Pub band songs

November 8, 2015

Places of rock n roll

So back to my usual music theme, I would like to talk a bit about putting song lyrics in your manuscripts. I am a big music buff and often listen to music while I'm writing for inspiration. Also, since I'm a word person, I just naturally gravitate towards songs with lyrics that speak to me. No matter what I write, my characters usually are drawn to music in some way because of this, so it is only natural that my mind wanders to what song lyrics could be really powerful in a scene. This is all well and good when I'm writing along on my manuscript and the only people to see it are me and my secretive critique partners. But what if I put song lyrics in my novel and then it actually goes on to be sold to a publisher? Is it okay to leave them in there or do I have to, like, ask someone if it's cool I have their lyrics in my book?

Now, there are a TON of articles and blog posts already out there on this topic that did a lot more research, have a lot more credibility, and probably structured the logistics behind this a lot better than I could. So what I'm going to do is pluck out the information that meant the most to me and then leave you with the articles I found if you want to dig deeper into the topic.

Here is what I found most important to know on this topic:

  • You DO NOT need to get permission from anyone to use or reference the TITLE of the song. Titles can't have a copyright, so if your character just makes a mention of a song title, you are A-OKAY.
  • You CANNOT claim "fair use" and then use song lyrics in your manuscript without securing permissions from the artist. Since they are so short, using just a few lines of a song is using a significant amount of the piece.
  • If you absolutely MUST use the lyrics in your novel, be prepared to pay anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand - even for a few lines of the song. Also be prepared for the outcome in which the artist denies your request altogether and you have no choice but to take the lyrics out.
  • Having lyrics in your manuscript will not discourage an agent from reading on OR from signing you as a client - but it will (most likely) come up as a topic of concern and you will (most likely) be responsible for paying the price for the permissions if you insist on keeping them.
  • There are quite a few songs that are considered Public Domain and, therefore, free to use without having to acquire permissions. These usually include Christmas songs, hymns, patriotic songs, etc. You can find what is considered public domain here:
  • Local musicians MAY BE more accommodating than professional recording artists because putting their songs into a book is like free advertising if they are not well known. If you are set on trying to feature lyrics but don't want to hand over wads of cash for popular songs, check out your local music scene to see if any songs fit your theme or message.
  • As a last resort, make up a band and write your OWN lyrics for your story. Push your own creative envelop! Who hasn't, at one point in his or her life, wanted to be a rock star??

As promised, here are some of the articles I found while researching this topic. Check them out for more information:

Why Do You Need to Secure Permissions? - Jane Friedman
So You Want to Use Song Lyrics in Your Novel? 5 Steps to Getting Rights to Lyrics - Anne R. Allen
Intellectual Property and Its Uses - Part 3: Lyric Reprint Permissions - Lori L. Lake

GGSHW04_5007 Singalong Medley2 pub songs sung by Gordon Thomas
GGSHW04_5007 Singalong Medley2 pub songs sung by Gordon Thomas
Irish Pub Songs For The 5-String Banjo Volume 1
Irish Pub Songs For The 5-String Banjo Volume 1

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