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What are the Rules for Using Music Even Your Own Music in a Podcast – Entertainment Law Asked & Answered



What are the rules for using music (even your own music) in a podcast.

Hi, I'm attorney Gordon Firemark, and this is Asked and Answered, where I answer your entertainment law questions, to help you take your career and business to the next level.

So, one of the most common questions that comes up when I talk to podcasters about their legal obligations and rights, has to do with music.

Sometimes, they want to use pre-existing music, and don't understand why it's so hard or impossible.

And sometimes, they're actually creating their own music, and still have concerns and questions.

Troy reached out to me with this…

“I’m a composer who will be using my own music for an upcoming podcast that i will be hosting. I’m a member of BMI and was wondering if you are familiar with the process of submitting cue sheets for podcasting – or if that if podcasts are something BMI even tracks? I’m wondering how BMI would track podcasting and how one would report for royalties? ”

And that really illustrates WHY it's so difficult for podcasters to use music in their programs… Even the musicians who create the music sometimes can't figure out the web of rights and permissions that are needed.

So first, I reply to Troy's basic question about cue sheets.

Cue sheets are used by ASCAP, BMI and SESAC to track which songs are used, and how much, in films, television shows, and other media productions. The producer is supposed to complete the sheet and send it to the applicable performing rights organization, which is responsible for tracking and allocating the license fees for the public performances of the music in their catalogs. A songwriter becomes a member of one of these societies, so he or she can get paid for these kinds of uses. Things like Radio and TV airplay, or when songs are peformed in coffee houses, concert venues, restaurants, and so on.

But these performing rights organizations do not collect for other kinds of uses… And some of those kinds of use need to be directly licensed by the copyright owner…

So my first point to Troy is that he's asking how he can account to and pay someone else for the right to use his own music in a podcast. Wow.

Ultimately, I don't even know if these societies have a mechanism for collecting and tracking cue sheets for podcasts. If they do, it's not a very common thing.

But more importantly, these organizations only collect for the small performing rights that I mentioned.

But a podcast is so much more than a single play of a song like radio.

There are six (6) different kinds of rights involved when you put a piece of music into a podcast episode.

  1. The synchronization right – the right to combine the musical composition with other material into a larger work (the podcast episode).
  2. The Master Use – the right to combine the particular RECORDING of the song with that other material.
  3. The Download Right (for both the composition and the master). When you download the episode, you're making a copy of the song and recording embodied in it.
  4. The Streaming right for the composition… (now this, arguably, is the thing for which ASCAP, or BMI or SESAC collects royalties).
  5. And Finally, the Streaming right for the recording… And that may or may not be something that's within the purview of an outfit called SoundExchange to collect.

So, now you can see that for a single song in a single episode of a podcast… you might have five-or six stop shopping just to get the basic permission you need.

Which is why using music in podcasts is so darned challenging, and frankly, expensive….

and, it's why podcasts are still (mostly) sticking to royalty-free music, or material that's been composed specially for their shows. (like what Troy is talking about).

Now, I know all this might be a bit disappointing.. But there's cause for optimism.

There are moves afoot to create one-stop libraries of podcast-friendly music that can be used without all this hassle… You might not get the “satisfaction” of using the rolling stones in your episode, but there is some mainstream music finding its way into these libraries, so

If you search for “podcast music” you “might just get what you need”.

That's it for this session Asked & Answered…
If you have a question for me, just visit and let me know.

See you next time!

This is intended as general information only and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. It is not a substitute for a private, independent consultation with an attorney selected to advise you after a full investigation of the facts and law relevant to your matter. We will not be responsible for viewers'’ detrimental reliance upon the information appearing in this feature.

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