Music Licensing for Corporate Video

Music copyright is a nightmare. It’s an incredibly confusing subject and yet failing to understand it can be potentially ruinous. And it’s not as if we can simply skip around the subject as it’s something that we in the corporate video production industry have to deal with on a daily basis. As rights owners ourselves we also have a vested interest in observing it and insist others observe it too.

Things got a whole lot easier for those in the UK wedding film market (and other private functions) a few years back with the introduction of the MCPS LM and PPL licences – negotiated by and available through the IOV. These clients are almost certainly going to want their favourite commercial music scores dubbed on their wedding film and these licences were devised to address this in a simple and cost effective way. I know that they don’t presently extend to online use as yet (well not officially at the time of publishing this blog), but for the majority of your commissions you can properly licence yourself for a wedding for under a tenner. And so you should!

Corporate Video – a different case

However, for those of us in the corporate video world things are quite different. The only similarity is that quite often our clients will also ask for their favourite commercial track dubbed on their corporate video too. What they have no appreciation of is the complexity and work involved in obtaining all the necessary permissions to do this – and absolutely no clue whatsoever about the fees that they might be facing. With no standard licences available everything has to be by negotiation – often between many individuals and organisations involved in the creation of the music works (music score and lyrics) and the recording itself (the record company and the performing artists).

Even if you do manage to set up communications with the rights owners or their agents most clients simply don’t understand that the rights owners will charge whatever they feel your client can afford. Sometimes they will refuse outright to grant permission if they have any kind of objection (moral or otherwise) to their works being associated with some brands or areas of business. It can often be hard to explain this to them – and even harder to explain the risks involved if they choose to ignore your advice.

Musical Choice for Corporate Video

This leaves the corporate videographer with five choices.

  • Don’t use music at all. A stupid statement really as music plays a vitally important role in telling a story. If you ain’t using music then you ain’t making movies.
  • Be an Ostrich. Don’t worry about copyright, run the risk and use whatever music you and your client likes. Another stupid option and you’d be an idiot to do this – and you’d also expose your client to potential costs too. I have to mention this though as there seems to be plenty of videographers and clients that make this choice and I hope they suffer for it.
  • Commission a score. This is often the best solution and it’s not always as expensive as you might think. You can also hanker to your client’s wishes to some extent by commissioning a piece “in the style of” the commercial music that they might have originally asked for. The real benefit though is that your music score should be perfectly matched to your film – edit for edit.
  • Production Music. This is music specifically produced for use in audio visual productions. It is usually licensed for use according to the medium it is used on (video, audio recording, Internet  broadcast etc.) , the territories in which the end programme is distributed (within a specific country or continent etc.)  the duration of music used (normally in 30-second chunks) and normally the period for which it is licensed (e.g. the licence could be effective for just a year or two). The benefit of this is that there’s a massive catalogue of music at your disposal – many of which you’ll recognise from TV theme tunes and commercials. The drawbacks are that, whilst massively cheaper and easier to licence than commercial music, it can be expensive to use and you’ll often have to re-licence it as the client starts using the video in places it wasn’t originally intended to be used or, quite simply, the licence expires.
  • Copyright-Free (or Royalty-Free) Music. Like Production Music, Copyright-Free music has been produced specifically to be incorporated into audio visual productions. The main difference is (and what makes it my favourite choice) is that once you buy the track or album there is nothing more to pay. You can use the tracks as much as you like, wherever and on what productions you like, and not have to cough up a penny more or fill in forms and keep tabs on licence periods or where your films are being distributed. Simples!

AKM Music – my first choice

There are quite a few copyright-free libraries in the UK but none as widely used and well respected as AKM Music. The quality of some libraries has caused some users to scoff at the idea of using copyright-free but all I can imagine is that these people have never seriously listened to AKM’s offerings. With thousands of individual tracks and nearly 150 albums covering every genre of music I’ve rarely looked to them for an off-the-shelf music score and not found what I’m after. Their production standards and music variety is really second to none.

AKM Music for corporate video and promotional films
AKM Music webite right at your finger tips!

Their music is offered in two delivery forms – either as an instantly available track download from their website or as albums on disk by post. A complete album will cost you less than £40 and there are discounts for bulk purchases as well as show deals and website offers every now and then. The disks can be provided as an Audio CDs or as CDROM – the latter containing WAV files that you can just drag and drop to your timeline without need to re-encode (my personal preference).

AKM Music on disk
Available as Audio CD or CDROM

Making a musical choice

Sometimes I’ve not known what I’m looking for or where to look – but a quick call to AKM Music has narrowed my search to a selection of suitable albums. MD, Anthony McTiffen, really understands what his clients are doing with his music so after a few key questions about pace and style and he’s already lining up a list of suitable auditions. Anyone who has felt at a loss when it comes to choosing a music score for a corporate will understand how much time you can invest in this process. For some producers it’s a nightmare – but Anthony seems to know how to take this pain away.

Of course you could, as I often do, try and keep up with their recent releases. These do seem to come thick and fast at times but you can easily whittle these down to those that are aimed at your particular sphere of work. The wonders of Internet technology means you don’t actually have to buy an album or track before you hear it. The preview facility on their website means you can audition albums prior to purchase – and also search their entire catalogue using key words.

Latest Release – AK142 Aspirations

Maybe it’s only me but they seem to release an album the moment I’m starting to look for a score for my next corporate video. The news of the release for ‘AK142 – Aspirations’ came at the perfect moment for a cut I was doing on a corporate video. In this case the music just had to follow a similar line to previous films commissioned by that particular Blue Chip. Whilst they allow plenty of artistic latitude there are boundaries to follow on style and content and the press release from AKM Music gave out all the right signals.

If I had to describe the album in a nutshell it would be, “light and positive”. The album actually consists of seven different (though of a similar style) music scores with various underscores. Some of the tracks also come with an alternate mix of the original – which I think is always worth listening to as it can conjure up completely different images to the original. However, what I find even more useful are the underscore tracks which can give quieter, less impactful, passages within a film a much greater significance and atmosphere. This album in particular has some fantastic underscores which I will no doubt use in some future production – maybe even on their own without their head score.

AKM Music Aspirations
AKM Music Aspirations – Light and Possitive

If I had to pick some favourites from this album the first would be track 4 – ‘A Welcome Sight’. This score is also varied or underscored on tracks 5, 6 & 7 and reminded me straight away of the massively popular ‘Elbow’. I’ve only been a recent follower of Elbow’s music, having been inspired by their BBC Olympic theme tune, but it’s the kind of music that’s going to be backing visuals for years and years to come.

It’s not the only useful track on the album though. When I listened to track 1 – ‘New England Breeze’ it reminded me of some of the best wedding day films I’d seen online. I know this album is aimed at corporate videos but this track tells a story – and a happy one at that. Whilst it created a wedding scene in my mind I’m sure there are corporate video subjects where this will fit perfectly. ‘Happy at Work’, track 13, is also very unique – with a person whistling in it that really does give one the impression of someone being happy at work. I can imagine the variants of this track also being extremely useful – one having a really techno feel to it and another consisting of just the whistle itself.

I could go on describing the images this album conjures up for me but I guess like any creative element it’s going to create different things to different people. The best thing therefore is for you to go off and audition the track online. Better still – if you are at an event where AKM Music are exhibiting take a few minutes out and listen to the album in its entirety.

Final passage

Music plays such a vital role in what we do. If you just slap on any old tune then your videos are not going to be reaching their full potential. Choosing the right track is never a simple process, but having the right choice (at the right price) at your fingertips makes this process a whole lot easier.

For me, copyright-free music is the most logical and most profitable choice. I also happen to think that it’s the right choice for my clients too as they get a high quality and appropriate music score without all the agro of complex licensing issues of Production Music. It’s also a million miles away from the certain humiliation that can result from having to tell your client that either they can’t afford Queen’s ‘We are the champions’ – or the fact that Queen don’t actually want to associate themselves with the client’s company!

I rarely look much further than AKM Music for my scores these days. I’ve also commissioned Anthony to produce a bespoke score before and he’s delivered the perfect solution on that occasion too. Keep an eye out for their next release – and give them a bell if you really find yourself scratching around for a great music score on your next corporate.

Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon.)

Notes: For more details visit