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Royalty Free Music: What is it?

Royalty Free Music: What is it?

PianoPeople often see the words “royalty free” bandied round, and they notice the number sites offering royalty-free music, but  are confused by what this actually means. My aim here is to give a brief , but hopefully easy to understand explanation as to what the term royalty-free acutually means, and how it’s use can be applied.

“Royalty free” as it applies to music, is the right to use music without having to pay a royalty fee. The use of certain intellectual properties require users to pay a royalty fee to the owner, creator or copyright holder of that property.

Royalty-free does not mean the product is free or public domain, it just means you don’t have to pay royalties.

Royalty free or buyout music, and it’s use is governed by the licensing agreement that you should receive and agree to when you purchase the right to use some specific music. The type of license will determine how  the music may be used, whether you can use it in a commercial production or only in a personal or non-commercial production, and what the limitations of use are. License agreements can vary considerably. It always pays to read the fine print.When purchasing a piece of music, you buy the rights to synchronize the song with your productions. The music and it’s copyright will however, always belong to the copyright holder of the product. Generally you pay a one-off fee to purchase the use of the music, and  no more additional fees are required. As long as you abide by the conditions of the license agreement you should have no trouble.

So what exactly are royalties?

Royalties are fees that are paid to the rights owners (such as record labels, publishers, composers and artists) for the use of their work. The money paid to composers by publishers for the right to use their songs, is usually determined by an agreed percentage of the price per copy sold. Often only a small percentage of the continuing sales of the music goes to the composer or artist. Payments received for use of or the right to use intellectual rights are called royalties.

OK, what about cue sheets and broadcast royalties?

One thing that can be a confusing issue is royalties for the broadcast of shows on television that use music ( that may or may not be licensed as “royalty-free” music). Television stations pay royalties to the Performing Rights Societies  for the right to broadcast music in their shows. Music usage in Television and radio show broadcasts are tracked by documents known as  cue sheets. It is important for cue sheets to be submitted so that the composer of the songs receives the royalties from the broadcasting of their music. The broadcasters still pay their royalties to the performance rights societies regardless of whether or not a Cue Sheet is submitted. If no cue sheet has been submitted, the royalty money paid does not go to the person who wrote the music. Instead, it goes into a general fund, which is then distributed to whomever is topping the charts at the time. The composer of the music is entitled to the broadcast royalties accumulated by the use of their music in the broadcast, but this cannot be tracked unless cue sheets have been submitted. This is why most sellers of royalty-free music still require cue sheets be submitted when the music is to be used in a broadcast show.

So what is a Cue Sheet then?

A cue sheet is a document that lists all the music used in a project, allowing Performance Rights organizations like APRA, BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC (and others worldwide) to properly compensate composers for performances of their work. Cue sheets detail the length of the music used, the track’s title, the composer and publisher of the music, and where it was used in the film, documentary or television show. It also has some general information about the project. Broadcasters such as TV stations, Radio stations, etc are responsible for paying performance fees to the performing rights societies (PRS). Then the PRS then pay the composers. Broadcasters are required to pay a regular fee to the PRS. As a purchaser of royalty-free music you only need to report what music was used, via the cue sheet system. The composer is then able get their rightful portion of that fee. As the music license purchaser (you) are not required to make any payments to PRS. Webcasts and podcasts do not require the submission of cue sheets.

By Tony Koretz

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