Ep. 17 – Royalty Free Music & Music Licensing

With Anthony McTiffen of AKM Music

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 “With something like 5,000 tracks in our library, I like to think that we can cover
most bases.”

It is universally acknowledged that any piece of video, from the smallest of corporate announcements to a Hollywood blockbuster is radically enhanced by the addition of a well placed and mixed music track. There are even Academy Awards to prove it!

However, it is not merely the choosing of an appropriate track that causes problems but the copyright complexities and legalese involved when trying to gain permission to use said music. Failing to correctly observe these procedures can at worst involve a fine, and will generally always result in the video being removed from the viewing sphere. For those who have spent a large amount of time creating a video this can be extremely frustrating.

Today we talk with Anthony McTiffen, the Managing Director of AKM Music, who offer a great music library (of over 5,000 individual tracks) with simple, no-hassle, royalty free music licensing.

Scott Ledbury: Thanks for joining me Anthony. Let’s get started with the basics, what does the term royalty free music actually mean?

Anthony McTiffen: It’s a phrase thats stuck with a lot of video guys, and they seem to understand that once they see that phrase they can use the music on multiple productions. What it actually means is that it’s the MCPS which is actually free.

Music copyright is divided into two; there is PRS and MCPS. MCPS is the actually physical recording, so that is the musicians who’ve recorded all the music, PRS covers the composer rights. When using our library, we use royalty-free music and that means that the MCPS is paid for and covered – they don’t need to worry about that issue. The PRS is something completely different, when it goes to broadcast they still have to fill out cue sheets and look at the PRS aspect of the track.

SL: Playing Devil’s Advocate here, why can’t I use any music I like on my video or film production? Why can’t I use Celine Dion?

AM: Well you can use any music you like but you must seek permission from the copyright owner. That can be a minefield, it can be very expensive and it can take a very long time. If you place a track, that is commercially copyrighted onto your production you go with it and the owners can come and say “I’ve not given you permission, you have to pull that”.

That could destroy your whole production, you’ve spent a lot of time doing it, syncing up the music so it’s going to have a terrible effect on it. You can, but you have to seek permission. That’s where royalty free music is useful – the permission is already granted for you. It’s pre-cleared before you actually apply it to your production, so you’re safe to use it.

Anthony McTiffen of AKM Music

SL: You’ve touched on this briefly, but what must I do if my production is broadcast on television, there’s a process of cue sheets for those who don’t know. The mechanical side is covered but the Public Performing Rights, which is what broadcast is, talk us through what you actually need?

AM: This only applies when the music is broadcast on a television channel, they will ask for a cue sheet, they will want to know the PRS details, they will want to know the composer name, the library.

The cue sheet makes that easier for you, you can actually download from our website a cue sheet and it just makes everything very official. It’s important to remember that the producer of the video will not be charged for the PRS element, it will be the channel that is charged and they will be looking after the PRS. Your fees are already paid up if you go into the royalty-free music route.

SL: To break that down, every channel pays into the PRS, so when they make a log of all the tracks and artists used, it’s about divying them up?

AM: Generally that’s the case, and it used to be. But of course with digitalisation, you’ve got lots of channels now that try to maybe avoid that aspect. But as a rule most channels have a blanket license for PRS so when they broadcast your production that’s featuring music which has a PRS element, it’ll be their responsibility to pay that
share to PRS.

SL: Who are typically your biggest users and licensees of your music library?

AM: I would say our biggest users are corporate independent producers. People who are making commercial productions, promos, we have a small element of TV program producers as well and then anyone really looking to upload film video onto Vimeo or Youtube and don’t want the headache of copyright.

SL: What do you think makes some tracks more popular than others, you must have the download stats or sales stats to say that type of music, what type of music is more popular than others?

AM: I’d like to say that it’s the tracks with high production values attached, trying to predict what is going to be popular is sometimes very difficult and we do get asked; what is the most popular style of music. A lot of it tends to be upbeat which lends itself very well to motivational corporate productions, that works really well.

But of course they’ll be certain styles that come into play, recently there’s been a real lean in to cinematic music and that used to be a case where that only belonged to film. But now it can be applied to any type of production. Trying to find the right or most popular of genre is difficult.

“It tends to be upbeat music which lends itself very well to motivational corporate productions.”

SL: AKM offers custom-composed-music services, when would you advise using these as opposed to a library track?

AM: With something like 5,000 tracks in our library, I like to think that we can cover most bases. But there’s that odd peculiar moment when someone wants something specific. The great thing about having a composer working to picture is that they can hit all the highs and lows and dynamics of your production.

Also rather than trying to cut or loop it’ll be tailor-made to your work – that’s when you get the benefit of a composer being commissioned to work to your production.

SL: What sort of things do you look out for when commissioning new music for your own catalogue, how does your process work, do you take on commissioned pieces for yourself?

AM: We get an awful lot of music being submitted to us by media composers, but it is a specific art. We get a lot of music that is wonderful, but you know that it wouldn’t be quite right say as an underscore if there’s a voiceover, it may be that the music is too complicated, too abstract, too busy. We tend to look for a style that is going to work with that sort of production. There is a media style, if you like.

SL: Do you think that the average person realises how much time goes into creating music from scratch?

AM: No, I don’t think they do. That certainly come to light when we’re commissioned and people want it turned around very, very quickly and it’s a long process because first of all there’s the germ of the idea, there’s the studio time, there’s creating the music and there’s fine-tuning the music as well which can take a long time. So the idea that it’s just briefly written is nonsense, there’s a lot of time and effort gone into each production.

SL: Anthony, talk us through the PRS and the PPL- free music which AKM also offers, this doesn’t cover video production, this is more about music that’s played in cafes, hotels, restaurants. What’s that part of your industry?

“We have a smaller collection of music which is geared up and produced specifically for in-store background use only.”

AM: That part of our business is specifically for businesses, shops, in-store music, in which we have no PRS involvement at all. It’s MCPS free and also PRS free. Now, if you’re playing music as background in your shop, MCPS suddenly becomes PPL, covering the whole thing. So we have a smaller collection of music which is geared up and produced specifically for in-store background use only.

SL: This may be a good junction to break these acronyms down so MCPS?

AM: Yep, that’s Mechanical Copyright Protection Society, they represent the actual physical recording of music so that’s the music that’s being recorded. Each musician would be covered by MCPS if they’re members.


AM: That’s the Performing Rights Society and that covers the composers.

SL: And the PPL?

AM: That is very similar to MCPS, but it covers music in a public space, so when music is being played in a public arena, like a shop or a gym.

SL: A lot of people won’t know that by playing the radio or music within any environment where the members of the public can hear it – that’s a licensing issue isn’t it?

AM: If it’s a business and you’ve got members of the public, or your workforce in earshot of that music, you are going to have to be concerned about PRS and PPL. A lot of people think that in buying the music (or a CD) surely I’ve paid my dues. Well, that’s fine for private use but if it’s in a public area they have to be concerned about those organisations and those fees.

SL: Finally Anthony, some tips on selecting music from a library such as yours. I’m a producer, I’m a client, any tips on where to start? It can be quite daunting!

AM: It is! There are libraries even bigger than ours, and it can be quite tricky to wade through the tracks. So you have to rely on a really good search facility. We’ve introduced an intuitive search facility based on mood and genre or keywords. But I always say to people if there is something specific you’re looking for the best thing is to call us, email us and within a couple of hours we’ll give you a response offering some tracks and solutions. We know what’s in the library and our customers sometimes don’t.

SL: I suppose that there’s a reason why in high-end movies and TV there are specific roles for music research?

AM: Absolutely – that’s essential. Everyone is so limited in time, working to deadlines, so if you can get help from experts and specialists who know their market, who know what’s inside the library that’s going to save you a lot of money and time.

SL: Thank you for your time Anthony, it’s been great to talk to you.

AM: Pleasure, Scott!

 “If it’s a business and you’ve got members of the public, or your workforce are in earshot of that music, you are going to have to be concerned about PRS and PPL licenses.”