How Is Music Clearance Different from Music Licensing?

Every few weeks or so I’ll get a phone call with an inquiry that goes something like this…

I’d like to use Elvis Presley’s recording of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ as background music in my film. Can you help me do that?

Regretfully, beyond recommending some other companies to investigate, I am not much help in this regard.  Though music licensing is our core business, UniqueTracks only licenses recordings that we have created in-house or that we control the publishing rights to.

What these folks are looking for is a firm that will do “music clearance” work for them.  Yes, there are companies you can turn to when you are looking to obtain music licensing rights but have no idea where to turn.  These companies will help you acquire the rights to use famous songs but they are even better at finding the rights for obscure songs.  Music clearance companies are experts at finding the needle-in-the-haystack information that will eventually track down the song you’re interested in.  They will then act as your advocate with the publisher and record company to try and get you the best license pricing available.

What is Music Clearance?

Music Clearance is the process of obtaining the permissions necessary to include a music recording in a production.  The music clearance process should encompass all music used in the production.  This means every music cue, not just the soundtrack but also any source or background music.

For instance, if a film includes a scene where the characters are listening to music on the radio, the song being broadcast from the radio will need to be “cleared” –  you will need to get permission to use the song.  If the characters are at a bar and live music is being performed in the background, you will need to obtain the permissions necessary to use the song in that way.

The act of “clearing” these music cues involves obtaining the necessary licenses needed to use the music in the production.  You will need a synchronization license and a master use license.

Licensing is priced based on the type of project.  For instance, with a film, a festival rights license will be cheaper than a general release license.  Licensing music for use in a TV commercial will cost whatever the market will bear.  A famous recording of a song will command a much higher rate than an undiscovered or unknown song.

Performance Rights Organizations

If you are doing music clearance yourself, the best place to start is with the major performance rights organizations (PROs).  ASCAP, Broadcast Music (BMI) and SESAC are the major PROs in the United States.  Chances are the song you are looking for is registered with one of these organizations and you can obtain valuable publisher and writer information from them for free.

Note: You will still have to track down the owner of the recording rights (usually the record company) to get permission to use a recording of the song you’re interested in.  Hint: A great way to find the name of the record company is to use Amazon.com’s search function.

Most nations have their own performance rights organizations. In the United Kingdom, the performance rights organization is PRS. In Canada it is SOCAN, in Australia it is APRA, Germany has GEMA.  These groups link their database of songs so they are aware of each other’s listings. If a song registered with ASCAP and created by an American composer is played on the radio in England, PRS, the UK performance rights organization, will log that performance in their database and send ASCAP a report of all performances of that song (usually on a quarterly basis).

Music Clearance Companies

The links below are to some notable companies that handle music clearance and music licensing.  I’ve linked to informational articles on their sites so you can get more information on this subject.

EMG Music Clearance – Do It Yourself Music Clearance (good article)

The Music Bridge LLC – A Music Clearance Primer

Parker Music Group – A good FAQ

The Rights Workshop – Licensing & Music Clearance

One of the reasons stock music companies like UniqueTracks exist is because we can license music quickly and easily without having to seek a third-party company to negotiate licensing for you.  We are a one-stop shop.  When you purchase a stock music track on the UniqueTracks site, you are immediately issued a synchronization and a master use license to use the music in your production.

The trade-off, of course, is that UniqueTracks cannot license a Beatles or Led Zepplin song to you. We can, however, license famous classical production music like this piece by Tchaikovsky.


Premium Stock Music for Film, TV, Advertising and Interactive. Editor-selected, Easy Search, Fast Results UniqueTracks has a vast library of music loops and grooves plus a large selection of classical production music available for licensing into your production.

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