legal Using licensed music in film

Does anyone have any info on using licensed music? I have a scene of a character walking down a street ala John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever" and I wanted to use the Bee Gees song for it (just like in movie).

Anyone know how much songs such as this cost to use (assumming I was even able to use it)?

Are there different prices/considerations for films that are independant and very low budget?

Any info would be greatly appreciated.
I've heard it's usually pretty expensive. You have to pay for like, 3 kinds of rights (syncronization, mechanical and recording) But there are a couple options.

1) Get a band to cover the song. You'll only have to pay the synch rights if you record it.
2) Get a composer to put an original song in. Then you don't have to pay anyone but the composer.

Er. That's it. Or at least, as much as I know. You can go to BMI and figure out who to contact for the rights, but it'll be pricey. Just be warned.

Then again... if it's just for the internet, and a small production, you can probably use the music anyway, but ti could bite you in the ass if anything big-time happens... but what are the odds of that? Measure the risk, put it in the budget, and figure it out. lol. That's all I know.
It all depends on who owns the rights. I used two different songs in my film (one by Brad Sucks who self-distributes and one by Porcupine Tree who is pretty big) and luckily both were owned by the bands so I got clearance ffrom btoh for points. It didn't cost me anything up front.

Loud Orange Cat

Pro Member
Licensing is expensive.

I go the cheap way out and download Public Domain and Creative Commons licenced music from places like and for free.

As long as you respect the licence requirements, there's no fees involved. I've used music from these sites in my last two videos. My latest production is going to use one PD and one CC work that I've already cleared with, a Creative Commons-licenced label. :)
Thanks for the info, guys. Yeah, i figured a song like "Saturday Night Fever" would probably be out of my budget, haha.

And thanks LOC for the links... very cool sites with lots of great stuff!
I just got permission to use Agent Orange "Living in Darkness" for my trailer. I didn't have to pay anything with the stipulation of streaming media only and non commercial use. So thats good enough for now. My opinion is if you want to use "just a little" you can probably get away with it, but for me I didn't want that to hurt negotations down the line when I produce my final cut.
Trailer coming soon:weird:

Loud Orange Cat

Pro Member
As we all know the RIAA and MPAA are going after file sharers quite harshly. The people they are prosecuting are using these downloads for personal use only, not for commercial gain.

When the RIAA finds out someone is using a song in a film "for commercial use" without permission... "PMITAP" takes on a new meaning. This is why I use CC and PD music in my productions. Since I licence my productions as CC, there's no licencing issues. CC allows for usage with a similar licence.
This can depend. Now if you are clever some record companies might give you a freebe. We got a track from Skint Records (fat Boy Slims label) for a band called Midfield General. why? because we asked and it cost us nothing.

Aim for the Indie Labels and you'll be suprised just how generous some companies are. However at teh same time we tried to get a track by a guy who had a song in the Matrix and BMG wanted to charge us £3k for 30 seconds use. Which is a pain.
Just came across this site:

It provides info and links to music and sound that is free (I believe) and available to any and all to use.

It's pretty comprehensive and very interesting to browse through.
This is an old thread, but I’ve been doing a bit of research on this the last couple days, so thought I’d share a couple of things I’ve found out with you all (just in case anyone out there is looking into this kind of thing now).

When you want to use a song in your film/video (even if it’s your own recording), you need special permission, called a Synchronization or Sync License from the owners of the copyright in that song.

In theory, getting this license is pretty simple, but in practice, not so much. Theoretically, you find out who owns the copyright, you submit a request, you wait for an approval (called a ‘quote’) and then you’re given a contract prepared by the copyright owner, in which you agree to pay the license fee.

The reason this gets complicated is that many songs are written by multiple songwriters/collaborators, who may in turn be represented by different publishing companies that you also need permission from. In these circumstances, you’ve got to track down all those publishers (check out the liner notes of the song or search repertoires on and for example), contact each one, request permission, wait for the quote and sign the agreement before you are fully licensed.

This job usually falls to the music supervisor and a lawyer or legal executive and is one of the reasons why, even though you may want to include a hit song in your movie, if you don’t have the budget, it's probably better to go down the royalty-free route, or better still, get some original music for your project.

Hope this helps anyone out there!
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I worked in the synchronization department of a music publishing company and can confirm the above is correct BUT, as stated there can be a lot of complexities that come with licensing music.

For one, not only do you need a Synchronization license from the affiliated music publisher, you also need a master license from the associated label or master owner. The synchronization license covers your right to use the IP of the song (lyrics, melody, music bed, the things that make that song what it is), a master license covers your use of that specific recording of the song.

You won't always need both, for example, if have the song playing in the background of a coffee shop or restaurant scene you'll need both, but if your main character is singing a song a capella in the shower, you only need a synchronization license because you are not using a specific recording.

As @TheMusicBox mentioned, a music supervisor has relationships with all the major and big indie labels and publishers and can speed this process up exponentially.

I'm happy to offer my knowledge in this field as well as my skill as a music supervisor for anyone who wants to know more or has specific questions!
Completely out of interest, what happens if you want to use the lyrics of a song in a script? Or even if you just want to quote what a famous person said in your script (e.g. Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela etc.)?

The synchronization license covers your right to use the IP of the song (lyrics, melody, music bed, the things that make that song what it is),
Slightly answering my own question here, but I assume from this you would still have to pay for a sync license to quote the song's lyrics in dialogue, but what about quotes? Is there a similar license you'd have to get? But then who would you pay it to? (Sorry for digressing by the way!)
Yes you would still need to secure a sync license because you are "synchronizing" the IP of a songwriter with a visual component. Granted, the license fee will be pretty low if its just a line or two but a license is needed.
This is also applicable with merch that features lyrics on it (official band or 3rd party), most publishers will let official band stuff slide so long as they own the song 100% but if there's a non-band writer affiliated with lyrics printed on a shirt, their publisher might ask for a % of sales.

As far as quoting other famous people, I can't officially speak to and I'm sure its more of a grey area since its difficult to confirm that any given quote originated from a specific person. I'm also only familiar with this in a music sense so if that holds true, any potential money paid out to "license" a quote would go to the speak writer and not necessarily the speaker. Again, not my area of expertise so I'm not sure, great question though!

Fun fact relating to this though, music publishing ownership doesn't get as specific as lyrics vs music. ie, two people write a song together, lets call them John and Jane. John writes all the lyrics and melody while Jane writes the underlying music and they decide to split the publishing ownership 50/50, John owns 50% of the whole song (both music AND lyrics) and so does Jane. So if their song gets placed in a film where only the instrumental is used, or the lyrics and melody are sung a cappella, both will still get paid. Publishing ownership is always considered to be the whole song, regardless of specific contribution.