What is Production Music?

production musicWith all the confusion swirling around music rights these days, I thought this might be a good time to revisit a basic definition of Production Music and reaffirm its purpose and place in today’s industry.

Every day all over the world there are literally thousands of new productions being created (programs, films, commercials, videos, etc.) – and most of these use music. Of course movies and TV shows have been around for decades, however since the dawn of the Internet the number and type of productions has skyrocketed due to the proliferation of digital platforms and the insatiable demand for more and more content to fill these channels. All of these productions require a simple, legal and affordable source for music.

According to copyright law, permission must be obtained from the copyright owners in order to use a piece of music in any production. In the U.S. this permission is known as a “synchronization license.” A license to use music is required not only in the U.S. but in every country where copyright laws exist, which includes the entire developed world and a growing number of developing nations. Since there are two copyrights involved in any musical recording- the recording itself and the underlying composition- permission must be obtained from both rights holders (generally, the Record Label and the Music Publisher, respectively) in order to use music in any production.

Using music without a license is a violation of copyright law, which can result in severe fines and penalties. Using music without permission is known as “copyright infringement,” a serious legal infraction. In addition to substantial legal fees, penalties and hassles, copyright infringement may result in your production being barred from distribution or removed from the Internet. It is a common misconception that it is “OK” to just use a few seconds of a song without a license, however this belief is entirely unfounded; copyright applies to not only the entire song but also to any subsection of a song, including the lyrics. Whether you’re using one second of a song or the entire song, a valid license is still required.

There are basically 3 legal options available for obtaining music for your production: licensing commercial music, hiring a composer or using Production Music. There is a time and place for each of these options, and each has its respective pros and cons. It is understandably desirable in many film and television productions to license commercial songs, and no one can doubt the power of an originally composed score for a major motion picture. However Production Music provides a fast, simple and affordable solution for the vast majority of situations where time and budget are limited.

Licensing commercial music can be complicated, time-consuming and expensive. Since permission must be obtained from both the record label and music publisher(s), licensing a commercial song involves tracking down the applicable parties and then negotiating the licensing fee, assuming of course that the label and publisher(s) are willing to grant rights in the first place (sometimes artists and bands restrict where their music can be used due to personal beliefs or preferences). The research and negotiation process can often take days or weeks before the necessary licenses are granted, and license fees can range from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars for well known hit songs. To further complicate matters, there can often be multiple publishers involved with any given song, each owning a piece of the composition. In fact, licensing commercial music can be so complex and fraught with risk that often specialists known as “clearance consultants” or “music supervisors” are retained to properly “clear” music for high profile productions such as feature films, TV programs and commercials. For the myriad of productions that are produced every day- videos, programs, films, promos, commercials and more- it would be excessively burdensome and exorbitantly expensive to rely solely on commercial music due to the licensing complexity involved.

Hiring a composer is impractical for most productions. Hiring a professional composer to create a unique, original score is an ideal option if you have the luxury of time and a sufficient budget, however in today’s fast-moving world most productions turn around quickly and need instant access to a wide selection of music. Pulling prerecorded tracks from a Production Music library is simply a more convenient and practical option than hiring a composer in most situations.

Production Music Libraries (PMLs) provide a simple, convenient and affordable source for music for any production. Production Music is designed to be “pre-cleared” (PMLs control both master and publishing rights) so that licensing is fast and convenient. Most PMLs maintain standardized “rate cards” so that “needledrop” (per use) rates are transparent and affordable, requiring little or no negotiation or haggling. In addition, “blanket licenses” are often available allowing users access to as much music as they need on an annual subscription basis. Finally, Production Music tracks are generally created with certain applications in mind (e.g., promos, commercials, trailers, underscore, etc.) and are categorized using metadata in such a way that makes it easy to find exactly the right mood and track for your production. Most PMLs, in fact, maintain state-of-the-art websites that allow for fast, convenient music searches, auditions and downloads.

In sum, Production Music plays an indispensible role in today’s production world by offering a fast, convenient and affordable way to instantly access a virtually limitless selection of music in every possible style and genre. Without question, the vast majority of music used in today’s professional productions- from TV programs and advertisements to corporate videos and webcasts- consists of production music, and demand for this type of music should only continue to grow as new platforms and channels emerge over the years ahead.


Ron Mendelsohn
January 14, 2015

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