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Music Licensing! How does THAT work?

Sometimes we find ourselves awake in the middle of the night, thinking about our fabulous fundraisers and the many sub-plots of the work we do together. One that popped up recently was music licensing. Music sure does make a fundraiser feel like a party! So, what licenses do we need to play the music we want? What should our optimal usage be – and how do we decide?

Not being experts ourselves, we went out to my good friend Aaron Green of to get all the details.

Even if you’re keen to use that one special song, you should go into this with a positive attitude. A song is a special thing. It’s a living, breathing, intangible asset that represents not just dollars, but blood, sweat and tears for the artist(s) and producer(s) involved. Which is why you love the song in the first place! Treating the licensing part with the care and consideration it deserves is one way to honor songs, the people who make them and everything they represent.

As we imagine happens a lot, you hear a song you love and think, “Wow, that song would be perfect for our fundraiser!” Here’s to loving songs that are awesome! But what does it take to get a music license for that specific song? Turns out it depends on what you want to use it for.

Artisan, we want a performer with mad chops to sing our song as the finale for an awesome virtual auction! What a very good idea. If that’s what you’re after, you’ll need to secure what’s called “public performance royalties,” which is the kind of thing that a music licensing expert like Aaron does all day long. And you’re going to need to work with someone like him – an expert who can tap the network to get the song’s publisher on board.

One great way to reduce costs is to consider having your performer “cover” the song by changing it. Though licensing for this can depend song-to-song, this could even be an impetus for your performer to align the song’s lyrics with your mission! And, in the event you go this direction, you may be looking at much smaller dollars in licensing fees.

It may not be that one song you want, but there’s always the option to use public domain music pieces that don’t require licensing. You find a piece you like, and you buy it!

But Artisan, we’re feeling ambitious. We want to run an “America’s Got Talent” themed fundraiser, which includes amateur performances by lots of different people! Okay, we hear you—and we love this idea. This is where you’ll want (and need!) to start early with music licensing professionals, choosing all of your songs well in advance, then getting to work on all your clearances. Don’t worry fundraisers, it can be done! But it’s going to take extra legwork. You’ll need to secure publishing, performance and streaming rights for every song you want to put on “stage.”.

How much advanced notice does a licensing professional like Aaron need to do good work? Turns out if you get ahead of your event by 4- to 6-weeks, that gives everyone the wiggle room they need. According to Aaron, there are no dumb questions and it’s always better to get something licensed than not.

That’s the bottom line, from one music lover to another. Consider the full scope of your event’s music – preferably 4-6 weeks in advance – and get the appropriate clearances. This will mean you’re honoring the creativity that goes into making every song great. But don’t just take our word for it. When you get to that very fun “music-brainstorming” part of your planning, give Aaron at a ring. He’s ready to answer every question you’ve got. And be sure to tell him who sent ya—because we are the champions, my friends!



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