Shockwave-Sound Blog and Articles
Have Yourself A Merry Royalty-Free Christmas

Have Yourself A Merry Royalty-Free Christmas

It’s almost Christmas time again and we can see that time coming, as people start buying royalty free Christmas music from our catalogue. Tracks like “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, “Jingle Bells”, “Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” are so popular that many of our composers have made their own versions of these, from the straightforward and cosy to the cool and funked-up, to the downright silly. We also have a lot of Christmas music that aren’t actually traditional or well-known tracks, but that are new, original compositions made by our own composers in a Christmas style. We call this area New & Fun Christmas Music so if you’re looking for something a little bit different for this year’s Christmas presentation or electronic Christmas greeting card, you may want to check out those tracks.

But where are the other famous Christmas classics, such as Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow and others? What about Walking In A Winter Wonder Land? Why don’t we have it? We get customers writing in and asking about these tracks and about why they can’t find them on our site. It seems odd for us to have 66 search results for “Jingle Bells”, but nothing for other famous Christmas classics like the two I just mentioned and Frosty the Snowman? What’s up with that?

The simple answer is, that these “missing” Christmas tracks are under copyright and therefore cannot be offered up as royalty free music / stock music / library music, by anyone. In contrast to “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and “Jingle Bells” where the actual compositions are in the public domain, and only the recording and arrangement is in copyright to who ever actually created that recording — these other tracks including Frosty the Snowman have the actual composition still under copyright to the authors and their publishers. Therefore, these tracks cannot be done up as royalty-free music and this explains why you can’t find them here, or indeed on any other music licensing website:

  • Frosty the Snowman
  • Holly Jolly Christmas
  • Let it Snow
  • Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
  • Walking in the Winter Wonderland
  • Rocking Around the Christmas Tree
  • …and others

We are a little bit bummed out about this, because several years ago we actually spent quite a lot of time and energy on making our own arrangements and versions of these tracks, and we have some pretty good recordings of these tracks that we’ve played and made ourselves. We wrongly assumed that these compositions were public domain until just before we were going to start selling them from our site.

Anyway, for those of you who were looking for this, and possibly other Christmas tunes that you can’t find on our site — that is the explanation. Merry Christmas!

Cue the Music, Part 1 – Using copyrighted music

Cue the Music, Part 1 – Using copyrighted music

by Simon Power

“Cue The Music” is a three part series examining the options available to amateur and semi-pro audio/visual producers who wish to incorporate music in their productions. Part one examines the process of clearing copyrighted music. Part two offers 5 alternatives to using copyrighted music. Part three examines the process of using royalty free music.



There’s a whole wealth of music out there that could really enhance your audio/visual projects and impress your customers. But there’s a problem. Literally everything you hear on TV, radio, cinema and in bars and nightclubs is protected by copyright. And you will face a wall of expensive bureaucracy trying to gain permission to use it for your own ends.

But if you really, really think it’s the only option you have, this article aims to give you some insight into the process of using copyrighted music on a low budget project.

Let’s Suppose

Let’s suppose you get a job to produce a DVD about the fashion industry. Some of the footage features a catwalk show filmed at the Fashion Institute.

On the night, the PA system is pumping out Dr. Dre’s ‘Still D.R.E.’ at full volume. That’s fine. It adds a real hard edged atmosphere and sounds great as the models strut down the catwalk.

But here’s the thing. The venue will be covered by an annual blanket performance license that allows them to play copyrighted music whenever they like. Unfortunately, your DVD copies won’t be covered by the same license. If you leave the soundtrack as it is you will be breaking the law. Even for a small run, you need express permission to use a published works, even if it’s in the background. And let’s be clear. Gaining clearance to use copyrighted music on a low budget short run DVD project is quite an undertaking. Infact, that’s something of an understatement. Running into a minefield blindfolded would perhaps be a more accurate description! There are so many pitfalls and grey areas that it’s difficult to see why anyone would wish to even attempt such a thing in the first place.

Some people don’t get permission, of course. They just go ahead and use it anyway without asking. Chances are no one will see or hear their work, so they figure ‘why not?’. Well, that’s fine if you’re foolhardy enough to risk a massive fine or in extreme cases imprisonment. But if you’re serious about making a long and fruitful career out of audio/visual production you will need to address these issues head on.

So what I hope to do in this article is at least remove the blindfold, giving you a fighting chance in that minefield. Or perhaps even offer some of the options that are available that you may or may not have considered as alternatives.

The Grim Truth

Let’s start with the facts. The copyright on all published works is shared between a number of different institutions and individuals. Each of these parties will wish to be informed of your intensions before they decide whether to grant permission to use their copyrighted material.

You may think that obtaining permission will be the end of it. Not really. Each of these individual parties will want to be paid large sums for allowing you to use their copyrighted material for your own ends. And this is where the fun starts. You could find a very substantial amount of your narrow profit margin being siphoned off by unbelievably disproportionate advances and subsequent royalty payments to publishers and record companies attempting to claw back the large amounts of unrecuperated production costs.

Remember, their business is all based on economics. They will be completely oblivious to any point of view based simply on artistic or intellectual grounds. In other words, it doesn’t matter if the music looks and sounds great on your project. You won’t be able to use it legally unless they say “yes”. They own the copyright and that’s that.

A Glimmer Of Hope

I don’t wish to make it sound all doom and gloom.

What with the enormous amount of turbulence in the music market lately, institutions have had to wake up to the fact that they may have to act quickly to make some radical changes to encourage more income from a variety of sources in matters related to the usage and distribution of published works. In other words, they are trying to make it easier to gain access to their vast back catalogues for sync usage on various projects from major films to short run audio/visual projects like the one we have in mind here.

The Mighty Boosh audiobook.
Published music was replaced in post production

Take into account the new range of ‘blanket licenses’ issued by the UK’s royalty collection agency, MCPS. (more on that later). But it’s tiny steps not giant leaps. There is still lots and lots of bureaucracy involved, especially on behalf of the record labels.

Having said that, if you’re still determined to use copyrighted material by artists like Dr. Dre on your DVD project, let’s take a look at how you go about it.

First Contact

First you’ll need a copy of the track, so dig out your copy of Dr. Dre’s ‘2001’ album. Look at the printed information on the recording. Somewhere in very, very small type there will be the name of the publisher attached to the familiar ‘c in a circle’. This is who you need to contact to get permission to use the composition itself (the synchronization rights). The lyrics, the instrumentation, the musical score. Sure, the songwriter(s) owns the rights to the song, but generally they grant those rights to a “music publisher” to administer them, and that’s who you need to contact.

OK, so we have found the name of the publisher. Right next to that there will be a letter ‘p’ in a circle followed another company name. This refers to the physical sound recording of the composition. That copyright (the master rights) is owned by the record label. In this case Interscope. If you want to use a specific recording of a specific song, you will need permission from the publisher of the song ‘Still D.R.E.’ and the owner of the physical recording of that song, the record company, Interscope.

You will also need the title of the song (Still D.R.E.) and the name of the composer. In this case Andre Young (Dr. Dre’s somewhat less imposing birth name).

Armed with this information you will first need to find contact details for the publisher. The easiest way to track down music publishers is through the performing rights society. All songwriters and publishers need to be a member of that society in order to collect royalties. Unfortunately, the performing rights societies will only give out the publisher information for the writers they represent. Therefore, if you want to use a song written by writers from different societies, you will need to go to each society’s website to find all of the publisher information.

Dr. Dre’s ‘Still D.R.E.’. A hard act to follow?

However, once you have tracked down the publishers contact details you will need to approach them directly to ask for permission. For this you will need to send a letter or email. Use the term ‘Independent Film Request’ or ‘Low Budget Project’, something that immediately outlines your situation and intentions. Reference the title of the song and songwriters, then the name of your production. Tell them briefly about the production how the song fits in, as well as the duration of the music and a description of the accompanying visuals. They will also need to know the territories in which your product will be available and the amount of copies earmarked for the initial run.

As for approaching the record companies, The bigger ones use central offices that deal with these kind of queries. But the smaller record companies are much easier to find. Generally their websites have all the contact details you will need. Once you get these details, approach them in a similar way to the publishers.

Licensed To Ill

With that thought in mind, Royalty collection companies such as ASCAP (USA) have recently introduced ‘blanket’ licensing schemes that allow copyrighted music to be transmitted unconditionally in certain circumstances. Although these kind of high end licence deals are way beyond the likes of you and me, a similar approach is beginning to immerge to help smaller businesses, too.

Take for instance the AVP (Audio Visual Product) license offered by MCPS in the UK. This is targeted at small budget short run video/DVD productions where music is used, but is not the primary theme of the product. A class that they term ‘non-music’. (A fitness video, a sports event or a drama is OK. A concert or music chart show is not OK.). Our ‘fashion show’ project should fall into the category ‘non-music’, because music is not the primary theme of the presentation. It’s a fashion show using music as enhancement and not as the main theme. So in this case, an AVP license may be suitable.

The license removes the need for separate sync payments on each individual piece of music, favouring a ‘blanket’ license covering the whole project. But take into account that this license refers to the copyright of the composition and NOT to the sound recording itself. (As we’ve already determined, the physical copyright is owned by the record label). Take into account also that under the terms of the license agreement and for granting usage of their part of the copyright, MCPS will still want to skim off a whopping 8.5% of the highest published dealer price. So you kind of inherit a cash-hungry business partner as well as a license and that’s gonna eat into your profits in a big way. As a footnote, other royalty collection companies may have their own similar blanket license agreements. The AVP license is merely an example.

The Waiting Game

So you’ve sent out your letter or email to the publishers and the record company requesting permission to use their copyrighted material in your project. Getting a response to your initial query is going to take time. Especially in the case of the record company. Permission for small time usage is pretty low on their list of priorities and this is often reflected in their response. It may take ages and ages for them to say “no”. Or simply come up with some ludicrous figure of tens of thousands of bucks that you couldn’t possibly even consider.

On the upside, the chances of the publishers granting permission is marginally higher. This is after all their reason for existing. To license and promote the work of the artists that they represent. And in the case of the AVP license mentioned above, you are able to apply for permission relatively painlessly using an online application form.

What Happens next?

You will certainly need to follow up your query. But leave it for at least 14 days before you do. Beyond this point I’m afraid it’s in the lap of the Gods. You have followed the procedure that begins the process of clearing rights to use copyrighted music on a small-run DVD project. The outcome is entirely dependent on all parties agreeing to grant permission. You’ve got a reasonable chance of gaining rights from a publisher to use a composition. But precious little chance of being granted rights from the record company to use that specific recording. And no chance at all of being able to carry out all this administration before your deadline. If I were you I’d be investigating some alternatives. And that’s just what we’ll be doing next. Looking at all the options available to you when substituting copyrighted music with licensed music on a low budget short-run audio/visual project. All coming up in the next part of Cue The Music.

To summarize

To use copyrighted music on a low budget short-run DVD project you will need to apply for permission from two sources. The music’s publisher and the copyright owner of the physical recording of the composition (normally the record company).

Many royalty collection agencies now offer blanket licenses that provide easier access to synchronization rights. The license cost may be negligable, but the royalty demands will narrow your profit margin. Rights to use the physical recording will be the hardest to obtain and may be accompanied by a request for a large advance plus subsequent royalties.


ASCAP: The American Society Of Composers, Authors and Publishers
MCPS: The UK’s mechanical Rights society
Comprehensive international list of royalty collection agencies

More in this series:

You may proceed to Part Two of this series.
Or even to Part Three.

About the author: Simon Power has made
over 50 short films and documentaries for the music technology website Sonic
State. He has also removed & replaced copyrighted music on a number
of commercial BBC releases. In these articles he offers advice and tips
about using music in your low budget film and audio/visual projects. You
can learn more about Simon and his projects at his website,

Copyrights in Public Domain music and Classical music

Copyrights in Public Domain music and Classical music

Who owns the rights in classical music by composers such as Mozart, Wagner, Beethoven and Vivaldi? Is it even legal for a company to sell this music and make a profit on it? owner/founder Bjorn Lynne sheds some light on the rights in classical music and traditional music.

Why are companies such as ourselves (Lynne Publishing / Shockwave-Sound.Com) claiming copyrights in classical recordings, tracks by Mozart and the likes? Isn’t this music in the Public Domain? Why can’t I just take this music and use it in my film, or on my website, without having to pay anybody for a right to do that?

On the face of it, it seems odd. After all, there is a law that says music composed by a composer who has been dead for 75 years becomes Public Domain. That’s why, for example, in 2008, compositions by George Gershwin became Public Domain — in other words, they belong to the people. To everyone and no one. And of course, people like Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky have all been dead much longer than 75 years, so their compositions have been in the Public Domain for a long time already.

Mozart’s genius compositions –
Copyrighted or Public Domain?

But even so, take a piece of Mozart music from a CD and use it on your YouTube video, on your website or in your film, without first buying a license for commercial exploitation of that music — and you risk, at best, having YouTube strip the audio track off your video, or at worst, having legal action taken against you by a company that claims copyright in that recording.

The clue is in that word: The recording. For here we come to the crux of the matter. There are in fact two copyrights that exist in every music recording. One is the right in the Composition, and the other is the right in the Recording. When we are talking about classical music rights, we are talking about the rights that exist in that recording and arrangement. The arrangement basically means someone’s “interpretation” of the composition.

If you decide to sing a Mozart piece out loud, that is your arrangement of that composition. If you decide to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” by hitting a hammer on various oil cans tuned to different pitches, then that is your arrangement of that composition. And basically, if you sit down one day at a piano and you play “Für Elise” on piano, while recording your performance on tape – then that is your arrangement of that recording, and you own the rights in that recording.

You play it – you own it:
If it’s your recording, you own the copyright.

When a record company decides to release a classical CD, they make their own arrangement and recording of that music. When they have done so, they own the rights to that recording. After all, if nobody could claim any rights in classical music recordings, why would any company be willing to invest tens of thousands of dollars on hiring an entire orchestra, paying all the musicians in that orchestra as well as the conductor for days, if they couldn’t claim the rights in the music and then exploit that recording commercially afterwards?

Any person or company that has invested time and money in making their own versions/recordings of classical music tracks, even if the composition itself is in the public domain, own the rights to that recording. That’s why you can’t just take classical music from a CD and use it for anything other than personal listening. And that’s why companies such as ours can sell licenses to our classical music recordings. You pay us for a license to use the music, just as you do with our pop/rock music, and armed with our paid-for license, you may then proceed to use that track commercially, with our permission. (So long as you stay within the license terms).

The same goes for traditional music, meaning music where the composition is so old that nobody even knows who really composed it. Examples of this would be “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, “Silent Night”, “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “O Danny Boy” and many, many other traditional music tracks. The Composition is not copyrighted to anyone, but if somebody hires musicians and makes their own recording of any of these tracks – then that person or company owns the rights in that recording.

There is more to a music recording
than just the notes within it

What worries me is that even people working in media don’t seem to understand this, or know how it works. On a couple of occasions, we’ve had customers who licensed our classical music and used it in their YouTube videos. YouTube, being ignorant, waltzed in and stripped off the soundtrack, claiming that the music was under copyright to so-and-so record company — because that company had, at one time or other, registered the copyright in their recording of that particular classical track. YouTube thought since that company had once published a track by Mozart, that company now owned all Mozart recordings. Which is of course not true. Luckily, we were able to straighten out that situation, and the audio track was restored to the video. But really, this is stuff that YouTube (and anybody working in media broadcasting) should know about before wading in and stripping people’s audio.

So, to sum up: Even when a Composition is in the public domain because the composer has been dead for more than 75 years, there is still a copyright in the Recording. And many different companies each have rights in their recordings. For example, we here at own the rights in our recording of Bach’s “Prelude in C major”, but we don’t own the rights in other recordings made by other people, of the same recording.

You can legally license Classical Music for use in film, video, YouTube, website, music on-hold and other purposes, by visiting our Stock Music Library, where you can choose between hundreds of different classical tracks by dozens of composers, famous and exotic.

“General Royalty-Free” vs “Completely Royalty-Free” music

We would like to try to explain some of the complexities of music use and royalty-free music. We’ve tried to make this as short as we could:

General royalty-free music (PRO Tracks):

Most music composers and publishers are members of various composers’ rights societies. Some societies oversee and look after the composers’ works with regards to physical manufacturing of products that contain their music. These rights are called “Mechanical rights“. Other societies oversee and look after the composers’ works with regards to broadcasting and public performance of their music. These rights are called “Performance rights

When you find music listed as “royalty-free” on this web site and other web sites, it usually means that the composer and publisher of the music are not members of any society that oversees their mechanical rights. This means that you can freely use their music on DVD, CDROM and any other physical object that contains their music, and you can have these CD/DVD’s manufactured in a factory, without paying any fee to any collection society for that.

At ALL music is FREE of mechanical rights. We do not work with any composers who are members of any mechanical rights society. This means that ALL the music on our site is royalty-free for use on DVD, CDROM etc.

But many composers are members of a Performing Rights Organization (PRO). These PRO’s look after the composers and publishers rights to receive royalties when their music is broadcast or played in public. It means that anybody who broadcasts their music, or plays it in public (for example, at a trade show, or in a sports arena), need to obtain a license from their country’s performance royalty collection society. In most cases, this does not affect you (our customer) in any way, because the broadcasters already have this license and therefore no additional fees are actually payable by anybody.

For example, you buy a track from us by a composer who is a PRO member. You use the music on a DVD film and manufacture 5,000 copies of that film. No problem, the composer isn’t member of any mechanical rights society, so there are no fees to pay for this. A year later, your film ends up getting broadcast on BBC, or perhaps on YouTube. Now, the composer will receive a small payment for this. This payment is however just taken from the already paid, annual license that the BBC and YouTube pays to the performance rights organization. No extra money is payable by anybody. Nobody has incurred any extra expenses, because the license money was already paid by the broadcaster, as a large annual fee.

So, whilst the music is not entirely free of all strings, it is still fair to call it royalty-free because neither the producer, nor the broadcaster (who already has an annual license) has to pay any royalties.

The only time an actual additional expense would come into this situation would be if you decide to broadcast the music yourself, and you don’t already have a broadcasting license. For example, at a concert or at some kind of venue that doesn’t already have a PRO license. Some countries also consider telephone music-on-hold to be a “broadcast” – other countries do not.

As far as trade shows or sports events, here you would expect the venue/hall to already have a license from their country’s performance royalty organization, but you may want to check that.

Recently, the PRS in the United Kingdom have deemed that a person or company in the UK that uses music on a UK web site is classed as a ‘broadcaster’. And, as a broadcaster of music, if you want to use any music that is composed by a composer who is a member of a performance rights society, you need a license from the PRS. The license typically costs £50 per year. This applies only to UK persons and companies with UK web sites.

Wherever you look for “royalty-free music”, be it on the internet or in traditional production music libraries, most of the music you’ll find is in this category. The composers are not members of any mechanical rights society, but they are members of a performance rights society, and it would be fair to call their music “general royalty-free”.

Completely royalty-free music (Non-PRO Tracks):

There are some composers who are not a member of any kind of composers’ society what so ever. They are not members of any mechanical rights society, so their music can be manufactured on DVD/CD etc. without paying any mechanical license fees to any organisation. And they are also not members of any performance rights organization, so their music can be freely broadcast and played in public without paying any broadcasting license to any collection society what so ever. Their music can be said to be “completely royalty free” – also known as “Non-PRO music”, “PRS free music”, “GEMA free music” and so on.

If you are going to need music that is entirely Non-PRO, you can choose to Search or Browse only Non-PRO music using our website. When you browse a music genre (by clicking on a genre in the list of music genres/styles on the right-hand side of our site), on top of the result list you can see an option to display “PRO and Non-PRO tracks” or “Non-PRO Tracks Only“. Click “Non-PRO tracks only” and your displayed track list will be updated to show only music that is “completely royalty-free”.

If you want to Search by keywords or track titles etc., and you want to display only Non-PRO music, then go to the Advanced Search page, and you’ll be able to see the “PRO and Non-PRO” or “Non-PRO tracks only” option there.

Music copyright myths – disspelled

Music copyright myths – disspelled

In this article we try to dispel some common myths and misunderstandings about music copyrights, music usage rights and music licensing.


“I can use this music for free because I found it on the internet.”

No. All music found on the internet is under copyright, unless it specifically states otherwise. In fact, even if it does specifically state otherwise, this statement is probably wrong. (Meaning that the music is probably actually under copyright even if the web site where you found it says that it isn’t).

“I can use this music for free because the composer is dead.”

No. The copyright in a music composition lives for many years after the composer has died. The number of years vary from country to country, but is generally around 50-75 years from the death of the composer. And even then, you can’t just take a recording of that music and use it as you wish, becasue there are two copyrights in every musical recording: A copyright in the composition, and a copyright in the recording. The copyright in the recording never expires.

“Nobody will care if I bend the rules, because I’m just a small fish.”

Quite the opposite. Copyright owners have in recent years specifically targeted “small fish” companies and persons with lawsuits, as they are keen to show a zero tolerance policy on misuse of copyrighted music.

“As long as I don’t use more than 10 seconds, it is legal.”

No. There is no length of music use, be it performance, copying, sampling or any other use, for which you don’t need to clear the music rights. There are rumors that say it’s okay if it’s under 30 seconds, or under 7 seconds, etc. The fact is, there is no such time limit.

“As long as I don’t make money on my project, it’s okay to use copyrighted music.”

No. When you are using uncleared / copyrighted music in your project, even if it’s a free web site, a free game, a free home video or any other project in which other people will be able to hear the music, you need to clear the music, even though you are not making a cent on the project. The issue here is that you are enabling other people to hear music that they didn’t purchase. Therefore you are breaking copyright law, no matter if your project is free or paid-for.

“But how about radio stations? They also enable people to hear music that they didn’t purchase!”

Radio stations pay an annual license fee for their rights to broadcast music. The license they pay depends on how many people their radio station can reach. Parts of this license fee is paid to the music composers and publishers.

If you know of any other myths that should be covered here, please let us know by using the comment field.