What Song License Do I Need for a Podcast?

Published December 7, 2022

What makes a good podcast is a combination of commentary and audio clips. You will need to obtain a song license to play music and audio clips in a podcast. There are different types of song licenses you can choose for different purposes in your podcast. These include sync licenses, fair uses licenses, and live music publishing licenses. Let’s take a look at each of these licenses, including which one you should choose and why.

What Is a Sync License?

The first type of song license for a podcast is a sync license. A sync license gives a TV show, movie, or commercial permission to use the song in a publication to “sync” the music to the visuals depicted on the screen. For a podcast, a sync license is required because the music is synced with a larger audio file.

A sync license is solely designed to give the publisher permission to use the song in a commercial, TV show, movie, or podcast. However, just because you apply for a sync license for your podcast doesn’t mean you can obtain one. The owner of the song can choose to deny your request if they don’t agree with your podcast’s message.

A sync license differs from a music license in that the rightsholder can ask for as much money as they want for the music or song to be used in the podcast. Another downside of having to obtain a sync license for a podcast is that you must obtain a license from all of the rightsholders of the song’s publishing and recording to get the license to use the song.

The record label is typically the entity that owns the master recording, while the artist, songwriter, or publishing company owns the song's composition. This can end up being a difficult and costly process.

What Is Fair Use?

Fair use allows a podcast to use a small portion of a licensed song without obtaining a song license. There are specific conditions that a podcast must meet in order to use fair use.

First, a podcast must not parody or comment on the song clip being used in the podcast. The song also must not be transformed in any way from its originality. The only time a podcast can comment on the song clip is if the podcast critically explains the song and what makes up the song. This is when the song can be commented on and used under the conditions of fair use.

Fair use justification can be a slippery slope that can find you in a legal battle that you may be unprepared to fight. If in doubt, you should try to obtain a sync license to ensure you are covered.

What About Live Music Publishing?

Live music may sound like the best way to avoid all of the fees that come from obtaining a song license for your podcast, but there are still licenses that accompany using live music in your podcast. Like a sync license, you will need to contact all of the rightsholders of the song to get the license to use the song in the podcast—even if it is a live piece.

If the artist on your podcast has a record label, you will need to obtain a license from the record label to use the song in your podcast. If the artist is up and coming and does not have a record label and is their own publisher, you will need to obtain a license from the artist.

Make sure you get a license from all parties involved in the song—including the songwriters, publishers, and record labels—to ensure you are covered to play the song on your podcast.

Final Thoughts

Adding music to your podcast is a great way to take your podcast to the next level, but it’s important that you do it the right way so that you don’t find yourself in a legal battle that you can’t afford. If you plan on using songs to sync with the story your podcast is telling, you will need a sync license. Otherwise, you may be able to use small audio clips under fair use justification.