Licensing Music for Book Trailers

Lord Russ and the Aloha SteamtrainYou just turned on the radio and heard the PERFECT song for your book trailer. Should you:

A) Stalk Beyoncé after a concert and ask her for permission to use it;

B) Use it without permission, because no one will find out until your book becomes a bestseller, at which point Beyoncé should be thanking you; or

C) Sing it yourself so you don’t have to worry about licensing — and because your mom says you’re as good as Beyoncé, anyway.

The correct answer is none of the above. At least in the United States, if you are going to link music to video, you need synchronization licenses both from the record label that owns rights to the recording AND from the songwriter(s)/publishing company(ies) that own rights to the music and lyrics. Even if you perform it yourself and don’t need the sound recording, you still need the sync license from the latter because the composition is copyrighted. provides a good summary of the different types of music copyrights at

I am not a lawyer, but these are the things that the nice people at BMI told me when I recently sought permission to use the perfect song for my trailer. My perfect song was a bonus track that had never been released to radio, and the artist’s other music is very rarely played on the radio, although there is a solid fan base. So I thought if I splurged there might be a shot that I could afford to license it and was curious enough to try. I was advised to start looking for the song on BMI and ASCAP, two of the main performing rights organizations where songs are registered so the artist can get paid when they are played. BMI and ASCAP only deal with performance licenses, not sync licenses, but their databases contain information about the writers and publishers.

My song had one writer listed–not the performer, by the way –and two publishers. This was pretty minimal effort, considering some songs can involve five or ten or more different people and organizations. I wrote to all three back in August, and although I still haven’t heard a word from two of them, Sony/ATV Music Publishing responded within a week with a form to fill out. The form asked whether it was a personal or commercial endeavor, the length of the license, the price I was willing to pay for it, description of the project, etc. A few things to note:

1) Even though you may consider writing to be a hobby because you’re broke, if you are trying to sell your book via advertising with a trailer, it is a commercial endeavor.

2) The Internet lasts forever but licenses do not.

3) There is no pricing guide. The websites that I researched for such information show a huge range in pricing, and there are many variables with little transparency. So I started with a suggestion of $50 based on the fact that places like will license for $24.99 (although I learned later that commercial licenses are $199). I had read that movie studios typically pay much, much more, but I had also read that some indie films get the same music for free. So I made sure to explain clearly what the music was for and the likely limited reach of the video trailer.

I received a quick and courteous reply stating that a) licenses for the use I requested are only granted for one year at a time, and b) the fee would be approximately $7,500 to $10,000. After I spit out the sandwich I choked on, I replied with a thanks-but-that’s-not-in-the-budget and politely asked a couple of additional questions, hoping to be able to share some more details with you folks about how to determine in advance when a song might be within financial reach–if ever. I didn’t receive a reply, which is understandable, considering I was a waste of time at that point, as were all of my poor writer friends.

It’s little wonder why people don’t bother to ask for permission. However, that is still not dispensation to use music illegally. Not only should doing so weigh on your conscience as a creator yourself, but the fines for using music without permission can be ten times what you would have paid in fees. So, while established artists are likely out of reach, if you are determined to find a song unlike any others to use for your video, and you have some budget for such a thing, there are thousands of up-and-coming indie musicians who have posted their songs for easy sync licensing on sites like,,, and others.

Of course, even those avenues may be outside of your non-existent budget, in which case you can still find a variety of free trailer-ready music beyond what is pre-packaged on video maker sites. is one such commercial site with thousands of options, and there are also independent composer sites like and

For those of you who have made book trailers: Where did you get your music? How did you know you had the right licenses?

Author: Krista Tibbs

Krista Tibbs studied neuroscience at MIT. She once had a job that involved transplanting pig cells into live human brains. She had another job that gave her clearance to the White House. Her books, The Neurology of Angels and Reflections and Tails, are mostly not about those things. Learn more about Krista from her blog, and her Amazon author page.

11 thoughts on “Licensing Music for Book Trailers”

  1. Thanks so much for researching all this info. Krista, especially all the links to free music sites. I haven’t done anything about a book trailer because I thought I could never afford the music I’d like. This post is getting bookmarked right now!

  2. Thanks for your report, Krista. A writer friend of mine had contacted Sony to find out how much it would be to use part of a song and it turned out to be along the lines of what you were told. Personally, I use incompetech and freeplaymusic when I do trailers–free and royalty free, as well.

  3. Great topic, Krista. I’ve used shockwavesound and audiojungle for my book trailers. (I think there was one other one, too, but I can’t remember what it was off the top of my head.) Google “royalty free stock music” — there are a ton of sites. I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than $29 for music for a trailer, and a couple of times I’ve paid a lot less. It’s just not worth taking the chance of getting sued.

  4. As some of you may know, I’m lucky enough to have a friend who’s a professional film producer – nothing sexy: he’s a one-man band and mostly shoots commercial films, corporate promos (which is how I met him, through my job), and subject-specific inserts for the big TV companies. But he is a pro, and he does know his stuff (well, I trust him, at any rate).
    When I published a short story collection a few months ago, I needed a promo video to include 5 songs by the band Genesis (which the stories are based on), and I expressed – in no uncertain terms – my abject fear at being hit with a copyright suit. If I can’t afford licences, I certainly can’t afford legal trouble.

    He explained it like this: YouTube have royalty agreements in place with the music publishing companies, so the music publishing companies get a cut of the advertising revenue from those ads which come on before the video starts, during the video on screen, and which show up by the side of the video. As long as my book promo video is only uploaded to YouTube and linked/embedded from there, there’s nothing to worry about.
    I wasn’t convinced, to be honest, and made him explain it to me a few times. He showed me a whole raft of videos he’s made using copyrighted sound which, according to him, are all fine because YouTube passes on some of the ad revenue to the music publishing companies.
    Now, there are a couple of things to bear in mind here. Firstly, he makes and uploads my book promo videos in his company name, and as he’s a pro, he might have a pro’s get-out which non-pros don’t enjoy. Secondly, this is happening in Poland (where I live), and the rules might be very different in other jurisdictions

    Anyway, I’m not trying to spam, but here’s a link to the video he made for my book (in return, I would like to add, not for money but for ideas, scripts and voice overs by me for his own projects), and he was absolutely adamant I didn’t need to buy a licence because YouTube takes care of it. This video has been up since August and I haven’t had any trouble (yet).

  5. Even though YouTube is taking a cut, they are also (at least from my understanding) entitled to a cut from you for using it. It all trickles down – everyone trying to make money from the music has to render unto Caesar.

    Reps from ASCAP and BMI will often go into bars or clubs and ask for royalty money for playing their music on the jukebox, even if the CDs were legitimately purchased, or for just having the radio on for their customers. They know exactly when their music was playing and if you were open, they want a cut. . And they will come after those people hard if they don’t pay up when asked.

    I think your friend is playing with fire.

  6. I am SO happy you posted about this, Krista. It shocks me when I see book trailers with popular music and I am fairly sure the authors did not ask for any type of permission before ‘borrowing’ it. Authors always complain about their books being pirated, and yet they don’t blink twice when it comes to stealing someone’s music.

  7. Great post, Krista, and thanks for sharing.

    About thirteen or fourteen years ago, I made a promotional video for my sons’ kickboxing careers. It was way before I became internet savvy (not that I’m entirely internet literate now), and the promotional video was really designed to send to potential sponsors. It was a compilation of their fight highlights and knockouts, synchronised to Queen’s ‘Another one bites the dust’. It was a pretty good effort for an amateur, and certainly did the job, and that was fine until a couple of years further on when someone put it onto YouTube, after a couple of months YouTube was forced to withdraw it.

    That’s not the end of the story though; the video surfaced again several years later, but in two halves from two different sources and they are still up there yet:


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