The first question here is:
Do you need to purchase a license to use a song or do you want to obtain the copyrights of it?
- The license allows you to use that song in another form of creation such as a video, an ad, a radio spot, a video game or an app, for example.
- Obtaining the copyrights will allow you to get all the rights of that work. It will become your entire property and all subsequent benefits arising from it.
Please note that the more popular is the song, the more expensive will be obtaining the rights and licenses and the harder will be to get them.
If you came here searching for the first option, we recommend that you read these two articles previously published in our blog: music for movies and music for commercial use, because in them we break down all the necessary steps to get the proper licenses. It will help you to understand the difference between protected music and royalty-free music and where to find each type.
This industry can be really messy if you don’t know its ins and outs, so it’s better to take your time to be well informed of all the rights and obligations involved in it.
How to buy or acquire the copyrights of a song
If you actually want to buy the copyright of a song for whatever reason (maybe to buy it as an investment), we will go through these steps:
- Determine if the song is under copyright or is under public domain.
- Identify and contact the rights owner or the artist.
- Negotiate the price.
- Transfer the rights.
Determine if the song is under copyright or is under public domain.
For a song created in the USA, you might check this table. Europe extended also in 2011 the years for the copyright holders from 50 to 70 years for musical recordings made within the EU, so the first step will be to discover where and in what year was created the song you want to acquire.
Is also important to differentiate if the song you want is the original or a cover made by someone else. If it’s a cover, we will have to contact the artist who made that version and his record company.
Contact the artist or the owner of the rights
Depending on whether the band or artist are famous or not and whether they have used a record label to record their songs it will be more or less easy to get to talk to them. In any case, you will have to use your wits to contact them.
If they are indie authors eager to get more exposure, surely is going to be easy to contact them through its website, social networks or Soundcloud profile, or even calling them on the phone.
If they are a famous artist it gets tricky, since the rights of his work can be distributed between the artist or owner of the song and the record label and contact them might not be so simple.
If you have a physical CD, for example, you can look at its cover, because there will appear all the necessary names and perform a search on Google will lead to some contact form.
Sometimes it is even necessary further investigation since it is possible that the copyrights have passed from hand to hand throughout the years.
Negotiate the price
Here there are no references, all boils down to a full-fledged business negotiation. The owner of the rights will ask a number, you will give him another lower and so on until an agreement is reached … or not.
Often artists are very attached to their creations (for them his song is “a child”) and ask exorbitant prices for them and other times, however, the artist will be happy to see how their work is recognized by others as something valuable and worth buying… and will have no problem in negotiating amicably.
It is true that, based on previous experience of current and past sales of a song, you can make a rough estimate of its future economic performance, but in this scenario is worth more the good old negotiation skills that the presentation of estimated numbers.
Transfer the rights
Once you reached a verbal agreement and before making the payment, it is essential to hire a good lawyer who knows the industry so you can make a written contract with the terms that have been negotiated. It has to have all possible future scenarios and the obligations of all parties involved in the process.
Never trust only verbal agreements, because in a later dispute you will not be able to prove anything in front of a judge or mediator.
We recommend you reading also this article about how to know if a song is copyrighted.