Music FAQ


Music is a key part of cinema and the importance of having the right music cannot be overstated. It many ways music is often what holds films together and makes it all work! A score can unlock emotion, and elevate the entire film. 

You have some choices when it comes to music/ scoring your short:

  • Record your own music
  • Use music from a subscription service (check the license)
  • Use tracks from paid or free production music sites
  • Get permission from people you know to use their music
  • Have no music, for example, 'No Country for Old Men'

If you're wondering why you can't just use music from your Spotify library then read the Copyright and Legal FAQ.

Original Music

In the case of 48Hours, the best solution is to get musicians to join your team who can write, perform and record an original score over the weekend. Not only is it easier in terms of copyright considerations - it's much more in the spirit of making the entire short within the 48Hours.

An original soundtrack can breathe life into a movie, making it stand out against those using stock production libraries. Instead of editing your film to fit existing music, a composer can craft an original, bespoke score that reacts to the emotions and rhythms in your film. You might not know any musicians, but 48Hours can be the perfect opportunity to reach out and connect with some. 48Hours is a fantastic opportunity for emerging composers to practice their craft and to meet filmmakers so don't be afraid to approach them. 

The composer will need to sign a release, giving you the right to use the music in your film. This can be a non-exclusive licence, which means if they want to use that music for other projects, they can!

Composers and musicians can be found in many places. You might see them at a gig, through music courses at polytechs or universites, or on social media, in groups such as the New Zealand Musicians Networking Group. You could also connect with the Screen Music & Sound Guild of New Zealand who have a lot of contacts and may be able to point you towards keen, emerging composers.

Subscription Music

Increasingly people are using subscription sites for music. This is where you pay an annual fee and can select from a collection of music. The license agreements on these sites vary and it is best to check with them to make sure that your subscription covers use in a 48Hours film.

Music Loops

There are many computer programs out there that use looped musical tracks to allow you to generate new songs or music by mixing together the loops e.g. Garageband. It is important when using looped music that you ensure that all the loops you use are royalty-free (i.e you don't need to pay to use them) and also allow you to use them for commercial means.

Other websites offer various types of 'royalty free' loops. You must be careful when downloading 'royalty free' loops because often the sites have provisos, either stating that the loops are only royalty-free if used for non-profit or personal projects (which isn't suitable for the 48Hours), or at the least, they require some sort of mention in the credits for their use. So you should always read the terms and conditions and make sure you abide by them.

Production Music

Production Music is music specifically made for inclusion in film, television or internet production. Production music will often come from a library and there is a charge for using it. There is usually a pre-arranged rate to use tracks (broken into how many seconds you use, and where and what you are using the music for).

Production music is designed to be easier to get the rights to use than other published music as you won't need to negotiate on a case by case basis for your tracks. It still requires contacts with the library supplier so you may need to make arrangements in advance as they may not be working over the shoot weekend.

Recorded Music and Songs

Prerecorded music and songs, the sort that you hear on the radio or buy online, will not have a flat rate for usage - this usually needs to be negotiated with the respective copyright owners over permission to use any part of that song

Published (or commercial) music requires two clearances, one from the songwriters (usually looked after by a music publisher) and the other for the sound recording (through a record label). It is a time consuming and expensive exercise, but your film cannot be screened or broadcast without those permissions.

Recording covers of original songs

Recording a new version of an existing song will not excuse your from copyright obligations to the original songwriter, even if they never performed the song themselves. As such the costs aren't necessarily all that different from using other popular recorded music and songs. You would need permission to re-record the song from the original songwriter/s and it is likely that they have contractual obligations to a publisher or record company. Again, this is generally unsuitable for use in a 48Hour film due to the potentially time consuming and expensive nature.

Recording Classical/really old music

Copyright has an expiry date - generally 50 - 70 years after the death of the artist, depending on which country they are from. So songs which are out of copyright are ok to perform and record.  Just remember though, that just because a song is really old doesn't mean you can use someone else's recording of it. Each individual recording has its own copyright, so you are going to have to record a whole new version of the song - or find a copy of the song that is definitely in the Public Domain.

Free Music Libraries

There are music databases with free music and sound effects available online. If you use music from these types of libraries please ensure you check the licensing details and terms of use to ensure the music is okay to use for your 48Hours film.

Here are some libraries with creative commons licenses where all they ask is a credit. 

- YouTube Audio Library

- Freesound

- Incompetech

- Free to Use Music