(The original version of this article was first published on the Mp3 Backing Trax website circa 2006 – 2012)
You could risk a fine or the venue where you work could be closed down if you use unlicensed backing tracks.
Most backing tracks you see which can be downloaded free from the internet infringe copyright (despite many websites claiming that the backing track is “royalty free” or “in the public domain”). These types of backing tracks should be avoided unless you want to risk a costly prosecution by the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society.
If you are a professional entertainer, the venue where you use illegal backing tracks could have their music licence revoked too.
So, in a nutshell, it’s just not worth it!
There are plenty of properly licensed backing track companies on the internet (including us) who will supply legitimate royalty paid backing tracks, and the’re not expensive, especially considering what you can earn as a singer in just one night singing with these backing tracks.
In all cases, you should check with the backing track company before purchasing if you have a particular use in mind for your backing track and are unsure if the licence will cover it. The PRS and MCPS alliance in the UK has a wealth of good information regarding all areas of copyright licence and is well worth a look.
Always be aware when you are buying backing tracks that you are purchasing the right to use the track and not the backing track itself which always remains the property of the company who produced it. Companies retain the right to remove permission of use of their track or tracks by you if they feel you have abused their Terms and Conditions of use.
Similarly, when recording a demo using a backing track, check with the backing track supplier first to ask if the track is licensed for demo use purposes. It is illegal for the recording company who produced your demo to keep the original backing track that was used on the record and if they require that particular song for their own catalogue of backing tracks (which many studios have now) they are required to purchase a license from the producer of the track and the publishing company.
Licenses to use backing tracks as an accompaniment to live performance is granted to the named licensee ONLY. Third party use is strictly forbidden. In the event of a name change the licensee must advise the company from which they purchased the track and request that an amended license is granted and until such amended licenses are granted, use of the backing tracks is forbidden.
A license for minors may be obtained by a specific third party and third party will be responsible for proper use of the license by the minor. Always read the suppliers Terms & Conditions.
Using backing tracks in public places
Every public place, whether it be a pub, a club, a theatre, a shop, even an elevator(!), MUST have a licence to play music…and it doesn’t matter whether that music is ‘live music’ (ie a person is singing) or ‘canned music’ (ie pre-recorded). So not only do you need to make sure you are using backing tracks which are properly licenced, the venue where you are singing (even if it’s only for one night or one performance) MUST have a licence to play music.
If not, then YOU run the risk of prosecution as well as the venue, because you are breaking the law by performing music in an unlicenced venue. If you find yourself booked to play in an new venue or an unfamiliar venue, ask to speak to the owner or manager before you begin your performance and ask him/her if the venue has a current performing rights licence. If they don’t know what you’re talking about…beware!
Why backing track prices vary
The price of backing tracks varies from company to company but, generally, they all consist of a combined cost of producing the track plus the license to perform it. Be aware that more expensive backing tracks do not give any indication to the quality of the track (yes, I know, you’d expect more expensive tracks to be better quality but this isn’t the case).
For example, a large backing track company like us can produce a top quality track using the very best of equipment and musicians, yet still sell it for only a few pounds. This is because our cutomer base is so large that we will sell that track a hundreds times or a thousand times over and recoup the expense of producing it in a short space of time.
Conversely, smaller backing track websites don’t have these large economies of scale so tend to have more expensive prices, and often inferior backing tracks. Smaller studios usually don’t have the resources to buy high quality sound equipment for producing their backing tracks so you could end up paying more money for less quality.
Shop around – always ask for a sample of a backing track before buying it.
If the company can’t or won’t give you a sample, don’t buy from them!