Music Licensing in Film & Advertising

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Music Licensing in Film & Advertising

Video production has gotten cheaper, better & faster. So how come finding the right song to go with it is still so hard?

Cheaper, Faster, Better.

Thanks to the democratization of video production, mainly due to the proliferation of affordable professional-grade equipment and editing software, a perfect storm is brewing as video content of all kinds is being made cheaper, faster and better every day. As a result, the budgets for film and video production are shrinking and the correlating music budgets are diminishing in turn. This is forcing companies to source inexpensive and quick music licensing options that aren’t available through traditional licensing models from legacy music publishers like Warner/Chappell or Sony/BMG.

At the same time, increasingly effective copyright enforcement through services like Rumblefish or YouTube’s ContentID means that the procuring of legally licensed music is becoming a necessity for all content creators, not just professionals. Whether its for a $1 million Cadillac Ad, a $10,000 short film or for one of the 7 million User Generated Content (UGC) videos uploaded to the internet every day, the licensing requirements for all video content are essentially now the same – if you want to use a song in your video, secure the rights or risk demonetization or worse, a full take-down notice.


Video content of all kinds is being made cheaper, faster and better every day.
The music it uses better keep up.


By 2020, it’s expected that 30 million videos will be uploaded every single day, almost all requiring legally procured music to comply with strong digital copyright enforcement on every major platform from YouTube and Vimeo to Facebook and Instagram. This explosive growth will open up billions of new micro-licensing opportunities in music over the next decade. Smaller budgets and shorter production timelines will freeze out traditional licensing models, but the demand for world-class music will still be paramount. Because of the speed, budgets and quality of digital video content creation, affordable instant-licensing solutions with world-class content will dominate this new market.

Traditional Music Licensing
(And why it doesn’t Work For Modern Content Creators)

The opaque and backwards practices of legacy music publishers has inadvertently created a licensing model that is completely antithetical to the workflow of modern video content creation. A client needs to navigate a myriad of potential licensing roadblocks by securing unanimous approval to specific terms from any, and all of, the following: songwriters, music publishers, performing rights organizations (PROS), mechanical rights administrators, recording artists and producers, record companies and any additional rights holders. This takes weeks or months to negotiate and is often cost-prohibitive, since everyone needs to say yes and everyone needs to get paid. As a result, the traditional licensing model is setup to capitalize on a single $100,000 deal but is far too fragmented to capitalize on a thousand $100 deals.


Traditional music licensing takes weeks or months to negotiate and is often cost-prohibitive,
since every rights-holder needs to say yes and everyone needs to get paid.


So What About Stock Music?

The current landscape of products attempting to solve this problem can best be summarized as this: vast stock music libraries populated with mediocre and amateur content, poorly tagged and indexed, with completely unintelligent search functionality. On top of this, confusing and inconsistent licensing terms mean that a user often needs a custom quote for any license beyond a simple single territory or use, a frustrating process which completely negates the “instant” component of instant licensing. As we’ll see, this is an unfortunate consequence of our competitor’s content acquisition models, which rely heavily on shared rights management instead of 100% copyright control.

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The current landscape of instant music licensing providers can be split into two camps: stock media companies (ex. Shutterstock, PremiumBeat) and marketplaces for semi-professional musicians (MusicBed, Marmoset). While both models are getting a lot of things right, they are still inadequate music licensing solutions for modern video content creators because they fail to address the three critical needs of their users.

  1. The music must be premium quality and curated
  2. Song discovery must be fast and intuitive
  3. Licensing must be simple, affordable and instantaneous.

The Paradox of Choice

While the music licensing landscape is indeed in dire need of disruption, the current instant-licensing solutions have gone all-in on a stock media model of “more = better”. Instead of selectively curating elite content up front, their libraries are stocked indiscriminately with music that is “just good enough”. This is fundamentally antithetical to the highly curated process of today’s video content creators. This level playing field approach sounds great in theory.

“We can scale this up using free labour!” – Every stock music site.
“We can finally monetize our bedroom recordings” – Every amateur musician.

But what about the end user?

Forcing a content creator who is looking to quickly find and license a song to sift through a sea of mediocrity to find something relevant is a bug, not a feature. Stock music libraries are fundamentally misreading the average user case. The egalitarian approach of crowd-sourced curation can work on music platforms like SoundCloud or Spotify, but only because the scavenger hunt of finding new music is precisely the most enjoyable feature when you’re listening to music for pleasure. But when your average user case is a content creator trying to find and license a relevant song on a tight deadline and budget, the scavenger hunt isn’t so fun anymore.


Forcing a content creator who is looking to quickly find and license a song to sift through
a sea of mediocrity to find something relevant is a bug, not a feature.


What We’ve Learned

We are betting on a fundamentally different content acquisition model. At Ritual Music, we selectively purchase our content up front from our unparalleled roster of truly elite music producers. These producers write, record and play alongside artists like Sia, Lorde, M83, Tegan and Sara, Walk the Moon, Paramore and countless more. So how are we uniquely positioned to assemble this team? Ritual was founded by elite music producers. Our producer team started with our friends and colleagues and has grown solely through these networks. Coming from the music industry ourselves, we understand the nuanced approach these high-touch relationships require.

In other words, A&R. Few would dispute that the music industry has gotten most things wrong in the digital age, but talent identification, artist development and curation are still the cornerstones of popular music. So despite an A&R component being virtually non-existent with our less discriminating competitors, who will use music from anyone who meets their talent threshold, it’s the primary driver of our content acquisition.

Because more ≠ better.
Better = better.

We’ve built Ritual Music on three core principles to best reflect the needs of modern filmmakers, cinematographers, advertisers and brands.

  1. Intuitive Discovery – quickly find the right song.
  2. Premium Quality – nothing but elite curated content.
  3. Instant Licensing – Simple, affordable, and in a single click.

But really, you should just press play and you’ll hear why you’ll never use stock music again.

For more inspiration, check out our article on Final Cut Pro vs Adobe Premiere and Five Essential Habits for Filmmakers.