MXT2023: 'Don't just pluck music from the internet for your podcast'

Masters of Podcasting | MXT2023
Copyright. It is a complicated issue. At least, it can be. Can you just pluck music from the internet and use it in your podcast? Is there anything at all established about copyright in podcast land? And how do you actually check whether there are rights on music you use in your podcast? In this article, we list the facts and the questions.

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In early 2023, Springcast was one of the guests at the first edition of MXT2023, a conference in Groningen on innovation in the creative industries. So when we got the invitation to record a live podcast during this conference, we grabbed it with both hands. The topic? Copyright and the use of music in a podcast.

Copyright definition

Copyright is the exclusive right of the creator of a work (e.g. a piece of music, a book, artwork or publication) to disclose and reproduce it.

It is quite a complicated subject: copyright. Not for nothing is doctoral researcher at Utrecht University of Applied Sciences Nerko Hadziarapovic has been working on his research on fair copyright for more than five years. "And I am far from finished," Hadziarapovic told the seventh episode from our podcast Masters Of Podcasting.

In this episode of Masters Of Podcasting, we speak to three experts by experience on the subject:

  • Nerko Hadziarapovic, doctoral researcher at Utrecht University of Applied Sciences
  • Renger Koning, composer, sound designer and producer
  • Nicoline Pouwer, podcast producer and singer

This episode of Masters Of Podcasting is a great example of the format 'The Panel'. In our white paper '20 business podcast ideas and formats' we give ten storylines and seven formats commonly used in a podcast.

A format is about the content form of the podcast. Which format(s) best suits your podcast depends on the content of the podcast and the purpose of the podcast. Sometimes even combinations of different formats are possible. 

The Panel

A panel podcast is a podcast in which (usually) one host interviews several guests on a topic. Often it is about current affairs and news. Each show has different guests.

The main advantage of this type of podcast is that there is usually enough news and current affairs to discuss and the 'burden' is carried by the guests. The downside, of course, is that you need to have a decent pool of potential guests if you want to record episodes on a regular basis.

With this form of podcasting, too, you may benefit from the reach of your guests. However, with this type of podcasting, finding guests is elevated to a top-class sport. You usually have to find more than one per episode.

Using music for your podcast

But... back to the music. Because we'd like to explain to you exactly what those rights are. Say you want to use music in your podcast. Then you can go about it in different ways. You can approach a composer or you can 'just' download something.

Speaking of which... what about that, really? As a podcast maker, can you just pluck music from the internet to use? "That's not smart," thinks Nicoline Pouwer. Research the rights situation carefully, is her advice. Can you just use this piece without paying for it? Or do you risk a fine?

In addition, according to Pouwer, there is another reason to think twice before using "just any music". For there is enormous power in using authentic, custom-composed music for your podcast. "Think of it as branding, such a composition," he says.

In fact, you can use such a composition for everything: not only for your podcast, but also for your videos on YouTube, your social media posts or even as theme music during events you organise. "That's how you create a brand with music. And it really doesn't have to be expensive," says Pouwer.  

Music rights: how does it work?

Copyright, paying for music... for many people it is a 'far from your bed' show. So let's zoom in a little further. After all, you've probably heard of the terms 'copyright', 'user licence' and 'royalty-free music'. We have explained the definition of copyright, so let's look at those other two terms. 

Definition of user licence

With a user licence, you give the buyer permission to use your composition. This is often done through a 'Creative Commons Licence'. The advantage of royalty-free music is that the buyer only has to pay once for a user licence. The buyer can then use the piece as often as he or she likes in, for example, a podcast or YouTube video. It also does not matter how often these are listened to or watched.

And then there is also such a thing as exclusive user rights. This means you pay for exclusive use of a composition and you are the only one allowed to use the piece of music in question. Do you still get it? 

Copyright versus royalty-free music

Every piece of music is copyrighted. This is because every creator automatically has copyright over his or her composition. It is then up to the creator to register it with a body such as Buma/Stemra, for example.

Is this composition often streamed or played on radio or TV? Then this copyright actually makes money. This is because the copyright holder receives an amount for each song streamed or played. 

And in case you're thinking: that's big cash... think again 😉 Spotify, for example, pays an average of €0.003 to €0.004 per stream. So per 1000 streams, you earn three to four euros.

So, for the quick arithmetic: you need at least one million streams to start earning a bit. After all, per 1 million streams, you will receive between €3,000 and €4,000. 

There is still a world to be won here, by the way, according to Hadziarapovic. Because many creators 'forget' to register their compositions or creations with Buma/Stemra. "Musicians are creative people. They often don't have much to do with administrative work," Hadziarapovic knows.

"As a result, they unknowingly leave a lot of money lying around. Money that is then distributed to the people who do register with Buma." His advice? Above all, register your compositions and keep track of them. "There are stories that people are suddenly entitled to a few tonnes! But of course those are the exceptions."

Composer Renger Koning himself does not list all his compositions with Buma/Stemra. "I only list those pieces that I know will be streamed more than 1,000 times. It takes quite some time to list a piece. And if it only earns me a tenner, I'd rather spend my time composing."

This is how a user licence works

With royalty-free music, you often pay for a user licence. This means you pay to use a composition. Sometimes creators offer this for free, but usually you pay a fee. This can range from €5 to as much as €500 per song. 

Renger Koning makes packages for podcasters. "Compare it to a jingle package for a radio station," Koning explains. "I make several versions of a composition, both in terms of length and intensity. And then I sell such a package for a certain amount. With this, I give permission to use this music. So the buyer pays for user rights." 

In King's case, it is about exclusive user rights. The buyer of the package is the only one allowed to use the pieces in the package. Rights-free music is often offered on music databases and is available to everyone. So you are likely to have multiple podcast makers using the same piece of music. 

Tips for music in your podast

Do you want music in your podcast? Or do you use music in your podcast? Then we definitely recommend you watch the entire Masters Of Podcasting episode on copyright listen. For your convenience, we list a few tips for you here.

Musical podcast tips:

  • Before choosing music: establish what kind of podcast you are making and what kind of atmosphere you want to convey; this will help you find suitable music
  • Don't pick 'just any music' off the internet, but take your time
  • Listen to several compositions that fit the mood you are looking for.
  • Have third parties listen in and ask for their opinions
  • Choosing royalty-free music from a music database? Read the licence carefully so you know where you can use this music; sometimes restrictions apply in certain countries
  • Would you like a custom-made composition, but are afraid it will be too expensive? Have a chat with the composer about the possibilities; often more is possible than you think
  • Use the music in your podcast as branding; so not only in your podcast, but also under videos on your socials, on YouTube, your website or during events!

About Masters Of Podcasting

Masters Of Podcasting is Springcast's brand new podcast. In this show, we engage with experts in the field of podcasting. These can be professionals who guide organisations through the podcasting process, as well as entrepreneurs and organisations who have started successful podcasts themselves in recent years. 

The first season of Masters Of Podcasting is a series of ten episodes. A new episode will be published every Tuesday. You can watch these here find. Want to know more about this podcast? Then keep an eye on our socials or subscribe to the show in your favourite podcast app. 

Femke de Walle

Femke de Walle

Storyteller in sound, word and image, coming from the world of radio. Years of experience as a radio producer/DJ, reporter, newsreader and journalist. Writes blogs and produces podcasts for Springcast.

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