A DJ’s Guide to Navigating Copyright Issues in a DJ Livestream World

The music industry took a major beating from the pandemic, and DJs found themselves taking some of the most significant blows, leading to the rise of the DJ livestream.

A DJ’s guide to navigating copyright issues in a livestream world

Can you imagine the copyright claims and issues that popped up when the entire music community went online seemingly overnight?

Music is a universal language, but when it came to marketing it almost exclusively online, a lot was getting lost in translation.

The Day The Music Died

You had DJs who could no longer reach their fanbase on the dancefloor, so they naturally started going LIVE online. The problem? They didn’t have the rights and licenses to do that. They may have purchased the tracks, but sharing them on social media is a whole different ballgame from a copyright perspective.

So shutting things down seems like the only option. If you don’t have the proper licenses, you can’t post the music. It doesn’t sound too complicated yet.

But WAIT – can the algorithms determine if someone does or doesn’t have posting rights? Just ask Metallica, who was muted for playing their own song on Twitch. That would be a hard “No.” The algorithms don’t always know what’s up.

Twitch and Facebook both took a “When in doubt, BAN!” approach. How do you think that went over with their users? Musicians, DJs, or anyone logging into a social media platform will not respond well to constantly disappearing posts and threats of account suspension. Talk about a reason to sing The Blues.

The Napster Effect

It didn’t take long for platforms to realize they needed to evolve with the user’s needs rather than fight them. YouTube was ahead of the game with its content ID structure, but there’s still work to do.

Do you remember Napster? Like today’s social media users, Napster subscribers weren’t out to do anything wrong. They just wanted to listen to and share their favorite music.

A court order shut down the music-swapping site in 2001 over copyright issues. However, the end of Napster in the early 2000s did little to stop the digital revolution. People wanted to get their music differently, and the music industry had to innovate and meet those needs.

In a post-pandemic world, we are in the midst of another revolution. The live stream obsession isn’t going away. People practically live on social media, and music is part of their lives and who they are. 

Are you posting an Instagram story from the car? The radio is on in the background.

Are you doing a Facebook LIVE at an outdoor concert? That music will be on social media.

And DJs? They make their living sharing other people’s music. Platforms must ensure they can do this legally, whilst paying everyone involved and without the headache of their DJ livestream being shut down.

If your head is spinning and you don’t know where to start with copyright issues, I’ve got you covered. Here are the answers to four common questions about what you can and can’t do in the online space:

1.) “Can you post a video with someone else’s music?”

Maybe you CAN, but no, you’re not allowed. This can be confusing because people do it all the time.

You won’t get far with a famous track that a prominent music publisher is behind. The large labels upload their catalogs to the platforms’ libraries, and voila! You’re not posting it. Insert glaring red pop-up message telling you about a copyright issue.

Independent artists don’t have that kind of backup, but their distributors are slowly but surely catching up to the big guys. DIY musicians will soon determine when their tracks are being used and monetize them more easily. This is great for the hardworking musician but another point of frustration for a DJ.

Still think you’re getting away with something? Short clips, around 15 seconds, are in a legal grey area. This might be why some things make it through while others do not. But once a song is used longer than that, it’s likely to be muted.

Now, there is probably nothing more irritating than posting something and finding out AFTER that your content has copyright issues. After all, most people are just trying to live their lives or share their talents. Those glaring messages that force you to redo everything are the worst.

YouTube recently fixed this problem by rolling out an update that notifies you of any copyright issues BEFORE you click “post.” While Facebook and Instagram have followed suit yet, they’ll catch up eventually.

2.) “How can you livestream a DJ set without getting blocked?”

Follow these steps:

  • Contact the label.
  • Inform the distributor.
  • Contact the music publisher.
  • When you post your DJ livestream afterward, contact everyone all over again. This is considered an archived performance, and you need more licenses.

If you’re aggressively shaking your head right now, I completely understand. This is a first-class nightmare that no DIY DJ could possibly manage.

Here are two alternative routes you can take:

YouTube: Its content ID system that I mentioned before will determine if you’re using someone’s music and put the ball directly in their court.

The copyright owner can choose to block the content or monetize it.

As the user, you don’t have any control over this and can still end up with content you can’t use.

Mixcloud LIVE: This platform did it right. You upload your DJ Livestream with a setlist, and the revenue correctly makes it to everyone that it’s supposed to. With its seamless process, Mixcloud seems like the obvious choice.

The only problem? Most people aren’t exactly hanging on Mixcloud. While the platform helps DJs do everything the right way, it’s up to you to get your traffic over there.

3.) “Can you post or livestream a cover song?”

Go for it! Take a page from Justin Bieber’s book. He and other artists like Dua Lipa got their start on YouTube because the algorithms aren’t sophisticated enough to pick up covers.

If the original artist sees the content and chooses to report it, you might have to take it down. But, for the most part, covers are a safe bet.

4.) “What about premade ‘live’ performances that you share as a video?”

You’re supposed to work smarter, not harder, so filming a session on Mixcloud and wanting to repurpose it on YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram makes perfect sense.

You may hit some snares in the plan, though, as it’s likely that copyright claims will pop up. Again, YouTube is advanced enough to tell you beforehand. But, even when the other sites catch up, the risk will be the same. It will be up to the owner of the work to decide what to do, and they can always choose to remove it rather than monetize.

The DJs’ Dilemma

After digging into online copyright issues from every angle and determining that live streaming is the wave of the future, there’s just one possible conclusion to come to:

The DJs are getting screwed.

It’s not the most poetic conclusion, but unfortunately, it’s accurate. The platforms are making it easier for the music owners to get paid while leaving DJs out in the cold with fewer options to monetize.

This negates the fundamental fact that DJs are vital to the distribution process. They play the tracks for the first time to dance floors full of people (well, in places where dance floors are open. This will eventually be the norm again, though). They play them on the airwaves of the radio shows they host. 

DJs get the music out there, and they’re falling in between the cracks online.

The silver lining is that the industry is moving at warped speed, so the situation for DJs doesn’t have to last. They do have options. Mixcloud is currently the only open platform that pays all rights holders. The artists, labels, publisher, songwriters, AND the DJ is taken care of.

This makes Mixcloud a great choice, but it also offers a ray of hope. Clearly, the technology to do this exists. It is up to everyone else to catch up to what Mixcloud has done. In the meantime, DJs should focus on bringing their traffic there.

What else can a DJ do?

While we all wait for the platforms to evolve, DJs should recognize that live streaming isn’t going anywhere. Even as the world opens back up, people still hang out online, and that’s where they will continue to get their music from.  

Since proper monetization isn’t currently available in most online spaces, DJs can sell tickets to online shows. They should get paid directly through PayPal or Venmo.

Music marketing is complex, and navigating it in the digital space as a musician or DJ can be overwhelming. But with the proper support, you can simplify things!

Sign up for my SMART Launch Club here: https://smartlaunchclub.rebeccasmartbakken.com/

Inside, you’ll find:

  • Weekly live calls with me.
  • Bi-Weekly live classes.
  • Resource Library.
  • Chat Rooms

And so much more!

Despite copyright issues complicating things, music has one definite purpose: to be HEARD. If you are ready for some help with getting your music out there, click the link above, and let’s make some magic happen.



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About Me


Hi there! I’m Rebecca, a world citizen and digital marketing nomad.

Some of you may have also seen me on HGTV´s show “Beach Around the World”.

Over the years, I’ve made a name for myself in the tech/ startup industry by helping 250+ startups scale with growth hacking strategies.

Now I want to help musicians and artists to promote their music and engage better with fans on social media.

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