Music Licensing tips for Fashion Designers

The Fashion Innovation Agency spoke to Resilient Music LLP’s Richard Kirstein about music rights for designers’ fashion shows and events.

Creatively, music can really enhance your show, but it’s vital that you take care of business properly. This cautionary quote by Hunter S. Thompson is worth remembering:

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

It’s not quite so bad these days. However, if you don’t license music in the proper way, you may have some unpleasant and costly consequences. Our friends at Resilient Music LLP have helped us share more light on the subject by sharing these basic tips:

Q. How do I legitimately use music tracks at my fashion show?
A. Provided that you’re not recording or filming the show, you just need ‘performing right’ licences for the venue. These are ‘blanket’ licences which cover any music tracks you want to play (with a few minor exceptions). In the UK these licences are granted by two ‘collection societies’: PRS for Music (for songs) and PPL (for recordings). You need both licences to use existing tracks by commercially-released recording artists.
If the venue is an established place that’s open to the public, they may already have PRS & PPL licences – but do check.
If your show is in a ‘pop-up’ venue such as a marquee or warehouse, you’ll probably need to get these yourself.
For PRS, start here
For PPL, start here

PRS & PPL licences are relatively cheap – They’re based on the size of the venue, number of attendees and duration of the event. Expect to pay no more than a few hundred pounds in total.

Q. What if I want to film my fashion show and post it on YouTube?
A. Using music against moving images is called ‘synchronisation’ (or ‘sync’) in the music business. So, if your fashion show has music playing in the room and you film it, you need synchronisation licences for each music track. This also applies if you edit music to the film after the event.
Unlike the blanket PRS & PPL licences, synchronisation licences are brokered per individual music title. For each track, you need to locate a minimum of two rights owners:

Music Publisher(s)          : who controls the song

Record Label                     : who controls the sound recording

If the song is unpublished, you can license it directly from the songwriter(s). If the sound recording is ‘unsigned’, you can license it directly from the artist (or their manager). The song & the sound recording are separate copyrights which need to be licensed separately.

Filming shows

Q. How do I get a synchronisation licence?
A. First off, you need to locate the rights owners. You can do this by contacting PRS & PPL. PRS for Music can tell you who controls the song. Click here & scroll down to ‘Individual Synchronisation Licensing’.

PPL have a searchable database which can tell you who controls the sound recording.

Then, once you’ve identified & located the rights owners for each track, you need to submit a sync licence request outlining your usage needs:

Term : e.g. 1 year

Territory : World-wide (if it’s online), unless you can geo-lock to specific markets

Media: e.g. YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook etc.

Context: a description of the footage against which the music will be used

The rights owners will then give you a quote, which you can try to negotiate downwards. Expect to pay more for well-known tracks than lesser-known tracks. Once you’ve agreed fees (one for the song, one for the recording) the rights owners will seek approval from their respective songwriters & artists. This approval can be granted or denied. Hopefully, if approval is granted, the rights owners will issue their invoices and licences. You’ll need to pay the invoices before any use goes ahead.

If there are any session musicians on the recording, their rights are licensed separately via the respective performers union e.g. Musicians Union.

This whole process can take a couple of weeks or more so don’t leave it to the day before your show to choose the music! Also remember to have back-up tracks in case the track you want it too expensive or the request is denied.

Q. What if I want a music artist to perform live at my fashion show?
A. For emerging artists, you’ll probably need to approach the artist’s manager. For established artists, they’ll probably have a booking agent. When making the first approach you need to clearly set out your requirements & details of the event:

Venue: size, stage size, dressing room, access points
Production: Provision of staging, P.A., Lights, Security, Catering
Music: length of set, timings, specific track requests
Clothing: Will it be mandatory for the artist to wear your collection?
PR Duties: Photos, Interviews, Social Media, Meet & Greets, Party attendances

A complete list of everything you expect from the artist – don’t leave anything to chance on the day. You can either make an offer (which could be both a fee and clothes) or ask for a quote.

REMEMBER: The fee you negotiate for the live performance does NOT grant any endorsement rights or the right to film or record the performance. It’s just a fee to turn up and play live.

Nicki Minaj

Q. What if I want to film the artist’s live performance?
A. If the artist is ‘signed’ (i.e. has an exclusive recording agreement with a record label) you need to get an ‘artist waiver’ from the record label. This is because the record label controls the exclusive right to film and record the artist. The artist waiver will probably:
Place right restrictions on how you can exploit the film
Claim ownership of the sound recording of the performance for the record label
Claim ownership of the film of the performance for the record label
That’s right, you won’t own the film of the artist’s live performance – the record label will!

ALSO …..

You will still need synchronisation licences for the use of the song and sound recording (see earlier section: ‘How do I get a synchronisation licence?’)

Q. What if I want the artist to act as a model and/or endorse by collection?
A. For emerging artists, you’ll probably need to approach the artist’s manager. For established artists, they may have an agent that brokers endorsements. As with live performances, you’ll need to set out all your requirements in detail. A common contentious point is exclusivity. You’ll want to prevent the artist working with any direct or indirect competitors. The artist’s representatives will resist this. If you do agree any form of exclusivity, it needs to be clearly defined by:

Product category (e.g. Luxury menswear only)
Territory (e.g. UK only)
Term (e.g. 1 year)

Finally, you need to agree a fee and payment schedule.

We hope you’ve found these tips useful. For further assistance with negotiating music rights please contact Richard at or follow them on Twitter @resilientmusic.