The Basics

Sampling music for your own recording can be difficult and confusing. With the right knowledge, you can get it done and get it done quickly and easily. Every recorded song contains two basic copyrights. The Copyright of the Sound Recording and the Copyright of the underlying Composition.

First… the “six-second rule”. Somewhere along the line, musicians started saying that as long as something is less than six seconds you don’t need to clear it. This is not true. If you use someones else’s recording, no matter how small, you need to have permission to use it.

Okay, now that we have that covered let’s move onto the next thing. The two basic clearance licenses you need are the Master or Sound Recording Sample License and the Composition Sample License.

The Master Sound Recording

The Music Sample License for the Master Sound Recording is a mechanical license, which has to be negotiated with whoever owns that copyright. The Music Sample License for the Music Composition is a synchronization license, which can be obtained through a publisher or clearinghouse.

The Sound Recording “is” the actual recording of music and includes both performances and sounds that are fixed in tangible form (e.g., a CD or digital file). The Music Copyright owners grant to others certain exclusive rights with respect to the Music Composition, including the exclusive right of reproduction.

The Music Composer is granted ownership over a song and has the sole authority to give or withhold permission for use of their composition in other songs. They are often paid royalties from those that sample their work.

To clear the use, you have to obtain permission to use the “sample sound recording” by whoever owns the copyright. If the sample you are looking to clear is owned by a record label (which they often are), then you will need to reach out to the record label to see how you can get permission.

If the song is owned by a truly independent artist then you simply have to speak with them and then negotiate a license. If the copyright is owned by more than one person, don’t fret, any owner of a copyright may execute a license on behalf of both copyright owners as long as they haven’t made a deal between each other not to do that.

Payment of clearance may be a flat fee or a royalty or both. It’s up to you to negotiate the deal. Depending on what you are trying to clear for use in your song, this may be a little, it may be a lot. Remember, the copyright owner holds the cards in this deal.

The Composition Clearance

The Composition is the underlying ‘sheet music’ written by the authors of the song itself. Happy Birthday has been recorded by many artists, but they don’t own the underlying composition, that’s the author of the song.

Many song authors place their copyrights with a Publisher who then collects royalties and administers the rights to the song. Often, they just buy the rights to collect royalties from the song’s authors outright.

If you’re looking for Music Composition Sample Licenses to use in your song, then the Music Publisher is who you will need to contact. This person or company owns all of the rights granted by Music Composers and can make an agreement with a Music Sampling artist that’s fair enough for both parties involved (often it’s not). Music Publishers often charge a fee for this service.

The Music Sample License is obtained through either a music publisher or from an online clearinghouse like Harry Fox Agency (HFA) that can obtain licenses on behalf of Music Composers.

In order to get a Composition Sample you will have to figure out who controls the publishing. If you can find the ‘liner notes’ of a song, not as easy since Albums and CD’s aren’t as available as they used to be you can generally see who the owner is. Often, the first step is simply to call HFA and see if they control the publishing – they are a massive licensing agency and control many songs.

If however, you are simply dealing with a truly independent artist, they may still control the publishing rights and you may simply contact them.

A word about “Reps and Warranties”. Reps and Warranties and a key part of gaining the license. You want to make certain that the people that signing your license have the right to give you the clearances. The reps and warranty section of the license agreement is where they ‘sign-off’ that they do have the rights you’re looking for.

Now that you have these two copyright licenses, you can use the sample within your own recording.

How does Creators’ Legal help? Creators’ Legal is the first and only platform built for the modern content creator. We have both the Master Sample License and the Composition Sample License ready to go. Check out the full catalog of contracts for the Independent Musician.

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