Understanding backing track music copyright

Hi kenny,

My wife & I tour the folk scene, playing traditional & contemporary music – what some might call covers.

We know the traditional stuff is copyright free, but the other tunes aren’t.

As we play our own instruments & sing, we don’t need backing tracks. Therefore how do we allow for royalty payments on our own home produced CD, which we sell at clubs, pubs and festivals?

I know this isn’t stricktly in your field, but the MU (Musicians Union) didn’t give me much help, apart from saying use a professional studio to make the recordings – expensive!



Hi Bob

It’s not really the Musicians Union who deal with these sort of things – the responsibility for collecting royalties and giving licencing advice actually lies with the MCPS and PRS, not the MU.

In saying that, I would have expected the MU to have been able to advise you because they are in the music industry and should know about these things, even if they don’t have direct responsibility for music licensing.

At the very least they should have been kind enough to point you in the right direction to the local MCPS branch (which they must have regular dealings with and know about)!

It’s not a very good advert for MU membership. No wonder there’s only a small minority of acts I know who have bothered to join the MU!

I’ve written an article about music licensing for recording an album which should give you all the info you need.

Many old folk songs do not have any copyright attached to them because either the royalty period has expired or no-one knows who wrote the song in the first place. So if you are intending releasing an album of songs which are all traditional, royalty free songs, you won’t need any permissions from anyone.

But if you are going to include even just one song on your album which has been written by someone else and is copyrighted, then you will need a licence even though all the other songs on your album are copyright free.