free and thus free to use- but that applies to the composing aspect. If an artist recorded it after that date and you want to use that version, there are still performance rights to pay and a label involved. Copyright-free music is rarely as free as it seems.


Still think it is absolutely essential for that top 100 hit? If so, your video production company can help navigate the path. But if you’re willing to consider a great sound-alike or a different original tune, they can locate the royalty-free music that will make your video sing for a fraction of the time and cost. Either way, your finished product should be music to your ears!


Contact us to discuss the best way to add music to your next production!