The Big Music Usage FAQ

A couple years ago, I made a cheat sheet showing what I allow, encourage, and disallow in terms of using or licensing my music. Needless to say, things have gotten a bit more complicated. We receive an average of 3 usage requests per day, and I’m going to try and cover the most common questions with a brief explanation. If you don’t care about music usage, here’s a documentary about deer that will probably be a more entertaining way to spend your time.

The 4 Commandments Of Music Usage*
*For Benn Jordan/The Flashbulb

1. Thou shalt not use my music for a commercial and/or to promote a product or service that is for sale without permission. This includes all possible variations of this, including footage of a Budweiser sponsored dance party where the DJ is playing my music. If you want my music to be connected to marketing, you need to get a license.

2. Thou shalt not use my music for anything that is for sale without permission. This includes but is not limited to compilation CDs, compilation iTunes mixes, remixes, DVDs, digital rentals, subscription services (Netflix, Spotify, etc) and movie tickets.

3. Thou shalt not use my music for anything broadcasting on television or radio without my permission. Simple enough, right?

4. Thou shalt not use my music on a major project without my permission. In other words, if you have 300,000 Youtube subscribers, run it by us first.

I realize this might seem stingy to a person who has never sought to obtain permission for music usage before and is just trying to get to the finish line of a project, but I promise you, my “commandments” are very liberal in comparison to most musicians/labels/publishers and are basically allowing free use as long as you’re not making money off of it.

I remixed your song, why can’t I release it?

I’m honored when people release or cover my music, and on many occasion I’ve sought out artists to do it. The problem isn’t my personal feelings, it is the clusterfuck your remix will cause when the audioprint matches my music on digital stores and streaming services. For example, one particular asshole put some extra sound effects over Undiscovered Colors and released it as his own. The audioprint systems somehow removed my track from the rankings, and some services even threatened to remove my entire catalog for copyright infringement. Other services refused to honor the DMCA take downs since they simply didn’t have the time to actually look into the issue. Needless to say, this cost me thousands in legal fees just to be able to continue selling my own album. Down the line it caught up to him, and both him and his digital distributor ended up having to foot those legal fees, as well as their own.

Now, I’m dealing with the same issue with someone releasing a track of mine that they sang over.

But moral of the story, thank you for remixing my music, but please do not release it without working something out with me or Alphabasic.

Your cheat sheet said I could use your music on Youtube, and now I can’t monetize my video!

My cheat sheet does say that, but it also said that you can’t make a profit from my music without a license. I didn’t make up that rule because I’m greedy. It’s because the agreement reached between the publishing company that keeps track of my Youtube royalties and Google decided to suspend monetization on videos using unlicensed music. There’s a lot of red tape, and I have very little control over the process after my music goes into the system. Some people have asked me to “whitelist” their channel. I’ve searched and asked if this is possible, and it currently is not. However,  you can get a license from us, show it to Youtube, and they’ll clear it all up.


Can I get a free license for Youtube monetization then?

No. You can get a cheap license. I’m usually making nothing off of it, it’s just that preparing a legal document costs money. In all humble honesty, even if I had a law degree to oversee all types of license agreements, if I were to prepare licenses for everyone who asked for a free one, it would literally be a full time job. I’d rather be a musician, not an IP attorney who works for free to ensure that he doesn’t get paid for his previous work. =)

I want to monetize a Youtube video of your music with the video being a still image of your album art or a photograph. Is that okay?

While I won’t go out of my way to have the video flagged or removed, there are very few cases where I’m okay with this, such as the content provider being the press or a well-known music blog. I wholeheartedly appreciate people sharing my music, but there is a growing culture of people who upload songs they like, monetize the videos, and collect the royalties. While it’s not on my list of priorities to interfere with that business, please understand the audacity of asking me to provide you with a free license so Youtube is prevented from giving me royalties on my own music. It would be more noble to just ask me to give you $100.

Why are you asking for so much money for using your song in my commercial? Library music I looked at was $100. It’s free money!

It’s not free money, it’s the value of my work which is determined by hundreds of thousands of dollars and work hours I’ve put into my career and studio. If you found something that works in a royalty-free music library, you should absolutely use that instead of obtaining a license from released material. My music isn’t library music the same way that a painter’s work isn’t made for a clip art CD-ROM. I have no disrespect for musicians who write for libraries, I actually collect and listen to old library records, but it’s just 2 different industries for music distribution.

I’m making a film on an indy budget. There’s a chance it may be picked up and sold, but I can’t afford a license.

This isn’t  a big deal. We can cross the bridge when we come to it. If your film ends up being distributed yourself or through Kickstarter/etc to a limited amount of people, we can negotiate an affordable license. There are lots of options like length of use, region, etc. If your film gets picked up by Miramax, I’d rather negotiate a license with them than someone just out of film school anyway. So hopefully that structure makes my music friendly to a shoe-string film budget.

Hopefully this covers everything a bit more thoroughly. Again, I’ve always greatly appreciated people sharing my music. It’s been a vital part of me being able to make a living and continue releasing it. I hope this post doesn’t sound brute or discourage sharing or artistic use. If I won the lottery I’d make all my music public domain anyway.

If you need a license or have a unique situation that isn’t covered here, please email: mark@alphabasic.com.
Thanks for reading.