Things You Absolutely Need to Know About Using Music for TV, Films & Web

 Using music in TV programmes is one of life’s great pleasures.  Music can make or break a film or TV show. The wrong music can bring an otherwise good piece of television down, but the right music can dramatically enhance your message.

Music creates moods, provides energy and can even tell a story – it puts a very particular stamp on a show.  Many an iconic series is remembered mostly by its theme track – bet you can do a great rendition of the Dr Who title sequence (in fact send us your rendition – best version gets a prize of some sort!).

Before we go any further there is one thing you need to know.  Legally ALL music that is played publicly should be cleared for use through a Public Performing License (PPL). And yes that does include music you use on your videos on Youtube, your blog, website and etc.  Of course many people use music tracks on videos they upload for fun on Youtube without permission and they are unlikely to get caught or slapped on the wrists but if you are using music for your business or on a regular basis you are advised to read on and research music rights. You could worse than start with PRS for Music a combined rights collecting operation.


MUSIC IN TV & FILM (and web sites, corporate videos, advertising and etc).

The main types of music you are likely to use in your production are:


  • Specially Composed Music:

When setting up a new show the producer and director will generally commission specially composed music for the titles, credits, end and beginning of part stings and menu beds. They will choose a composer and work with them to get the style and mood of music they think will suit the new show.


  • Commercial Music:

Those wonderful tracks your favourite bands and artists release; that get played on radio and downloaded to your ipod; that fight to get into the charts – the tracks you would probably most like to use for a sequence in your short film. These are the tracks that can get you into trouble in TV if you don’t know anything about music rights! If you use music that isn’t cleared you can land your production with some very nasty fines or legal cases.

As an entertaining aside, a thank you to Jude at The Unit List for sending me this great example of getting music clearances wrong:  anti-piracy movie ads caught using pirated music.


  • Library Music:

Library music, otherwise know as ‘production’ or ‘stock’ music is specially recorded and designed for use in TV, films, advertising and etc. It is therefore safer to use than commercial music and generally cheaper. It still needs to cleared and paid for but you don’t necessarily need to get permission in advance to use it as you would for commercial music.



Explaining the is and outs of Music Rights in broadcast TV would take forever so here comes the most basic idiots’ guide:

  • If it is commercial music it MUST be cleared (ie you must getting permission in writing from the publisher/composer) before you use it. Do NOT, on pain of dismissal and possibly a grisly death, use commercial music unless you are SURE you are allowed to!! And don’t even bother listening to a track by The Beatles, Bob Dylan and other such musicians (or their estates) who NEVER give permission. And will come down hard if you do.
  • If it’s library music you MUST enter the details into a Music Cue Sheet* and pass on to your production manager, production assistant or whoever is in charge of clearances.
  • If you are commissioning music, make sure you have a suitable contract with the composer so you have the rights to use the music as you wish now, in the future and around the world (if that series gets sold worldwide you’ll wish you’d bought out all rights in the first place).
  • If in doubt – refer up or contact the relevant broadcaster’s music department. The good news there is always an expert on music clearances and every broadcaster is highly motivated to ensure the music they broadcast is cleared. Help them by asking the questions even if they sound stupid.

If you’re gagging for more information about music copyright then try this link, again on the PRS site.



Library music is specially recorded to be used in film, television and advertising and requires no consent, only payment.  Companies like Extreme, KPM, BMG, Audio Network etc. specialise in all kinds of themed music from classical to jazz to rock to dance etc.

These are not commercial recordings however they are themed to invoke a mood of different musical genres.  Over the last decade the quality of the music has vastly improved from libraries commissioning professional orchestras to re-record out of copyright classical works and commissioning commercial writers to record music (usually under pseudonyms).  There is no pre-clearance necessary for library music.

Library music used to be somewhat uninspiring – not all of it but it was certainly hard to find a track that gave you as much of a buzz as a commercial track.

Fortunately times have changed. Now music libraries commission composers to replicate a similar quality to commercial tracks, they provide a huge variety of sounds and modern methods of sharing music have made it that much easier to source suitable tracks and share them with other members of the production (no more playing it down the phone to your producer now that you can simply send them the URL of the track you like).

Some libraries even offer to take a commercial sound you like and compose something similar, such as Audio Network’s Fast Track service. 


Types of Libraries

  • MCPS libraries – use PRS to set rates and collect royalties. Rates vary according to length of license, which areas it covers, repeats etc.
  • Royalty-free/Buy Out Libraries – charge one-off fees for using music. It’s a simpler system, often cheaper although the quality can be variable.
  • There is a new(ish) breed of libraries charging one-off fees for annual, production or programme license but with better quality tracks (Audio Networks, Platinum Music).  Royalties still get paid via the cue sheet system of registering music used.

They may not have the repertoire available from MCPS Libraries, however they do give producers tremendous flexibility in programme making and budgeting, and editing ‘international versions’ for exploitation.  In days when there is not always time to brief and commission a composer they offer a cheap but valuable alternative.




De Wolfe

Carlin Production Music (now part of Non-Stop Music/Chappell Warner)

Audio Networks


Universal (inc Atmosphere; Bruton, BMG & others)


Position Music 

Boost Music

DCD Media



Do you care? Possibly not but your producer/production manager will and spare a thought for the poverty-stricken composer living in a garret dependant on those small royalty fees!

*Music Cue sheets: must be completed for all music used in all TV programmes. It ensures the broadcaster pays the fees and that the composer gets his or her royalties.

Most major broadcasters have a Blanket licence for music. They will charge the producers a percentage of their production fee to cover payments. Fees based on channel ratings, amount of music used in total and etc.

Where royalties are collected music libraries generally charge per 30 seconds of music used.

There is a sliding scale of costs depending on what the music is used for. Advertising is more expensive than TV broadcast which is more expensive than clearances for web. If you want to know about costs then most of the libraries will have their own rate card online or check out the PRS Rate Card.

If you are working on a production you won’t need to worry too much about costs – just check with your producer or production manager what sort of blanket agreements there are in place and which libraries you are OK to use.


A GLOSSARY (for your delight and further confusion!)

– Synchronisation or Synch rights – the right to lay music over moving image for inclusion in your programme.

– Broadcast or Performing rights – the right to broadcast a programme that contains music.

Dubbing rights – the equivalent of synch rights for recordings.  Also known as Master rights.

– Public Domain or traditional works – out of copyright.


PRS = Performing Right Society

MCPS = Mechanical Copyright Protection Society

MCPS and PRS were recently amalgamated into one brand called ‘PRS For Music’ – two royalty collection societies; MCPS and PRS.  Exist to collect and pay royalties to our members when their music is exploited in one of a number of ways – when it is recorded onto any format and distributed to the public, performed or played in public, broadcast or made publicly available online.

PPL = Public Performance Licence

PPL and PRS for Music are two separate independent companies and in most instances a licence is required from both organisations for you to legally play recorded music in public.

PPL collects and distributes money for the use of recorded music on behalf of record companies and performers. PRS for Music collects and distributes money for the use of the musical composition and lyrics on behalf of authors, songwriters, composers and publishers.


I think that’ll do for now. Your brain’s already fried, right? (Mine is!)

Have I got any of this wrong? Any experts out there want to add their bit on this rather dense subject? Did I leave a good music library out? Then please leave a comment below.

More articles on music in TV & film coming up so do subscribe to get them sent directly to your inbox.


  • Excellent advice. And the price of skipping any of the steps can cost you dearly – and not just in cash, as festivals and distributors ask to see the paperwork around all music used. All these comments are also valid for games and apps, by the way.

    Other libraries include and


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    […] programme but wondering where to find it. As we mentioned in part one of this series of articles on music in TV there are many good music libraries who provide music of all genres and style, legally cleared for […]

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