One of the first questions a “new born” wedding videographer will undoubtedly ask is “I have this bride who wants to use [insert popular music artist of the day] for her wedding video. Can I use it if she gives it to me?” Or, “Can I use it if I buy it on iTunes?” Or some version thereof. Just for the record. The answer is unequivocally “NO!” (If you want the 4-1-1 on music licensing, I have a pretty thorough blog post on the topic, along with links to all the popular sites for legally licensing music: bit.ly/musicinfilm.
But for years, wedding videographers have used popular copyrighted music. Probably ever since the day cameras were 30+ lbs and came with 15+ lb battery packs. But before the days of YouTube, it was never an issue. You made a DVD or VHS tape for your client, give it to them, and that was it.
Even before YouTube, wedding videographers were posting clips from their favorite weddings online for the world to see. For whatever reason, even after the whole Napster thing, music labels just ignored it. Until now.
This year something has happened that as far as I know has never happened in this industry. First, professionally shot wedding videos started going viral. As I alluded to in this blog post, this has inevitably lead to some wedding videographers being sued. The wedding videography boards and Facebook groups have exploded with chatter about it. Vimeo, YouTube and blip.tv videos are coming down like cats and dogs. It’s mass hysteria!
Well. Maybe I’m being a tad melodramatic. But, I am not embellishing when I tell you that on one Facebook group, there are hundreds and hundreds of posts about this topic.
One of the wedding filmmakers who was sued this year has agreed to do a guest blog post for me. Due to the arrangement of his settlement, he can’t go into the specifics. But, this is someone who cares a great deal for this industry and has agreed to use this forum to share with you the experience he had.
Welcome Joe Simon.
Hi Joe. First tell me, who sued you and how much money did they get? Ha, just kidding. Seriously, though, what can you tell us? The assumption is that you got pegged because one of your videos went viral. But your videos were already getting tens of thousands of views. Was this super viral video the straw that broke the camel’s back?
I can’t discuss the details of the suit, but it is real. I did have a video that went viral, we had used a very popular song on it, someone saw it and brought it to the attention of the labels legal team and from there they came after us. Getting that letter in my inbox and as a fax was super scary. You always here “they’ll just send you a cease and desist letter and you take it down” and I always thought that would be true. But the letter that came through and they wanted a lot of money for damages, it the tune of $150,000 for one song. If that didn’t scare you straight I don’t know what would. I spent the next month or so going back in forth with the label to reach a settlement, it was a huge stress on my business and my life and I would never wish this on anyone else. I can’t say what we settle for but it looked like this $XX,XXX , which is a LOT of money for a small business.
I understand you’ve since started using legally licensed music for the videos you post online. What has that experience been like for you?
I had actually started using legal music last year in October through Song Freedom, but their library was quite small and it wasn’t long till I had used the songs I actually liked (their library is way better now and I still use them all the time). So I kept using songs that were not licensed till I got hit with the suit in July. After that I took everything down, my website was bare for a few weeks while I got everything situated. Now I only use licensed music, The Music Bed, Song Freedom and With Etiquette have been a huge help in getting new films up and with songs that are actually good. The amount of music now available is so, so, much better than it was a year ago. It doesn’t take me long to browse the above sites to find the songs that fit the emotion feeling I need. Sure you don’t have an unlimited library of music to work with, but these companies are constantly adding more music. I’m sure 6 months from now it will be 100% better than it is now.
What are the top 5 tips or things you’ve learned, that you can teach those wedding videographers out there when it comes to using legally licensed music?
1 – Read the fine print for the sites you are buying music from, each is very different and you want to make sure you are not violating their restrictions. Because if you do you are right back where you started, using music illegally. Some have only one year licenses and others 5 year licenses. Always read the fine print.
2 – Educate your clients about the laws of music copyright.
3 – If you are using multiple music licensing sites make sure to check them all, they may have the same song and one could be cheaper than the other.
4 – Don’t just settle for the popular songs on the licensing sites, dive deeper into it and find the more obscure songs that will have the best impact on your audience.
5 – Make suggestions to the music licensing sites, they would love the help in finding music that you love to use and chances are they can get the songs for you! They can’t read your mind, help them get better music for all of us.
What’s the best way to deal with clients who ask for their favorite song in a wedding?
For the past 5 years we have ALWAYS selected the soundtrack for our wedding films. We ask the client for suggestions so we can work within their musical tastes, but at the end of the day we are selecting a soundtrack that is going to fit the emotion, location, personality and ambience of the event. So rarely have we used the clients “favorite song”, we don’t even use their first dance song. Some of you may scoff at this but think about it this way. When you go to see a movie how often do you think “that movie was awesome but I hated the soundtrack”, you don’t because the music in the film fits the film. The soundtrack was created to enhance the vibe and emotion of the story. You might not listen to those songs on your ipod, but in the film it fits and you love it. This is how we create our films, we select a sound track that fits that couple, that story, that emotion! I tell my couples that I want them to watch their film and hear songs they have never heard before. From that day forward every time they hear that song it will take them back to that emotion they felt in their wedding day as they relive it though our film. It’s very powerful! Their film would not have the same emotional impact if you are using “Etta James” or some other tired song that they have a memory tied to a different event in their life.
The first response email we send to clients talks about music and how important it is for us to select their soundtrack, if they aren’t comfortable with this then they are not the right couple for us. Your couples need to have total trust that you will create the best film for them, if they don’t then they are just holding you back from doing the best job for them.
A lot of wedding videographers feel like they can’t be competitive unless they use popular music. But I’ve seen a few of your recent clips online with legally licensed music. They still look amazing and are filled with emotion. What’s your comment about that?
This is BS. If you have to use popular music to be competitive then you have a lot more problems then just music. You clients shouldn’t be selecting you based on your music, you should be creating a style and feel they can not find anywhere else. Like I said above educate your clients and they will understand the reasoning behind it. Look at our site, all of our films have licensed music and all of our films still have the same emotional impacting stories. Don’t determine your success upon the music you use, create your niche and go after the couples that love that style!
It’s actually pretty awesome that when our clients get their films, they will email and tell us how much they love the music and want to get a list of music used so they can download the songs! And you know what, every time they play that song they will think of the film you created and the emotions that they felt as they watched their film. That is awesome!
Any final words or wisdom you’d like to share?
I’m not trying to scare anyone but the law is the law. I’m not bitter and I’m not trying to get more business, we are booked through September 2012 and I turn away countless couples every week. So I can tell you that music is not limiting our successes and I’m not trying to make other people use licensed music.
But I will say that using music illegally is like playing russian roulette, maybe you will get sued, maybe not. I just want everyone to know that the threat is real and you have to make the choice to run the gauntlet or be in the clear. Personally I have been wanting to run my business like this for years, but the music selection wasn’t there and I was being lazy about it. But with the licensed music choices now and knowing they are growing everyday it’s a good time to make the switch. As an artist I feel much better about myself because I hate it when others steal my work and I don’t want to be a hypocrite making excuses about why I would steal music.
Do make sure that if you are using licensed music you are building the costs into your packages, you might have to take a hit for a few films making the switch but in the long run you will be so much better off and sleep better at night. Good luck!