OK, let’s jump right to the point that seems clear, when it comes to live streamed and broadcasted breaking events, the breaking scene needs money and sponsors if we want to pay for the rights to play the music we want to dance to. We also need money if we want to commission musicians and producers to possibly make new music for the scene.
Yes, skateboarding has popular hip hop music playing at their events, but seeing as no one is writing a cheque for the breaking scene to have the same yet, instead of getting into that discussion I decided to ask DJ KhanFu (one word for his name if you don’t know) the process he went through to get the good music he played for the live steam of the 2022 WDSF European Championship in Manchester England. KhanFu spun for the battles alongside DJ Nobunaga, and with the competition being live streamed from the top 8 all the music played from then had to be cleared, getting permission from the artists to allow their tracks to be used.
Right now this seems like the most immediate solution until that big sponsor or company wants to invest in breaking and give us the money we need to get the music that truly fuels are breaking spirits.
Here’s the interview with DJ KhanFu.
1) How did you decide what songs were worth trying to get cleared?
I stayed away from major label releases and commercial songs, and looked at music from people in the scene whose tracks I actually liked. I went to the independent producers I knew personally or had some sort of professional relationship with.
2) Who did you actually contact to get a song cleared?
I just contacted the artist/independent producer directly, whose songs I was looking to get cleared.
3) What was the easiest way to contact the music artists, for you?
I picked up the phone and called them directly, or I went to my Facebook or Instagram and messaged them, asking if I can get the permission to play their music.
4) How did you officially cleared the songs e.g. did you write up an agreement and get it signed? Things can be as official and detailed as you need them to be. It can be a simple case of having a conversation over message. In terms of proof of agreement, I took screenshots of our conversations in case there ever was any conflict down the line. You can do contractual agreements if you want to, and would have to if involving big companies/labels.
5) What information did you provide to the music artists when asking them permission to play their tracks?
I told them what event I wanted to play their music at, which songs I wanted to play, or asked to be able to play their whole catalogue of music. I also made sure they wouldn’t strike videos with copyright claims if the battles were released online, on platforms like youtube.
6) Were there any requirements that the sporting body for the Europeans Championship in Manchester said you had to follow when picking songs to clear?
The only requirements I had were to do with safe guarding making sure I did not played songs with explicit lyrics, violence or demeaning references, so any rap songs had to be clean versions of the track. An example of one song I couldn’t play was an edit of a Biggie Smalls track because it had a line in it that says: “kick in the door waving the four-four.” Because he’s referencing a gun (the four-four) safe guarding said no to that track.
The only other requirements were that I had to show that I got the permission to play all the songs on my track list, for the live stream.
7) Did you only ask for permission to clear the songs for the European Championship in Manchester, or did you clear then for other events, worldwide?
I specifically asked for Manchester but everyone I asked said they were happy for me to play their songs at any live streamed events, going forward. In fact they encouraged me to do so because they were happy for me to support them by playing their songs at these big platforms.
8) How many songs did you get cleared for Manchester?
I don’t remember the exact number, but as many as I could. I got artist catalogues cleared, like Panko and Ill Booges, but I’d have to check the footage to remember fully. I definitely cleared more than half the songs that I needed to play for the live stream. So, if it was 48 songs for the top 8 solos to the finals, for both the B-Boys and B-Girls, I remember at least having half cleared. Nobunaga had the other half cleared, and then we just sat down and made sure we weren’t going to play the same songs.
9) How many songs did you actually need to get cleared for the WDSF European Championship in Manchester?
It was for top 8 to the finals, which is 8 battles in each solo category. It’s best of 3 rounds, so 8 x 2 x 3 = 48 songs cleared by 2 DJs. This was, and is, a lot feasible and affordable than having to play an entire round robin, and top 16, with cleared music.
For context, one top 16 round robin is 24 battles per solo category.
Two songs per battle = 48 songs for one category.
That’s 96 songs altogether, to do the B-Boy and B-Girl round robins.
Then you need another 48 song for the top 8 to finals.
That’s 144 songs that we would need to get cleared/permission to play.
10) Did you get permission to play any songs from famous music artists?
It was pretty much songs from independent producers, either from the breaking scene or related to the scene. We didn’t have the budget to get songs cleared by famous music artists.
11) With your knowledge, can you give a summary of how clearing songs for sporting events is different to clearing songs for cultural breaking events?
Breaking scene events are done off the books if you think about it. If you hold a live stream on Facebook and Youtube, you are hoping your best that they don’t cut off your live stream, if you are playing music from famous music artists. Youtube is very lenient, they won’t really cut a live stream off but maybe they’ll mute certain parts after if you play music you don’t have permission to play. Facebook and Instagram are very strict, they’ll cut off the stream. That’s another reason some events get break DJs to play their own beats, because their music is not on any platforms that will copyright strike their video, or cut off the live stream.
Sporting events are different because they are usually broadcasted on TV channels, not just live streamed. Permission needs to be secured by the artists of the music you’re going to play, or you open yourself to being sued for unfair and copyright use.
12) Where are some of the best places to find music made by independent producers and DJ, on the breaking scene?
Everyone already knows about the Red Bull library.Break DJ’s are all also on band camp, sound cloud and Instagram, with edits, remixes or original songs they’ve made. Very few DJs are doing full on productions. I don’t do full on producing and I know Nobunaga doesn’t either, but we both make edits and occasional remixes here and there.
13) If someone was to pay to get musicians to create music, how would they go about finding out costs?
Speaking with UK rates in mind, I would say to look at the musicians union for basic rates for commissions and artist costs. This would be the minimum someone would have to do. Then, depending on the individual artist, they might charge more.
Things that need to be taken into account are also costs of mixing/mastering a song, as well, and the number of songs needed to be cleared for a live stream. The PRS website (https://www.prsformusic.com/) is a good start for those who want to look into music licensing.
End of Interview
Please Note- This is interview is simply to bring some clarity and insight into the process DJ KhanFu went through, to try and help others and show that it can be done. When it comes to the debate of “who should be paying for breaking to be able play our music,” is not the purpose of this interview. I’ll leave everyone else to continue going back and forth on that. ; )