Radio Advertising

Using Music In Radio Ads

The right music can make or break a radio ad. But you can't just throw any music you like into your spot. There are laws that dictate what music you can and can't use. Here's what you need to know about using music in radio ads.

If you've ever paid attention to radio ads, you know the important role music plays in radio advertising.

Without music, many ads would lack ambience and would leave listeners feeling emotionally flat. From light background melodies to that jingle you can't get out of your head, music and radio advertising go hand-in-hand.

Advertisers often select music that complements their message and the tone of the ad. But music selection is a lot more complicated than picking the right tune. Most popular songs are subject to copyrights and may not be available for commercial use.

Complicating the music issue even further is the fact that advertisers and even some radio stations are confused about what can and can't be played over their airwaves. Licensing agreements that let radio stations play songs for entertainment purposes usually don't cover commercial ads. Although the station may experience backlash if they play unauthorized music in an ad, the responsibility for legal compliance ultimately falls on the advertiser and their creative team. Here's what you need to know about using music in radio ads.

  • Fair use. It illegal to use copyrighted material when it exceeds what is called "fair use". According to the definition of fair use, if core components of the material are used, then fair use has been exceeded. As a rule of thumb, it's illegal to use music in a radio ad if you don't have authorization and the tune can be recognized.
  • Licensing. It's possible to obtain permission to use copyrighted music through a licensing agreement. But you will actually need two licenses. The first is from the party that owns the copyright for the song and the second is from the party that owns the copyright for the recording.
  • The 7-second rule. Many radio advertisers operate under something called the "7-second rule", or the idea that you can include any song in an ad as long as it plays for 7 seconds or less. From a legal perspective, the 7-second rule comes from the same town as unicorns and the Tooth Fairy. There is no legal basis for a 7 second rule - any unauthorized inclusion of music from a copyrighted song violates copyright law.
  • Strategies. Although you can't skirt copyright law altogether, there are some strategies you can use to minimize the need for expensive licensing. One option is to compose your own music and have it performed by a hired musician. The other option is to purchase the copyright for the song, but have it performed by someone other than the original artist.

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