0010: Using That Music On Your Podcast: Three Rights You Should Know About

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Show notes

Hey there, hero!

I just drove back from San Diego, where I met the people who created eCamm Live, the software I use when I do Facebook Lives, and a conversation I had there with a podcaster prompted this episode.

She was bitterly complaining that she didn’t understand what the big deal was about using a hit song or two as the theme to her podcast.

And earlier in the month, I’d received a question via email about obtaining the rights to doing so. A bit more respectful of the artist, that was.

Here are three individual rights, from a non-lawyer perspective, that you should be aware of when you venture into these waters.


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  1. This is hugely helpful, and I encourage anyone needing music to try YouTube’s new library.
    My Podcast’s situation is unique, and even though I check and double-check it’s still something I worry about.
    David, if you please, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my podcast:
    Our show is about popular music, and we put small samples of songs in our show to specifically illustrate the critique we are giving to the music. Sometimes the goal is more general, to give people good memories and nostalgia, or to introduce someone to an artist they’ve never heard before.
    I’ve checked with two different law firms that specialize in digital copyright and I still get a green light from them, but that doesn’t guarantee that a rights holder would agree. I would LOVE for someone to 100% give us the green light, but I gave up when no one wanted to return my calls or e-mails.
    We can never put our show on YouTube because Google uses bots that scan for copyrighted material and then offer you no recourse. We tried this once via both Google and having our lawyer send a letter to BMI requesting a response to a YouTube takedown notice and…nothing.
    I’m trying to mitigate this by writing copyright attributions in YouTube posts that contain songs (and we now minimize the amount of that music embedded in a video).
    I’m shielding the two of us from personal liability with an LLC that is the owner of the podcast.
    Our website contains Amazon links for every song and we encourage listeners to buy anything they like. We also promote the artists by putting their original video posts (where possible) in a YouTube Playlist tied to the episode they’re in and periodically saying something nice in their Comments (and we Like and Subscribe and post their video to social media with something nice to say). We only ever say positive things about the performers on the show.
    Side Question: technically, aren’t all digital usages now ‘mechanical’ because they’re embedded in a digital platform?

  2. Even though I use royalty free music for my Dungeons and Dragons podcast, I asked permission to put a piece of music in an audio promo that I can distribute on other podcasts. The owner nicely said yes. Your passion for rights is admirable David.

  3. Recently had a conversation about this when a local community theater group came into our radio station to go on the air promoting a show that was about to open. The discusion came down to this: In this situation, can the theater group use part of a song from the show or part of a scene from the show for promoting the show? Do they need special permission from the rights holder to do this? I cannot imagine the rights holder would be upset building the name of a show like this, but my imagination does not write laws either. Please let me know if you have an answer for this.

  4. David – As a music/sound creator -Thank you for sharing your thoughts on copyright for music – you are spot on! I’d like to add, this is not just for intros/outros/bumper music for shows/podcasts, but also the use of music/sounds for use in a commercial or anything outside the scope of the license. For example, an ASCAP/BMI/SESAC license with a radio station, does not allow for that radio station to use an artists song in a commercial on the radio station. Using your Beach Boys example, YES the radio station can play the song any number of times, but they ARE NOT allowed to use that same song in a commercial for a client. The same goes for a night club, their license to play music in a club DOES NOT allow them to use the same music in a commercial to promote the night club.

    The reason I bring this up is that people might need to check the rights/license for any free music they use. Check to make sure HOW it is able to be used. Is it allowed for international use? Can someone sing over it and create a new piece of music? Is it allowed to be used in a commercial for a political candidate that you disagree with? Most allow for the use of their music for any purpose (commercial/promotion) but not all.

    Just my 2 cents.

  5. A really interesting example of why you can’t assume the rights holders’ intentions was in the news recently. Public Enemy decided to support Bernie Sanders and this included use of their music. One member (Flava Flav) disagreed, and the spat between the group members caused them to split. So you really never can tell what an artist would or wouldn’t want you to be doing with their performance without checking in with someone who represents them – I think this is where BMI and ASCAP come in. The political uses of an artist’s music cause issues like this all the time.

  6. I’m g;ad you shed light on this for those who weren’t aware. I’ve wondered why some people think it’s alright to go a store and pay for something that they’ll use but not music. Would they take a piece of art without paying?
    BTW: I remember hearing Breaking Up is Hard On You on the radio. It was hilarious.

  7. As a musician, I always got annoyed when people thought that they could do what they wanted with recordings they’d purchase, saying “it’s my music”. No, it isn’t, I’d reply. What you have is a tangible manifestation of the artist’s work. You can’t just do what you want with it. Lots of times the arguments fell on deaf ears, but I tried.

    For my own podcast, I bypassed the whole usage quagmire and wrote and recorded my own theme song. The upshot was that the rights holder-me-would let the podcaster-also me- do whatever he wanted with it. I asked me, and I agreed with me. The theme also sounded like it belonged on the show, which was easier than coming through libraries trying to get the same result. I got a custom fit instead of something off the rack, which is always preferable.

  8. Paying a singer/songwriter to write the theme song of Noveleando Podcast was the best decision I made about the podcast. It was worth every penny! Admittedly Shireen (my singer/songwriter) is an amazingly talented artist and she knew exactly how to create what I needed. Often when people listen to the podcast, even if they’ve only listened to one episode, they remember the theme song. I highly recommend to anyone considering adding music to their podcast, to hire a local artist whose work you admire to create something amazing for your podcast.