Using music in advertising can complete an advert, getting you to be noticed, remembered and otherwise snag an important role in your chosen field, but wait. Before you go and rip the latest hit song. Stop! Are you legally allowed to use this music?

A lot of businesses have used illegal methods of promotion and not all of them have been caught for it, this includes using music and video which have been created by other people which are neither owned by the business or licenced to be used by it.

Many of them have claimed that using the video and music in this way is Fair Use. This is usually because they don’t understand fair use, but have been told that it’s ok to use someone’s music or video if you abide by the terms of fair use. We recommend purchasing royalty free music to use in your video, as it will come with a license which will protect you. This will avoid a lot of potential problems in the future.

I’m not going to say it’s impossible to license a song, say Justin Bieber’s Baby, or The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony; but it’s not easy either, and nor is calculating the amount of plays the song will get from the advert, which modifies the cost. All I can say in regard to this is that it is better to go for the more expensive option, and save being sued on the long run when going for an extremely popular piece of music. To license a big hitter is to get in touch with performing rights societies, distribution companies and artists (if they are indie – not the genre, the artist) and hopefully strike an agreement for the license for this music.

Part 1 – Why You Shouldn’t Use Music Without A License

Why shouldn’t you use this music without a license, you say? It’s dangerous. It’s like walking into a shop, picking up the first thing you see that you want and walking out again, except multiplied by the amount of times the music is sent to potential customers – this is an important distinction, because you will not be sued based on your actual (net) reach, you will be sued based on gross reach – because this is the amount of times your music has been played in promotion of your own product or activity.

Hey, I didn’t mean to worry you, but it has to be said so you don’t end up losing everything because of a small kerfuffle in your advertising program. The goal of licensing your music appropriately is to avoid DRM claims and lawsuits, not to win DRM claims and lawsuits – as when it gets to that point, it gets expensive and distracting.

A legal battle over using someone’s music without permission can cause a large amount of disruption to your business and personal life and it isn’t worth the risk. So how do we avoid getting sued by a big music label?

Part 2 – So What Can I Do? What Is Music Licensing To Me?

Exactly. What is it to you? An easy way of explaining it is that music licensing increases in difficulty the more popular a piece of music is. If you want a chart-topper, it’s going to be expensive. There’s really no quicker way to get all eyes on you than that I’m afraid, and this includes varying lawyers who represent everything from the guitarist to the vocalist – and even if you do license through the distribution company itself, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the artists and their own legal support won’t have their eyes out, precisely at the wrong time for you.

When you launch an advertising campaign the last thing on your mind should be worrying about the assets used in your advert coming back to haunt you. For this reason, I don’t necessarily recommend, unless you’re a household name that clearly can afford to clear licenses and have excess lawyers at disposal, ie. Coca Cola – then you should probably make the safer bet in this case and vie for a more personal indie artist approach, or a production music company.

Advertising music is typically more expensive than non advertising music because when you attach a piece of music to an advert you are directly or indirectly associating the artist with the brand. This comes with restrictions as well as boons. On one hand you lose financial input, on the other you hire a hopefully-successful and time-tested music team for less of the cost than it would take to assemble such people – outsourcing can be valuable.

Production Music companies are designed specifically for ease-of-licensing. Depending on the company used, this shifts the goalposts in terms of the license and a quick run through of the license (depending on need) with a lawyer if necessary can assure you peace of mind in this way.

Contacting independent artists if you like their work can also be a valid way to negotiate licenses; but if they have signed over distribution rights to a label you’re talking to the wrong person(s). If the music the artist has created is owned by a label for example, even with the go ahead from the artist, you will still need the correct permissions in place, and you might not always know that the music is owned by a different party.

Overall, to license music will save you trouble in the long run. For the short term, let’s look at some methods by which music is distributed for free that may be of use to you.

Part 3 – Creative Commons And Free Music

Creative commons licensing is varied. There are two key types of creative commons license we may look at as a prospective advertiser, we’ll start with the “worst” of the two options.


CC-BY is a license that permits you to use a piece of music freely so long as you credit the creator. Advertising within advertising can look tacky, it’s your product you want to advertise, not theirs. This can be ok with small restaurant adverts though, crediting the creator at the end of the video and the description.

Here is a link to a CC-BY distributor who doesn’t slow down quality and does it for free, too. You

may have heard some of this music before!

Make sure that you familiarise yourself with the correct way to credit the author!

There is one major pro for CC-BY, their work is generally better designed and more well thought out than CC0.


CC0 is Public Domain for most part. Finding genuine public domain works is a pain, for starters it varies from country to country, and country of the artists’ origin is not necessarily country of recording origin. Essentially it’s extremely complicated and the general rule of public domain is that the artist has been dead for a very long time (70+ years) – which means either low quality audio or other troubles, such as there being a license for the remaster or such that you’re using. The best way we avoid this is looking for CC0, or “Public Domain” works, where an artist can revoke their rights to a work.

It’s naturally always good to check twice that the music is CC0 before sending out your finished advertisement, and make note of the license and the date of license.

Freesound has search tools, but you must search, say, “Music” and then tag the CC0 license box. It takes a bit of searching, but there are a few tracks there that might have use in advertising if the heart is there to make it work.

But do check that it is CC0 license because sometimes people put things up there that they want attribution for. It’s always a little risky doing things for free though!

Part 4 Royalty-Free Music

The best option for anyone creating an advert is to look into royalty free music. Royalty Free doesn’t mean that the music itself is free, rather it refers to the specific licensing: Once paid for the music can be used indefinitely which makes it ideal for advertising!

We recommend using Musicloops, as they not only have an amazing library of fantastic music, but the licensing is easy to understand and the music is inexpensive, which makes it perfect for advertising on a budget.

Part 5 – Some Licensing Options For More Defined Use

Epidemic Sound sells advertising music at £199 per track. They also do custom orders, personal licenses and other such things that can help you market with music your way. Well worth the option if you have a budget!

Extreme Music is A-List musician hire. Want Snoop Dogg? JXL? The producer behind Bruno Mars? They make licensing through PRS easy! You can even find Hans Zimmer there! There are even pop artists ready to get you started. But it also comes for the marginally astronomic price you’d expect, too.

Part 6 – So What’s Recommended?

It really depends on your budget. I recommend going for cheaper music if your budget is small or next to nothing, but as your budget grows so too should your need for quality music, because nothing shows off a quality product more than attaching another quality product to it for the sale-line. A high quality of music and sound will truly make your advert shine and stand out from the competition!