How to Not Use Commercial Music in Your Podcast

I really wanted to play I Left My Wallet in El Segundo in the last episode. This is why I didn’t.

Here are those guides I promised:

Full Transcript

When I start working on an episode I usually begin with a working title. It helps me organize my thoughts and usually becomes the actual title of the episode. The working title of the last episode was “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo,” a cultural reference to a Tribe Called Quest song and also a big beat remix by Fatboy Slim. I really wanted to play that music as I faded in or out in the same way that you hear some cultural reference or play on words in the bumper music between stories on your favorite radio show.

But I didn’t.

Let me back up a little bit and give you a little disclaimer. I am not a lawyer, I am not giving you legal advice, I am just sharing an anecdote about something I chose not to do.

I researched the state of the art in playing and licensing copyrighted works on a podcast. It’s been close to a decade since I last thought about music in podcasts — back when Brian Ibbott came to a licensing agreement with ASCAP and BMI. Those are the two largest artists rights organizations, at least in the US. They make sure that artists get paid when someone plays their song.

I started my search by looking for either version of the song on both ASCAP and BMI’s websites. A search based in the title of the track didn’t return anything. After a little digging I was able to find it by searching by artist at ASCAP. Okay, so now I have something I can license.

I then drilled down in to what license could i acquire from ASCAP that would let me play a few seconds of a specific song on my podcast. It turns out that a Play license designed for small websites with fewer than 30,000 visits and less than $2000 of revenue a month fits the tinycast well.

I filled out a form on their website. I could be covered under a non-interactive license for just $242 a year. If that was all it took I probably would have paid up and played the song. I really wanted to play the song. But it turns out that this is just the tip of the licensing iceberg.

I like to think of what I’m doing as making radio. The transmission is a little different — downloading something to a browser or a device instead of listening to it over the air. It turns out that little difference of offering the podcast for download changes everything from a licensing perspective.

See now I’m providing a work for download and distribution. That’s a whole other license that I also need and it’s called a mechanical license. The going rate for one of these licenses, usually available from the Harry Fox Agency, is 9.1 cents per download. This can be done in self service fashion by visiting

If that was all I needed to do I was seriously considering doing it. Right now each episode is only download a few times so it would be easy to pay for. I didn’t want to have to pull a show from the archives if it started to get too expensive, but I was thinking about it.

But we’re not even done yet. The last thing I needed (at least I think it’s the last thing) was a master use license that gives you the right to use a specific recording of a song. This license needs to come from the person or entity that owns the recording itself. This is often a music label. Several guides suggested using the contact information listed in the CD liner notes as a starting point for obtaining this license.

This is where I hope you know what a CD is.

That is when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to play the song. This is where pretty much everybody realizes they’re not going to be able to play the song.

I could have hummed or otherwise performed my own rendition of the song for a mere $242 plus 9.1 cents a download, but honestly you don’t want to hear that and it’s not what was in my head. It hardly seemed worth it.

I’ll link up a couple of guides that have a little more background on the topic in the show notes. Actually using using music in your podcast will have to wait for another day.

This is Matt Croydon, still not a lawyer, for the tinycast.
On the web at and on Twitter @thetinycast.