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.

Media Hero

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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