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How to find music for your ad

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The most memorable adverts use music that represents their brand and key messaging. For example, Apple advertised their iPods with popular dance songs playing in time with the silhouettes dancing.  In fact, research by PHMG showed that 66% of consumers believe music is actually more memorable than the visuals used in advertising, which demonstrates how vital it is to select the right soundtrack for your marketing material.

However, one of the biggest challenges is finding music you’re legally allowed to use, considering the restrictions around copyright and music licensing. There is minimal copyright surrounding classical pieces, but for most jazz and pop recordings, rights need to be secured. For instance, marketers require a sync—“a music synchronisation license” which allows clients to use audio within a visual production. The consequences of using music without appropriate permission could mean copyright infringement that results in your content being muted, blocked or removed.

If you want to use songs in your advert without coming face to face with any legal issues, follow these tips to learn how to source music correctly.

Choosing the right music

It’s key that your music fits the emotional tone and key messages of your advert’s visual content.

The 2006 Nike Air advert is a good example of this, using Johnny Cash’s Hurt to represent the toiling nature of being an athlete. On the other hand, there’s no point in using a fast-paced or upbeat song in a sombre charity advert, as it will confuse the messaging of your commercial. The tempo of a song has been said to affect the feelings, attitudes and behaviours of consumers—faster music is expected to have a positive impact on emotions. So identify what kind of music is most appropriate for the themes your advert intends to convey.

Remember that you may not be able to choose music from the artist of your dreams, as obtaining a music license from popular artists is particularly expensive, as is paying subsequent royalty or copyright fees which can cost as much as $90,000. Unless you have an incredibly high budget, you will need to explore alternative sources for the music in your adverts.

Where to find music for your adverts

There are various websites offering music purely for commercial purposes, each providing different music licensing options and functionalities.

License-free music

License-free music is exactly what it sounds like, music that doesn’t require a license to be used for commercial purposes. Whether you make YouTube videos or your own films, there’s music available for free without any worry about legal issues. YouTube even have their own audio library offering background music which is free to download. Similarly, Soundcloud supply free-to-use songs from multiple genres and, as most of this music is under a creative commons license, you’re able to select any of their tracks as long as you follow the guidelines set by the artist.

You should choose music which is easy to access, in order to avoid spending a lot of time finding out whether you can use certain tracks or not. It’s also important to remember that you’ll be restricted when relying on free-to-use music—there won’t be an unlimited selection of songs to choose from, so another business may be using the same background music.

Copyrighted music

Copyrighted music comes with a long list of restrictions, so you’ll be unable to reproduce, distribute or perform the music or lyrics unless you have been given the go-ahead to do so. An artist will copyright their music in order to be in control of what happens with it, and in many cases, artists who are signed to a record label will share the role of rightsholder with their record label. As such, you will have to approach both parties for permission.

Public domain music

You can use any music which is already in the public domain and, as these songs aren’t protected by copyright, you can use the work without permission or paying any fees. This also refers to any piece of music whose rights have expired, which generally happens 70 years after the creator’s death, depending on the year of creation. There are various sites for you to access music in the public domain, including Moby Gratis who provides tracks especially for independent, non-profit film-makers and students, or Musopen who offers classical music in the public domain.

Royalty-free music

The meaning of royalty-free music can often be blurred, but originally it meant that creators paid a one-off fee to use music in any project of theirs. This one-off fee provided them with the legal license to use the music however they wish. Essentially, royalty-free music is music without copyright owned, so no royalty fees—royalty fees are payments to the owners for use of a song over a period of time—should be paid. However, with royalty-free music, there’s a licensing fee, which can be paid per track, or as part of an unlimited subscription. There are many websites offering royalty-free music, including PremiumBeat, Soundstripe and Epidemic Sound whose site has an extensive library under one legal package.

Tips for using music in your advert

  1. Don’t assume you can use music because you’ve credited the owner in your video. Crediting the owner doesn’t give you any special usage rights.
  2. It doesn’t matter whether you intend to use your content for profit or not. Music must be obtained and used legally.
  3. Do your research. Check if the music you want to use is under any copyrighting or licensing restrictions.

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