As a filmmaker, storytelling and creativity is the heart of your work. Not only does storytelling require a great script, well-executed shots, and intentional editing, but audio plays a huge role in creating a memorable cinematic experience. The right music and sound effects can immerse viewers into your film, generating a more impactful emotional experience. 

So, how can you incorporate music into your film? Where do you find the perfect soundtrack and how do you license it? We’ll cover everything you need to know about licensing music for films in this guide, answering any questions you may have specifically as a filmmaker.

The Importance of Music in Filmmaking

People often regard filmmaking as a visual art. While visuals are the foundation for films, audio is the unseen hero that brings the story together. Music has the power to heighten emotions, guide the narrative, and overall create an immersive cinematic experience that makes your audience feel as if they are part of the story. It serves as a key aspect of making a film memorable and impactful.

A soundtrack is more than just background music. Think about your favorite films. Imagine them without the soundtrack. The viewing experience would be wildly different. If films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho or Star Wars didn’t have their iconic soundtracks, the emotional intensities of these films would be significantly diminished.

Music is a crucial storytelling tool, enhancing character development, setting the mood, and guiding the audience's emotional responses. It can foreshadow events, intensify action sequences, and craft the atmosphere for different plot points. Without good music, your entire film risks falling flat, failing to create a deep connection with viewers.

Adding just any music isn’t going to produce the effect you want either, in fact, it can even cause a negative experience for your audience. The music you choose, and the timing of it, needs to be consistent with the story you’re telling and the frames that are being shown. Otherwise, your film could end up being an unpleasant watch that makes your viewers turn off their screens.

What is Music Licensing in Film?

Music licensing is the process of gaining the legal right to use copyrighted music in your films. A music license serves as a permission granted by the copyright holder, allowing you to use their music tracks in your film within the terms of the license.

To use any piece of music, you need to work with a music licensing service or locate the copyright holders to develop a contract or agreement to obtain permission and use it. In some cases, you may have to seek out the composer, original artist, production company, record company, music publisher, or Performance Rights Organizations (PROs).

However, not all music licenses are made equal, so you’ll need to make sure you have the appropriate license. This can vary depending on different factors such as the purpose, distribution platforms, or locations in which your film will be shown.

Types of Music Licenses for Film

To select the proper type of music license you need for your film, you’ll need to consider how the music will be used in the film. Here’s an overview of the different kinds of licenses you should know about as a filmmaker:

  • Sync License: A synchronization (sync) license is necessary when you want to synchronize music with visual media. For filmmakers, sync licensing will be the primary license you’ll be concerned with to use music in different scenes, opening or closing credits, and trailers.
  • Master License: A master license, or master use license, grants you the right to use the "master recording" of a particular version of a song in a new media-based project. Typically, they are custom negotiated directly with the copyright holder upfront to create a formal agreement. 
  • Public Performance License: A public performance license is required for live performances or when you play copyrighted music in public places. You will need a public performance license if you plan to screen your film publicly, such as in theaters or at film festivals. 
  • Mechanical License: Mechanical licenses are used if you want to reproduce and distribute a copyrighted song in an audio-only format. Keep in mind, since mechanical licenses are audio-only, if you want to include your recording of a cover song in your film, you will also need to obtain a sync license.

It’s important to understand the purpose of each license to make sure you have the correct permission to use music in your films. 

Check out our full guide on the 6 different types of music licenses here.

Understanding Copyright and How It Applies to Filmmaking

Copyright laws are the legal backbone protecting the intellectual property of creators, including musicians or filmmakers like you. In the music industry, music copyright legally protects the producers, composers, recording artists, and others behind the creation of a musical work or sound recording by granting them exclusive rights to the track. Copyright helps ensure that others aren’t stealing intellectual property and allows the creators to receive rightful compensation for their work.

If you don’t own the copyright, you are prohibited from using the music in your film, distributing it, or broadcasting the music in any form. To do so, you need to obtain clearance. Obtaining clearance is the process of securing permission to use works owned by third parties. This process is necessary to legally use music in your film without worrying about copyright infringement.

Sourcing Music for Filmmaking

Now that we've covered the basics of music licensing and copyright, let's get into where you can find the perfect soundtrack for your film:

  • Original Compositions: Creating an original composition is a good idea to create a unique soundtrack that is tailored to your needs. By recording an original piece of music, you are the copyright holder, so you can use it however you wish to. 

Collaborating with a composer allows you to work with an expert to create a musical score that perfectly matches the tone, pacing, and emotional nuances of your film.  While this option is appealing due to your ability to directly craft a composition in line with your vision, working with a team of composers and producers can be a hefty investment and a longer process.

  • Direct Licensing: You can also license any song you’d like, even popular music. If you have a specific song in mind that you want to use in your film, you can directly obtain a music license for it. You’ll need to identify the copyright owner of the tracks you wish to use and directly negotiate licensing agreements with them. 

This option allows you to include iconic songs that match the narrative of your film or obtain permission for a specific song that you believe is essential for your film. However, attempting to directly negotiate a license with the copyright holders can be an extensive and expensive process. There’s a chance that the copyright holders may not even reply at all as well.

  • Track Club: For an efficient, quality, and personalized licensing experience, Track Club is the best option for filmmakers.

Track Club’s music library contains a meticulously curated selection of high-quality, authentically crafted music, and uses Smart Filters that allow you to search through the catalog by mood, genres, instruments, and more, ensuring that you find the perfect song that fits your film.

You even get the benefit of customization, just as you would if you were creating your own track. With Track Club’s MixLab, you can change the volume of individual stems, adjust BPM, and more.

See you can create a custom soundtrack with MixLab, here

How to License Music for Film

To license music for your film, the process may look different depending on where you decide to source your music. 

If you decide to directly negotiate a license with the rights holder, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Find the Rights Holders: Usually, you can find information on who the rights holders are through performing rights organizations (PROs) like ASCAPBMI, and SESAC, or online music publishing directories. 
  2. Submit an Inquiry: Ask the copyright holders about obtaining a license. Explain your film's purpose, why you want to use the music, the specific use of music, and where the film will be distributed.
  3. Negotiate the Terms and Price: Negotiating the terms of use and licensing fees with the rights holders will depend on factors such as how long you will need the license for, geographic locations where the project will be shown, and the nature of your project. 
  4. Sign the Agreement: Once you and the copyright holders reach an agreement on the terms and the license fee, a synchronization license agreement will be drafted and signed by both parties.

With Track Club, you won’t need to worry about needing to negotiate with the rights holders since Track Club does it all for you. Track Club offers an affordable and efficient option that provides unlimited sync music licenses for songs in the Track Club catalog, even for commercial use. All you need to do is select the plan that’s right for you and focus on curating the perfect soundtrack for your film.

How Much Does It Cost to License a Song for a Movie?

Licensing fees depend on various factors, including how the music will be used, the duration and number of times the music will be used, and where the film will be distributed. Different publishers and record labels charge different amounts, and the price is usually negotiated between you and the copyright owners.

For example, licensing a popular song for a feature film that will be screened in commercial theaters across the nation will likely cost much more compared to licensing a lesser-known song from an independent artist for a short film project uploaded as a YouTube video. To give you a general idea, the cost of a license can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars or more.

Track Club offers unlimited sync licenses and access to a collection of high-quality tracks starting at just $12 a month.


Music is a vital element in filmmaking that helps bridge the world of your viewer to the world in your film. By connecting the frames on the screen to reality with the right music, you’ll be able to heighten your storytelling and create an impactful viewing experience. 

Working with Track Club empowers you to bring your full creative vision to life and make a lasting impression on your audience with your film. 

Providing you with unlimited access to high-quality, specially curated tracks, and creative freedom to customize your music, Track Club is here to help you find the best music for your film.