The process of music licensing can feel redundant and tortuous to film and media students.  Our goal is to make it as painless as possible and help you gain a better understanding of the importance of securing these permissions.

Ask us ALL the questions!  

We've compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions, but this list is in no fashion exhaustive, so please, drop a line to say hello, tell us how stressed out you are, and send us your favorite meme:


"Frequently Asked Questions", by student content creators

I'm totally interested in utilizing your services, but I am literally flat broke and have no budget whatsoever for music.  Can you work with that?

Definitely.  We have all been there - eating ramen noodles and pb&j for dinner every day like its a graduation requirement.  We've tailored our service fees to squeeze into even the tightest student budget.  Our fees include both clearance and licensing and are determined by the number of songs your project calls for:

  • 1 to 3 songs - $50
  • 4 or 5 songs - $75
  • 6 to 9 songs - $100
  •  10 or more - $200

I can totally handle that.  Wait - what does clearance and licensing mean?

Clearance is the process of gaining permissions.  This is usually done by communicating with the songwriter, their publisher, the artist performing the song and the record label that owns the sound recording.  All four have to agree to the terms of the licensing deal which is outlined in the synchronization and master use contracts, respectively.

Licensing is the actual amount paid to the artists.  For the purpose of student projects, many of these artists have allowed Gratis Placements, which literally translates to Free Placement, in exchange for exposure and credit.

Does gratis placement mean that the songwriter, publisher, artist, and record label get absolutely no money out of the deal? That doesn't seem fair...

Not exactly.  There are still a few ways that the Artists can collect from this licensing deal:

  • If your project is viewed outside of the United States, for example as part of an international film festival or through a distribution deal, the songwriters and publishers will collect performance royalties.  These are paid out by that country's performing rights society. In the US performance royalties are not paid for film - yes, it sucks and is unfair.
  • In the event that you anticipate gaining major distribution, there is a part of the contracts that you will want to pay very close attention to.  It is called a Step Deal.  The Step Deal guarantees additional payments if production reaches agreed-upon landmarks regarding net profits or distribution.  If/When your film becomes a success, your producer will be responsible for paying these additional licensing fees.
  • The licensing contracts also specify exactly how the songwriter, publisher, artist, and record label will receive credit in your project.  Traditionally, these credits are included at the end of the film.  While this isn't monetary compensation, it is essential and cannot be overlooked.
  • Finally, FFHE has a system in place to annually pay out gratis artists based on the number of times they are placed and the nature of each use.  This is kind of like a nice holiday bonus.

I only have two songs in my short.  Why do I need to sign four contracts?

Each song has two sides: the Underlying Composition, or the script, and the Master Recording, or the finished product.  The Underlying Composition requires the Synchronization Licenseand the Master Recording gets its own as well - the Master Use License (creative name, we know).  Under a small budget, there is really no room for negotiating one without the other, after all, you can't make the film without the script.

I have my mind made up on using a Kanye West song.  It's written into the script and there is absolutely no way I can make this film without it.

I have some unfortunate news for you.  If the song is widely known, played on the radio or in a popular curated playlist, chances are you are going to have to put up some serious cash for licensing permission.  Both the songwriters and artists work with major labels, and they won't sign off on anything for free.  If you are fortunate enough to be able to spend the money on that song, Kanye's licensing fees are going to start at $30,000 - per side.

Also, you want to be cautious about how you use popular lyrics in a script.  This will can also require a completely separate license.

Some of my classmates have told me that I can use whatever I want under Fair Use.  I mean, I'm a student, so why should I have to pay any licensing fees?

"Fair Use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances.  Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses - such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research - as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use." - The United States Copyright Office.

Fair Use exists so your professor can show film clips in class, not so you can "borrow" someone's work.

Considering Fair Use in place of proper licensing permission requires also admitting to Willful Infringement.  If the songwriter, publisher, artist, or record label decides to sue you for Copyright Infringement, you could be forced to pay up to $150,000 in statutory damages, and your project may be completely scraped.  The Fair Use fight isn't pretty, and you should avoid it whenever possible.

More information on Fair Use can be found here:

My buddy is a songwriter, and he wrote a song for the film.  I'm just going to use that.

Excellent.  We are totally glad that you've found a strong community of artists that are willing and able to work together.  That is the basis of all art - our people.

Here's the reality.  Things can happen, and who knows what you or your buddy might go through in the next fifty to eighty years of your lives.  Unfortunately for you, as the producer/editor/director/jack of all trades, you are the one who will be on the hook.  Get this permission in writing.  It won't hurt either of you to be cautious, and if your friend is someday no longer your friend, he will keep his song, but you might lose a lot more than just a drinking buddy.

I graduate this year.  Do you provide professional services?

Why yes, Alex, we do.  The rates are different, but we are able to do more for you.  We work within the scope of your music budget, with both the clearance and licensing fees. (Our fee is a percentage of the total licensing, but we keep it within what you are willing and able to spend.)  We recommend reaching out to use the earliest stages of production - the sooner we can secure the music, the more creative you can get with it.


This has been fun.  I hope you learned something, but if not we're still here: .