The following is an article written by Texas Performing Arts Associate Director for Programming and Production Rachel Durkin-Drga. Please use the attached Music Rights Request Form and return to Academic Production Manager: Jeff Grapko to obtain music rights for a Theatre and Dance Production.
The process of obtaining rights to use music in live performance is never an easy one. Unlike obtaining the rights to produce a play, there is no central clearinghouse for music clearance. Two major pieces of advice I can offer are, one, give yourself plenty of time to go through this process and two, always have a back-up plan if you are not successful in obtaining the rights.
One of the biggest misconceptions about music rights is that if you are working at, or are a student at a college or university, the rights are already taken care of by the educational institution. This is true, but only in a limited sense. While most colleges and universities do pay a licensing fee to ASCAP and BMI, the licenses are very narrow in terms of what’s covered by that fee. What is never covered by these standard university licenses is “grand rights” which is defined as the use of music in a “dramatic setting”. This means that if you are presenting a play or dance performance, you cannot legally use any copyright protected music without first obtaining permission.
So you now know you need to get the rights. The first thing to do is to get as much information about the song you want to use. Look on the CD label for the following information:
How one goes about getting permission varies depending on how you want to use the song. If you want to use a specific artist’s version of a song, you’ll need to contact the record company and the publisher (the publisher can usually be found via ASCAP or BMI). If you want to have someone sing or play a song live, you need to find out who represents the composer and lyricist and contact them, as well as the publisher. The specifics for each situation are detailed below.
If you want to use a specific artist’s version of a song, you would need to contact the record company and publisher. If the record label did not provide an address for the record company, check the Internet for the information. Whenever possible, it’s best to find out what information the record company needs or if there is a specific form that needs to be completed in order for your request to be considered.
Generally, when you contact the record company, there is some basic information they will want to know:
This is just a general list of information. Again, it is best to find out the specific requirements for each record company.
If you want to play or sing a song live during a performance, you need to contact the composer’s/lyricist’s representative and the publisher. The best place to find out who the representatives are is via the internet. Both ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) have web sites (addresses below) and represent the interests of composers, lyricists and publishers.
These two web sites allow you to search a database by song title or composers’ name and in most instances, will indicate who holds the rights to that particular song. If you try both web sites and the song is not listed at either site, you need to contact the record company. They may be able to provide information on who to contact.
Some cautionary notes:
The rights for most plays and musicals are held by play publishing houses. To obtain the rights to produce a play or musical, complete the following steps:
Below are the major play/musical publishing houses:
Dramatist's Play Service
Music Theatre International
Rogers & Hammerstein
Samuel French, Inc.