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Music in Demos

A question from Michael:

Hi. I subscribe to your monthly voice-over newsletter, and I have what I hope is an easy question:

When getting my first demo CD produced for commercial work (no jobs booked, just trying to get into the business), does my demo CD producer need to have someone who will write the background music for my CD, or is it alright to use non-copyrighted music? I'm just trying to understand if I should expect my own personalized music for each commercial clip.

Here's Jim's answer:


Whether you're producing your first demo . . . or your 10th, it is technically a violation of copyright to use music from commercially available store-bought CD's (like movie soundtracks, etc.). In order to legally use copyrighted music it is necessary to obtain permission from the composer or publisher, and this can be a very time-consuming and expensive process.

Hiring someone to compose original music can get very expensive, so it's not worth the time, energy, or money spent. I'm not sure what you mean by "non-copyrighted music". Unless the music was published prior to 1948, it is covered under International Copyright laws. Even original music is technically protected under copyright law. Will you get in trouble if you use a popular song or contemporary music in your demo? Probably not, but why take the chance—and even more important, why risk using recognizable music in your demo. After all, your demo needs to present you in a totally professional manner, and the last thing you need is for a prospective client to be listening to the music instead of your voice.

Over the past several decades, there has been a flood of companies that produce music specifically for use in television, radio, film and commercials. These companies are known as music libraries . . . and yes, their music is protected under copyright. The difference is that these libraries include certain "rights" with the purchase of their CD's. There are two "rights" issues that come into play when using music for a commercial, on the air, or in a demo: 1) the synchronization right: the right to synchronize voice, images or anything else against the music, and 2) the performance right: the right to perform the work publicly. Most music libraries license only the Sync right and require broadcasters to be licensed by the two music performance licensing firms of ASCAP and BMI.

When you start to look for a producer to put your demo together, you should be looking for recording studios that work with voiceover talent - you do NOT want a studio that deals with music recording. Not all VO studios will produce demos because demo production can take a long time, and the studio may not be familiar with demo formats. Look for a studio that has produced demos in the past and listen to examples of their work. (for more info, go to When you find a studio that will produce your demo, ask them what they have in the way of music libraries, and if they have any charges for library music. You'll need to take into consideration music fees, studio time, and any cost of materials (like a master CD or backup CD's you'll take with you) as you plan your budgeting.

In some studios, the session engineer will be your producer/engineer and will direct you through the production process. In other studios, you may need to bring in your own producer. If you do, make absolutely certain that the person you hire to produce for you has a thorough understanding of voiceover work and knows the studio process inside out. The last thing you want is to have a producer who doesn't know how to produce - that will cost you a lot of time and money, and you will probably not get the best delivery for your demo tracks.

OK, I just gave you a whole lot more info than you were asking for (so much for answering a "simple" question) but hopefully this will help get you on the right track for producing your first demo.

James R. Alburger

Copyright © James R. Alburger - used by permission.
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