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Music licensing and American Idol

Matt Haughey, May 26th, 2004

The New York Times published an article about how the music industry influences song choice on American Idol today. I’ve long suspected that contestant song choice was limited to what the show could afford to pay in licensing costs ahead of time, since the choices of songs to cover seem limited. A producer of the show is quoted heavily stating that many songs are off-limits due to audience preferences and style, but does let slip that any songs by Michael Jackson, The Beatles, and Shania Twain are completely off-limits to the show. That’s disappointing, since MJ and the Beatles are cultural icons, both selling one of the top ten music albums of all time.

Historically, there’s always been some legal leeway to allow for cover songs, though as this musician found out, the process can be a lengthy one to get the rights to everything you want to record.

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