Thursday, March 31, 2016

Why Is It So Hard to License Pop Music for Podcasts?

Dear Rich: Are there standard fees negotiated for using pop music in podcasts? Does music licensing work as it does in commercial use, where one must obtain both master and mechanical licenses?
No, unfortunately, music licensing for podcasts doesn't work as predictably as it does when licensing music for CDs, downloads or streaming. The music industry has made it especially difficult for a podcaster to license pop music and we assume that most podcasts that use Adele, Taylor Swift or any other contemporary music in its intro, as background, or as a featured musical track is either infringing copyright, or possibly is excused under fair use principles.
Why is it so hard to obtain the right to use pop music in a podcast? Pop music is based on two copyrights: a musical works copyright owned by the songwriter or music publisher that protects the musical composition; and a sound recording copyright owned by the artist or record company that protects the recorded version of the song. In order to reproduce a song on your podcast you need permission from both copyright owners.
Music publisher permission. Because the song copyright owner is usually a music publisher, you can find the contact information by searching the song records at,, or Once you know that, you can contact the publisher directly and negotiate a podcasting license. Alternatively, you may be able to do obtain the license from the Harry Fox Agency, which represents many publishers. However, how Harry Fox -- which classifies podcasts as user generated content -- accomplishes the licensing is a mystery to us (and the company hasn't responded to our inquiries).
Sound recording permission. In addition to the song copyright, you would need to obtain the rights for the sound recording copyright. SoundExchange represents the rights of sound recording copyright owners, but alas, it’s not empowered to license music to podcasters. So, you’ll need to determine the owner of the sound recording copyright – most likely a record label -- and then contact the company and negotiate a sound recording license. As you can imagine the whole experience may prove to be frustrating, expensive, and completely fruitless. Even more frustrating, if you plan to use music with a video podcast, you would also need what is known as a synchronization license from the music publisher and a master use license from the sound recording owner.
Podsafe music. That leaves podcasters with two choices: operate without permission (and hope to be excused as a fair use if hassled) or acquire Podsafe music. One source of Podsafe music is under Creative Commons license -- go to and choose a music resource such as SoundCloud, and type in your search – for example, blues, rock, or electronic. Note that sources such as SoundCloud may offer a Creative Commons License for a remix of popular music, say a Janet Jackson remix. In these cases, beware, that the provider may only be granting a license for the sound recording, not the underlying musical composition. If the provider has created and owns the underlying song, then you are good to go and no further permission is necessary. Also, although not free, the musical loops that come with GarageBand (as well as loops from other providers) can be used to construct Podsafe intros and backgrounds. And of course, if you have a budget for it, there are always production music libraries (PMLs) or you can hire a musician to create music.