How to Legally Use Music in Your Films and Videos

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Dare Dreamer Mag is now blogging at DareDreamer.FM. You can get the ebook here.


105 thoughts on “How to Legally Use Music in Your Films and Videos

  1. +awesome post, Ron.
    Actually I had one incident with a composer back in 2009.
    Social media was my cause… I followed and became “fan” of his twitter account and facebook.
    His assistant who managed social media showing up my name on both account, so he checked me out, then reported to the composer that I was using his music illegally.
    Here is a thread that I started on (
    I don’t follow or “like” any commercial band or musicians ever since then.
    Enough with my story, you can also use for popular music.

      1. it worked out well. the composer ordered to donate $ to charity group that he supported, and gave me all the rights to use what was published.
        He asked me to report to any videographers using his music, too (that I refused to do).
        Hard lesion, man… really hard…

      2. What about using an excerpt, quote from a song in an educational/for profit video? My colleague and I would like to display a line from a Joe Raposo/Sesame Street song with attribution as a graphic on our documentary…

  2. Great post! I would like to see it updated with a mention of (no I don’t work for them or anything). They are a monthly fee-based service that let you license popular music. Thought I haven’t signed up with them yet, I will most definitely be looking into it in the near future. I think its an excellent for those who want to use that popular Jason Mraz song in their online demos.

    1. Hey Nick. I went ahead and updated the blog. I looked at their site. Very interesting. One of their arguments seems compelling to wedding filmmakers but is slightly off. They suggest if you shoot 30 weddings per year, their $40/month subscription ($480 year and up to 30 songs/year) comes to only $16 per song. Which is true. But wedding filmmakers use multiple songs in a wedding video. Could be as many of five or six. So, they need 30 weddings times 5-6 songs per wedding or about 150 songs. But, nonethelss, $16/song is still an amazing rate.

    2. can you please help me ?
      i want to use a small part of a music by SCHILLER in my short movie…just 1 minute ..

      what do i have to do..>???

      1. Did you read the article? You’ll need to contact whomever controls the publishing rights and the master use rights. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to do that. There is no company you can go to. You just have to call the music label, and start asking questions on whom to contact. If it’s a popular song, be prepared to pay a lot.

  3. While it’s annoying, as an artist, I totally understand musicians wanting to protect their work from unauthorized use. Photographers complain all the time when their clients steal their pictures online, and remember the outrage that ran throughout the community when flickr pictures were used overseas without permission in advertising? And rightly so! Thanks for speaking out and sharing options, Ron!

    1. Part of the outrage of our images on facebook and others has to do with the model shown to us on how to act when such things are done. The Beatles had stated they didn’t know anyone owned a song. That’s how they lost the majority ownership of music publishing rights by Dick James who eventually sold to Sir Lew grade who then sold ATV Music to Michael Jackson which is now SONY/ATV Music. So Paul and John own small portions of their publishing rights. They now have negotiated better deals for their recordings of their music, but when they play their own music, SONY/ATV gets paid! lol

      My point is we get mad at someone using our stuff because we see how the big boys act. Gotta be worth millions to us too, right? lol Not really, but Steinbeck once wrote, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” So everyone waits around to become an instant lottery winner! lol

  4. Ron, the body in Australia that handles music licensing is called The Australian Communications and Media Authority or ACMA for short.

    Find them at:

    A restricted use license can be bought on a job by job basis or if you do more than about 15 gigs a year (I’m speaking as a wedding cinematographer here) it is cheaper to get a yearly license.

    Of course I have no idea how or even IF any artist ever sees any money from that licence I’m sure bureaucracy eats most if it. But at least you are abiding by the letter of the law.

      1. Hey Ron.

        Unfortunately the link above isn’t right. Shane means to say APRA. Here are links for videographers. Unfortunately if you read through it you’ll find that what isn’t covered under the license is:

        “Audiovisual productions that are made for broadcast or internet transmission (including for upload to UGC sites such as YouTube);”

        You can see the links here:

          1. Here’s a question for you – what if I’m a photographer and I want to create a still motion photography video based on the lyrics of a song and have it play along with the song to possibly put into a gallery or into a contest or such. How would I go about legally obtaining rights to do that? Or would I need to? A dance company at my old university used another one of their songs during their spring performance, is that the same type of thing?

            1. If you have a song play during a performance (vs. actually being part of the video/slideshow itself), I believe that would fall under a performance use license not a synchronization license. “Performance use” may not be the actual technical term. But, in any case, there’s a different license needed to use a song during a live performance than what’s needed to make it part of a video. So, that is most likely what your university did. What it sounds like YOU want to do is make the song part of the slideshow, in which case everything I mentioned in the post still holds true. Many of the companies I mentioned above cater primarily to photographers. Check them out.

  5. Thank you for an incredibly informative and helpful post! As technological advancements make the licensing issue more and more murky, it was great to read a well-informed and well-researched post on the subject.

  6. nice post!!! I was wondering if I can use a own version of a existing music. I have the composer but I need a custom arragemnt to use in my film. I need to use a version of some classic music and jazz music. thanks in advance.

  7. It is even more complicated, if you are planning to show your video or slideshow with commercial music – via your website, then you also have to license its usage with (A subsidary of the RIAA) Sound exchange pays performers directly for digital broadcasts of their performances – XM/Sirus and Pandora. etc are their major licensees.

    The commercial music space has missed out on a great revenue stream by making it so difficult and unwieldy to easily license music usage and focusing all of their efforts on enforcement. The good news is that it has boosted the profile and quality of royalty-free music services. We use both Triple Scoop and Shawn Reeder music services extensively and happily…

  8. I’m a music producer & it was interesting to hear the other side of the story or coin(so to speak).

    Hearing good NON commercial radio music in a video production is a good thing, and pretty much always easier on the pocket than if you want to use music from a major recording artist.

    The online site where I have my music let you “try before u buy”(once you’re logged in), so you can make sure the music works in your production before you fork out any cash.

    [*Quote: The tunes on these royalty free collections have a more “canned” sound and*]

    What do you mean by – a more “canned” sound? I’m gathering you mean that it doesn’t sound open, bright, sparkly, wide etc? Sounds Unmastered?
    Be aware that radio has a Mega effects/processing chain that the music goes through before it ever hits you’re ears, which tends to mask distortion. Most top 40 music has been pushed to the brink, and can sound distorted when played through studio quality speakers.

    1. By “canned’ I mean they sound like music you’d hear from a royalty free music collection: no lyrics; simply and/or repeating melodies; unimaginative; etc.

      1. Ok that’s a different way of thinking.

        I’ve heard plenty of music with lyrics/vocals that are absolutely terrible also, and some are excellent. Could you imagine a blockbuster film with ZERO instrumental background music in it, it’d be as boring as a slab of concrete! IMHO

        So is the word “canned” as you’ve used it standard film industry lingo?

        1. I don’t think “canned” is industry lingo. I think it comes from the fact that royalty free music is sold kind of like how tuna fish is sold in a market. “Canned”. Instead of cans though, they’re on CDs. (Or used to be anyway). I think that’s where “canned” originated from. The music was “canned” and sold just like tuna fish.

  9. Hi – I do videos on a volunteer basis, and when I record, I capture music happening at the event (children on stage singing, wedding DJ playing “first dance”, etc). So the songs are already on the video. But then, I want to buy the actual song on iTunes and use it to either dub over noisy clips or use in the intro or with photo slideshow. I’d be happy to be a little more to use the song legitimately but…it’s already on the video anyway. What are your thoughts on that? Obviously these are for home use only, I am not a professional…but the music is so important. And if iMovie and iTunes are connected, why don’t they just charge an extra buck to put it in a movie for home use only?

    1. Technically, even music you record at an event requires a sync license. So, technically, what you’re doing IS illegal. I know it seems weird, but it’s the truth.

      Now, in practice, if the videos you create are ONLY used at your clients’ homes, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. But, if you were to start putting those videos online, even if they are videos of events and you just captured the music, you open yourself up for a lawsuit. Depending on how popular your website is, you may never be approached. But if just one of your videos should happen to go viral, then you become a possible target.

      Charging a buck on iTunes for home use seems like simple solution, but it’s more complicated than that. I wish the music industry could figure something out.

  10. Ron, great details, thanks. I had someone recently tell me that all you have to do is alter the song by speeding it up or slowing it down as little as 3%. He is a trusted source, but that seems a little to good to be true. What do you know about this?


    1. Your friend is so incredibly wrong it’s almost comical. No. It IS comical. Changing the speed of a song does not change anything (other than the speed of the song).

      1. Thanks for making me laugh…
        That was what I thought and I wanted another unbiased opinion. Keep up the great work!

  11. This was really helpful 🙂 but I wanna write a musical for my little sister’s school, and I wanted to use some somewhat popular songs (most people would know), so let’s say I wanted to use “Help” by the Beatles, but it’s not going to be on tv, do I have to get the rights to those songs?

    1. Yes Ana. If you want to use a song for a musical, you still need to get the rights. The rights for use in a musical or play is different than for TV or video though. I can pretty much guarantee any song from the Beatles will be either impossible to get or so expensive be out of reach. Email me and I can connect you with someone who would know where to go to get that info.

      1. I read somewhere that Beatle’s song are extremely seldom licensed, and that source (sorry, I cannot remember) mentioned 400.000 (dollars, pounds? doesnt make a difference any more) for licensing “Within you, without you” or “Tomorrow never knows”, which are also not among the top 10 of The Beatles. Arguably also not among their top 50.
        Juan María

  12. my teenage daughter used a few songs making a video of her and her boyfriend just for fun..she posted it on fb and they removed it because of copyright stuff. Kind of crazy if you ask me..but then again this world we live in is crazy anyway,she wasnt advertising anything or trying to sell anything..just setting some of her favorite pictures to her favorite songs. Thank you for this great site of information..cancelled itunes whats the use of paying for songs if she cant make a little picture video for personal use without being the artists HATE the red tape.

    1. Thanks for the kind words about this page. For what it’s worth, there’s no real issue of your making home videos with your iTunes music. That’s why Apple created that feature in iMovie. The problem is if you want to post it online for the world to see. Then you are using someone else’s art (the music) in a way they did not give you permission to. I know it seems hard to grasp, but that’s the gist. Facebook and sites like that created programs to notice when popular music is used in a video. That’s why it took it down.

      I say go ahead and make your fun videos for home using your favorite iTunes music. Just don’t post it online.

      If you want to post something online, there are many resources I mention above where you could get music legally. If you use the incompetech site, you can even use the music for any donation you see fit (even free). It won’t be your favorite music, but at least it’ll be legal.

      Good luck.

  13. Hey there,

    I work for a non-profit organisation in the UK and after much research I am still confused about how to use commercial music in videos and blogs created by us for the use on our website. Any direction to some comprehensive information would be great, alternatively does anyone know of a good all round site that can accommodate a wide selection of either royalty free or cheap commercial music to use and also most importantly is legal?

    Many Thanks

    1. Use of music in videos I feel is pretty much covered in this blog post. As far as use of music on blogs, I’m not sure but I think organizations like ASCAP and BMI may cover that. At least here in the US.

      As far as a site where you can get royalty free music, are none of the 15 sites I mention above good for you?

  14. Thank you this was very helpful. I was wondering if it made any difference if you were using the song for only 10 seconds to 40 seconds or in its entirety. I.e. a scene where we have a person working in a wood shop carving a piece of wood with some music playing in the background from a computer which is off set.

    Thanks for the help


      1. Thanks for the info and fast response. You posted this over a year ago and you still respond. I am very surprised and thankful. Do you enjoy doing this? Is this what you do from day to day?

        1. I can reply so quick because comments go straight to my email. I know a lot of people have questions about music licensing and it’s a big deal (especially since record labels started suing filmmakers) so I try to reply to comments on this post as quickly as possible. This post is the most trafficked post on my blog.

          I do this as a labor of love and other social media marketing reasons. But, I own my own film production company and that’s what pays the bills. 🙂

          1. Well I am very thankful. I see Day Dreamer Media. Very nice!! I am just getting started with film. I went to undergrad for photography and attended the Rhode Island International Film Festival last year and have fallen in love with them. Within the next few months I plan on submitting some short films. Anyways thanks again Ron!

  15. how is it that there are literally millions of youtube videos out there that are clearly copywrite infringements and a video slideshow of pictures of my son with Rod Stewart’s forever young is yanked off Facebook being only shared with friends and family members is yanked from my profile? even tho i have my security settings pretty tight that only my friends can see it?

      1. Do you know what the requirement are for posting cover versions of music to a not-for-profit’s website? In this case, high school kids are performing songs from sheet music and we recorded the audio on a digital recorder.

        1. The article addresses this too. Doesn’t matter if it’s a cover or the original. If it’s a cover, you’ll need to get the sync license which covers the cover, but will probably need to get the master use license from the label that owns the original. Being a not-for-profit doesn’t change anything.

          If you’re just posting audio and not video, that’s a whole different ballgame. Try contacting BMI or ASCAP regarding that.

  16. Enjoyed the post its very helpful, I have a question though. I do wedding photography and clients like to have a slideshow of their video’s playing to music. Someone told me they thought that if I had the client provide the music to go on their CD for their home viewing then I should be fine. I’m thinking that’s not true because they could post it online and if it goes viral I could still be held accountable. Is this correct? Anyway to keep clients from posting their video slideshows online? Seems like a big risk to me, I might stop doing the slide shows all together. But those are a huge selling point for photography!

    1. Everything you said is correct. Technically, it is illegal to use copryight music for which you don’t have the rights. But if it’s only for home use, it’s not a big deal and the chances of anyone coming after you are very slim. However, as you say, they COULD post it online and it COULD go viral. It’s up to you to take that chance or not.

  17. So this is probably an easy simple question but always want to ask. If i have a website that promotes news.. and does some advertising on it, so it does make some money, and i create newsworthy articles via using videos and use short clips of popular songs in the background, which I also give credit to, I assume i still need to purchase a proper license?

    1. That is correct. You will still need a sync license. Depending on where you get it, it may not cost that much for this kind of use. If cost is a big issue, I recommend (every song for every use is only $20) or (donate what you can). If you need something is a higher production quality sound and sophistication, then for for one of the other services I mentioned like The Music Bed (full disclosure: a sponsor of my podcast) or Triple Scoop Music, or any of the many other great services I mention in the blog post.

  18. Hi, I’m the type of person that does NOT want to infringe any law whatsoever. So I need some help. What do I do if I want to make a music video with friends just for fun, not to put up on the internet. I want to use Selena Gomez’s Who Says as the background for the video. So we’re just making our own version of her music video(not using any of her video’s content I must add). However, my questions are: am I allowed to use her song on this home video, and am I allowed to give them a copy of the video? We will not be putting it online. How should I go about? Thanks! This was a REALLY informative and great post.

    1. Technically, the answer to your question is “no.” You can’t legally use it. But, if it’s just for fun with your friends, you’re not going to get into any trouble. People make home movies and videos with their favorite music all the time (iMovie is even designed to get music from your iTunes library easily). As long as you don’t post it online, nothing will happen.

  19. So, in plain English if I am making a short film for school, what then? Same crap ass rules apply?

    IMHO I should be able to use an artists song in an original piece of media as long as its not for sale or monetary profit, especially if I paid for the album or song. Just my 2 cents

      1. This code is related to COPYRIGHT use. The use of music in a film or video like this is NOT covered by copyright law. Period. To use a song in a film or video you MUST have both the master use and sync license. Fair use does NOT apply to the use of music like this. I’m 110% positive about this. If you use a song in your short film without the proper licenses, you will be breaking the law (technically). Now, whether or not you get caught is another thing. If you do use the song illegally, better hope your film doesn’t get a million views on YouTube.

  20. Hi Ron,
    Thanks for this informative article. 18 months and still going strong – good show!

    Can I arrange an instrumental version of popular songs (either myself or with the help of an artist) and then use it in corporate events and large parties? These events are seldom posted online.

    People traditionally use Karaoke tracks of popular songs in corporate events (either for singing along or for presentations). I do not know the legality of the Karaoke tracks hence the question.

    1. The use of songs at events is covered by ASCAP I believe (not 100% sure on that). Technically, you’re supposed to get a performance license. But, again, this is one of those things where it’s just not possible to police. Think about all the hundreds of thousands of parties and events held maybe every day. However, if you were a professionally DJ, you would need to get the correct licenses. For what you’re doing, as long as you weren’t video taping those events and putting them publicly online, you shouldn’t have any issues.

  21. Thank you for taking the time explain all of this, Ron. It’s so helpful, and you really went the extra mile! Very much appreciated!!

  22. Do you know of any other low cost sites like jewelbeat? These other sites start out at $30 to $400 for one song no one has ever heard. I video weddings and I need an hours worth of music per customer. This would never be feasible at these costs. Jewelbeat may be my best bet, they have unlimited songs for $1000 but the songs suck? Any advice?

    1. Hey Jon,

      First, you need to build the cost of the song into your fees. When I buy a song to add to a production, that investment is covered by what I charge my client. I budget for it.

      Second, you’re not going to be able to get recognizable songs for commercial use on the internet without paying a hefty fee. There’s no way around that (unless you’re good friends with Taylor Swift, U2, Jason Mraz, or whomever you want to use). So, you will have to use songs people haven’t necessarily heard. I think the songs offered by sites like The Music Bed, Triple Scoop, and others, have proven to be very useful and effective in wedding productions. Click on over to the blog post I wrote about Joe Simon and watch the video he edited to a TMB song.

      Third, not every part of your wedding video has to have an amazing song. Sometimes you just need a good jazzy tune for a cocktail hour, or a classical tune for a pre-ceremony, etc. A basic stock song from a collection would do just fine.

      Lastly, keep in mind that as long as you’re not posting videos online, you could probably get away with using copyrighted music in weddings. (Many videographers still do that). (But you didn’t hear that from me. 😉 The chance you take is one of your clients posting the video and exposing yourself to legal action.

  23. I have a bunch of quality, free creative commons (podsafe) tracks on various websites. All tracks released under a creative commons license. Just help yourself and give me a credit somewhere.

      1. No Worries Don….just signed with they release only creative commons music, and have a big following in the open source community. You may want to consider them for your list

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  26. I was exploring for techniques for my own weblog and located your posting,
    “How to Legally Use Music in Your Films and Videos | Dare Dreamer
    Magazine”, do you mind if I really use a handful
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  27. Hi Ron, great article but I have a couple of questions that I think are not quite covered here. First, my daughter sang a Rodgers and Hammerstein song in a school play that I videotaped. If I use that at jsut for home I’m OK (barring the slight risk that the publisher would come after me for a home showing), right? But if I want to show that at a public showing or post it on youtube then I need to get permission, correct?

    Secondly, if I want someone to sing “A Bicycle Built for Two” and use that in a short music video that I would show publicly or online then that would be OK too, right? The song is in the public domain and the artist is brand new and would be singing it for my work.

    Please let me know if I am correct in my interpretation.

    1. You are correct about your daughter’s school play. Millions of parents all over the world tape the kids’ recitals, plays, etc. That’s a given. Even if you posted that on YouTube, assuming it’s obviously just a home movie shared online for friends and family, I wouldn’t fret it. Worse case, YouTube’s copyright robot programs would catch it and automatically remove it.

      Regarding “A Bike Built for Two,” yes, if you’re certain there not publishers who hold the rights the music, you could have someone record it for you for a music video.

      1. Hi ron, we are doing a short doc for a class project and it may enter small flm festivals after that, we want to get our main character to sing ‘You’ll never walk Alone” (about 20 – 30 secs). Rodgers and Hammerstein own the rights as it originated for the musical Carousel but there has been many versions since. Rodgers and Hammerstein are looking for £350 for us to let him sing it, does this sound fair?

        1. There is no “fair”, but that is only about US$540. That seems like a GREAT rate for rights to a popular song. Make sure you have it stipulated all the places you want to distribute the documentary (e.g. online, DVD, etc.)

          1. Yeah i just wanted to be sure because its not the Carousel version and its basically just a guy singing it (no music) in the short doc. Thanks for getting back to me Ron and well done on the page, its great. I will request all that off them as well. Thanks again.

            1. Hi Ron, it turns out that price was just for a festival license. I still dont get how it all works, like they advise that is usage for 1 year?? do you have to take it offline after that if its not renewed. Is it possible to put it up online before a license is issued? thanks again

              1. If the usage is for one year, that means after that year, you’ll have to stop posting the video anywhere unless you change the song or renew the license.

  28. Great blog topic! I was doing a little copyright research myself after having difficulties with my home video of my toddlers using Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” song. Google slapped some ads on there. Okay, I don’t mind, but as a result, the content is not viewable on mobile devices.

    A. As for Google’s Ad solution, how does putting ads videos make the copyright law “right?”

    B. I wonder if there is a business opportunity here. Publishers and record labels should sell rights to songs for rinky dink family videos. I could see an option in Youtube; “For .99, you could have the rights to use this song with no advertisements.”

    It seems like a lot of red tape for people who just want to use their favorite song to accompany their moments. If and aggregate company could find a way to scale it down and make it easy for everyday folks to “pay for play,” at a reasonable cost that would be great!

    There is a whole micro market cash cow for these song owners! know a lot of teens and digi tech parents would think nothing of spending “app prices” to be able to use any song they wish on the “up-and-up” to share on Facebook, Youtube or whatever!

    Your welcome for the idea, Ron. Hit me up if you want to find a couple of developers, a copyright lawyer and go into business together. I work in Atlanta as a Web Content Strategist. lol

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  31. Hello Ron!
    Thank you for your detailed information!
    We would like to make a tribute video and I cannot find the song on any of the sites you have provided.
    The song is Van Halen,Right Now. Any suggestions?

    Thank you!!!

    1. Van Halen is a popular song. You will not find it on these sites. These sites provide hiqh quality songs that sound as good as what you may hear on the radio, but are NOT those songs. (Although Song Freedom does have some pop songs they’ve been able to utilize). You’ll need to contact the record label directly for Van Halen if you want to use that song. Expect it to be a long process and cost a lot of money though.

  32. Hey there! I just found your article and found it to be quite informative. I have a unique situation I’d like to ask you about. Say I have a business where I teach dance lessons online. Would it be copyright infringement if I used licensed songs? How is that different from teaching in a real-life studio setting?

    1. Hi Gina,

      What exactly are the songs licensed for? If you don’t have a proper sync license for use of those songs in an online video, you do expose yourself to legal action. Licenses for use of songs in physical settings like dance studios or nite clubs are performance licenses issued by organizations like BMI and ASCAP. Those licenses do not allow you to set the music to video. You need a sync license for that.

  33. Hi Ron,
    I’ve seen some of your videos, well done and the music fits.
    Actually… why are not the composer’s (or musician’s) names credited in the video?
    In one of the pages you mention (Shaun Paul), he says in every track that crediting is a legal requirement. Is it true or not?
    Even if it is not a legal requirement, it seems collegial to me. What are your thougs about this?
    ( Album Tango Monologues )

    1. Short promotional or commercial videos, where you’ve paid for the legal license, do not require credit to the composer/musician. You will typically see a credit to the musician if it’s 1) a short narrative film or documentary or 2) you got the music for free and the credit is a requirement.

  34. Hi. What if it is for a personal short that you are making for a project. Can you still legally use the music?

    1. Nope. Doesn’t matter what it’s for. But there is a lot of great music you can legally use from the sites mentioned on this blog post. They have special rates for short films.

  35. Ron, I have a friend who is interested in producing shows for a planetarium. How does the use of songs legally apply in this situation? The show is for in-house use only, not for re-sale to other planetariums. Patrons would have to pay to see these shows.

  36. Ron, with regard to my previous post, the songs of interest for a planetarium production range from the last 10 to 15 years such as Lenny Kravitz “Fly Away” and older songs like “Catch a Falling Star” by Perry Como. Not interested in instrumentals of these nor any imitations. Want the real thing!

    1. Doesn’t matter what the project is for with regards to getting the rights. The price for the use may change, but you still have to get those sync licenses. The more popular the song and artist, the harder and more expensive.

      There are so many amazing songs (both with and without lyrics), on sites like The Music Bed, Marmoset, Triple Scoop, and heck, even PremiumBeat. I would strongly advise checking those sites out rather than go through the hassle of trying to get the usage rights for a Lenny Kravitz or Perry Como song.

    2. Then you’ll need to contact the respective record labels to get and pay for the rights. Expect to pay somewhere in the multiple thousands of dollars for each of those songs. More if you ever plan to put the videos online. It will be a long process. Sincere luck.

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