How to ... Secure free music licences for adverts or events

The right soundtrack can encourage a viewer, listener or browser to donate

Music can make or break a fundraising campaign.

The right soundtrack can encourage a viewer, listener or browser to donate. Major charities are skilled in choosing and slotting music into campaigns, but industry insiders believe copyright owners are increasingly reluctant to agree a free licence to charities, particularly for high-profile campaigns.

Smaller charities, they say, are more likely to be successful at securing the use of music either without charge or at a low cost. Whatever your ambitions, here are some insider tips to maximise your chances.

1. UNDERSTAND THE JARGON: If you already have a piece of music in mind, work out whether it is 'commercially available' or 'library' music. Music for sale in shops and heard on the radio is 'commercially available' or 'existing', while 'production' or 'library' music is specially composed and recorded for audiovisual use, and sold to film, television and advertising companies on CD or as downloads.

A full list of companies that produce this type of music can be found at the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society's website,, which also handles licence applications.

2. GET TO GRIPS WITH COPYRIGHT: "Copyright is the right of the creators of original music to prevent another person from exploiting their work without first gaining permission," says Joan Eades, head of music licensing administration at licensing company Ricall.

There are two separate copyrights in a recording: the music itself and the recording. You must get permission from both publisher and record company. A publisher usually controls copyright to commercially available music. In the case of a recording, it is usually the record company that released the recording that controls the rights.

The exception is when the music is in the public domain, as in the case of traditional tunes, or out of copyright. In the EU, copyright usually lasts 70 years after the death of the composer. Recordings are out of copyright 50 years after the date of release, but beware - although some vinyl versions of recordings may be out of copyright, the remastered CD version might still be protected.

3. PERSUADE THE PUBLISHER: Give the copyright owners, both publisher and record company, information about your charity, its aims and why and how you believe this particular piece of music will contribute. They will usually want to see a copy of the script. "Without the publisher's permission, you will not be able to use the music, regardless of any arrangement you may have with the artist," says Eades. "The publisher controls the rights to the composition on all the various recordings made of that work."

Eades says publishers want to know that everyone involved is giving their time for free, or at least on a restricted budget. "True or not, the perception is that charities are big business, but small charities are run by volunteers, not paid staff," says Eades. "So small charities are likely to be more successful."

Maria Phillips, a creative partner at advertising agency Watson Phillips Norman, which has made adverts for charities such as NCH and WaterAid, advises charities to approach publishers directly. "Sense's DRTV advert used the theme music to the film Cinema Paradiso by Ennio Morricone. The charity got a reasonable deal because it took the time to explain what it does and how the music would be used," says Phillips.

4. AGREE TERMS IN WRITING: If you agree to a fee, the copyright owners will often give an initial quotation that should be confirmed. Always get quotes and any other permission in writing, and check that quotes and licences include correct details about how the music will be used.

Remember that initial quotations can change and are subject to the terms and conditions of the final licence.It is a good idea, for example, to ask the record company if there are any additional costs, such as payments to backing singers and session musicians.

If the music is for an event, charities must ensure that they have a performance licence from the Performing Rights Society ( and from the Phonographic Performance Limited (

5. REMEMBER TO ALLOW PLENTY OF TIME FOR NEGOTIATIONS: "If a copyright owner is put under pressure to grant permission, especially for a gratis licence, they are likely to say no," warns Eades.

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