Music is an integral part of any student film. It can help set the tone, evoke emotion and create atmosphere. But it can also be a potential legal minefield if you’re not careful.
When it comes to copyrighted music, there are copyright laws that student filmmakers must follow.
It’s important to know the ins and outs of using music in your student films before you start blasting tunes on your next project.
As a general rule, it is illegal to use copyrighted music without permission in a student film, however, under the “fair use” terms, it may be possible to use copyrighted music if the student film is intended for research, teaching, private study, reviews, reports or education.
From my experience of writing and producing music for student films, I have learned that the area of “fair use” is subjective. Although a student film may fall under the “fair use” terms, the music used can still be contested by the music owner.
In this article I will dig deeper into student film music, covering:
- Can you use music in a student film?
- What does fair use mean?
- What is background music called in film?
- What music can I use in a short film?
- Free background music for short films
Can You Use Music In A Student Film?
You can use music in a student film as long as using it follows copyright laws.
When it comes to copyrighted music the law is very clear. If you’re using someone else’s copyrighted music, then you need permission from the copyright owner before you use it—or else face potential legal action down the line.
That said, there are plenty of sources where you can get free or low-cost music for your student films without worrying about copyright infringement.
One such source is Creative Commons (CC), which offers a collection of free-to-use music by independent artists who have opted to let others use their tracks under certain conditions, such as giving credit to the artist. As Creative Commons (CC) requirements vary between artists it is best to check that you are using music in your student film in a way that the musical artist approves of.
If your student film is only being shown on YouTube then another good source of music material for student films is the YouTube Audio Library. The YouTube Audio Library has a collection of free-to-use audio tracks created by YouTube itself for use on the YouTube platform which reduces the risk of copyright issues dramatically.
Finally, there are online production music services like Coya Music that offer free royalty-free music for various uses (including student films) in return for a music credit and link back to the Coya Music Library.
What Does Fair Use Mean?
As mentioned, if you are using copyrighted music (which is nearly all music, as it is very difficult to find truly copyright-free music), then you must have permission from the music copyright owner to use the music in your student film.
However, as a student filmmaker, your creative work may fall under the “fair use” copyright law terms. This may allow you to use music for free as long as it falls within fair use.
In the UK, generally “fair use” applies to music used for:
- Private study
Therefore, if you can prove that you are making a student film intended to educate and teach others then using copyrighted music could fall under the area of “fair use”.
However, if your educational or student film goes live on YouTube, their Content ID system will flag the music regardless of the intended use as, at the time of writing, YouTube takes a blanket approach to music copyright, so you will only be able to share your film privately, as intended by the “fair use” law.
When selecting music for your student film, you should always do your research to avoid any sort of copyright infringement penalties. If you are a student and plan to use the “fair use” exceptions, you should check that your student film clearly fits the fair use copyright terms in your country.
Even if your content clearly falls under the exceptions of fair use, this can still be a grey area.
Some artists are not keen on the law surrounding fair use so they will try and claim copyright infringement. They may feel they are entitled to claim the money since their song is being used. This is because they feel they are at a loss.
This is why “fair use” is considered a grey area, and should not be relied on as it is subjective.
To avoid copyright issues completely in your student film it is best to stick to clearly licensed royalty-free music. By doing this you are not relying on the subjective fair use terms.
What Is Background Music Called In Film?
When searching for student film music it can help to know what it is actually called.
Background music used in films is known as “score” or “musical score”. It helps shape the mood of a scene and gives your film more depth and emotion than dialogue alone.
A score can either be composed specifically for the film or taken from existing music libraries.
I have found that royalty-free music libraries are a great source of music for student films as the quality of music is generally really high and the costs are very low, if not zero with some free royalty-free music libraries such as Coya Music.
What Music Can I Use In A Short Film?
When it comes to music in short films, you have a few options. You can create an original score, or use existing music from libraries or sound production services.
1. Creating an Original Score
Creating an original score for your film is the most creative option and can give it a unique feel. You can hire a composer to create an original score for your film, or even compose the music yourself if you have the skills.
However, creating an original score requires time and money, so this might not be feasible for every student filmmaker.
2. Using Existing Music From Libraries or Sound Production Services
Using existing music from libraries or sound production services is a great way to get the perfect track for your film without breaking the bank.
Many sources are available, such as Creative Commons, YouTube Audio Library (for YouTube only), and Coya Music.
Just make sure you give credit to the original artist and follow any license conditions associated with the track.
Free Background Music For Short Films
While creating an original score or paying for existing music are both viable options for background music for short films, there is a third option that is often overlooked – using free background music from sources like Coya Music.
All the music on Coya Music is free to download in high-quality MP3 format and can be used as background music in your short film.
In return, the composer asks for a music credit, for example, add the following to the end credits of your short film and in any online descriptions.
Music by Coya Music
Head over to the Coya Music Free Music library to download and start using their free background music in your short film.
Using music in a student film can be a great way to add emotion and atmosphere to your project—but it’s important to know the ins and outs before you start.
From creating an original score to using existing music from libraries or sound production services, there are plenty of options available for those looking to add music to their film.
Overall, it is always important to check all the rules around music and to always ask permission if you are unsure when using student film music.
However, if you are a student and can prove you used the music in the film for teaching purposes, you’ll most likely can claim “fair use”, as long as you can show that the film is for teaching purposes or within the “fair use” guidelines.
In the UK, “fair use” of music covers music used in research, teaching, private study, reviews and reports, however, fair use is subjective and if the musical artist disagrees that your content falls under the terms of fair use, things get tricky and fair use cannot be relied on.
With so many great royalty-free music libraries out there, there are many alternatives to fair use, so if you are unsure, play it safe and choose pre-cleared royalty-free music.