Commercial music licensing

Slideshow Music

Commercial music licensing
Credit: Victoria White

As a creative artist, I depend on copyright laws to allow me to earn an income with my work. Sometimes I am surprised that other photographers don’t respect that same copyright when it comes to music. If you are putting together slideshows for your clients, any music that you use needs to be properly licensed, so that those musicians can also earn an income from their creative work.

And no, buying the song from iTunes or buying the physical CD does not give you the right to use it. Those kind of purchases are for *personal* use, and you can’t use them for your business or distribute them to other people without being in violation of copyright law. In order to be legally using the music, you need to buy a license that allows for that kind of use.

And don’t go thinking that you won’t get caught, or that the artists and recording labels don’t care. They do. For an example of what can happen, read this interview with a wedding photographer who did get caught and ended up paying a 5-figure settlement for his copyright violation.

In order to be using music within the law, you will need to buy the music from a company that provides licensing. It is up to you to read and understand the licensing, and to build the cost for this kind of licensing into the price of your slideshow.

The term you want to look for is “royalty free” music licensing. Don’t be fooled by the word “free” – you’ll pay for this license. “Royalty-free” just means that you do not have to pay a royalty fee for each play of the music, and you can pay a one-time licensing fee instead.

There are many places to license royalty free music, and each of them has different terms. Make sure you carefully read and understand the terms of each site. With some sites, you are purchasing a one-time license and will need to repurchase the song each time you want to use it. You may find another site that allows unlimited use for a year. Another might be unlimited use with no time limit. Some sites offer licensing for various purposes, so make sure photography use is available for that particular song. You can sometimes search by the kind of licensing you need. If the artist requires credit for the use of their music, be sure to give credit at the beginning and end of the slideshow. I prefer to use a frame at the end with my information and the music credit.

Not all songs will be available for a commercial license, as not all artists will want their work used by photographers. Some song licensing might be priced so high it isn’t practical to use it. This means sometimes you will have to tell your clients no when they request a song. I prefer to give my clients a list of songs I can use, or just ask them to trust me to choose one that fits the mood of the birth or the length I need. Be prepared to explain to clients why they cannot use a song they suggest.

Here is a list of some of the places where you can find royalty-free music. Remember prices, terms and conditions vary from site to site, so do your homework and know what you are buying before making a purchase.

Song Freedom

Triple Scoop Music


Red Beard Music

The Music Bed


Free Music Archive


With Etiquette

Know of another good one? Share it in the comments!

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