Gift certificates are back and better than ever!!!!!Purchase gift certificates here!

Play That Funky Music! Choosing & Using Tunes for Your Act

Happy Holidays, Dear Danglers!!!!! Many of you had questions about music – legal issues surrounding use, how to choose it, whether you should have it composed, etc. So, while we’re up to our eyeballs in the sounds of the season, I thought I would serenade you with a few musical musings!


Legal Fun – CAN You Use That Song?

No, probably not. Unless you have contacted the artist and received permission, or paid for the use of a song, you cannot legally use that tune. There’s a popular myth out and about that you can use up to 30 seconds of a song without having to pay royalties or fees, but it ain’t true I’m sad to say. But never fear – you’ve got options!

  • live dangerously, use the music anyway, and hope you don’t get caught. Truth? Most artists out there are using somone else’s music and not paying to do so. If you’re busted, you will likely receive a “cease and desist” letter before the artist takes further measures (but you never know…). In addition to the legal issues, there’s one big thing you need to consider: other performers will HAPPILY steal *your* music for their act. Good songs are tough to find, so don’t be surprised when you arrive at your next gig to find that three of you will have to change your music because four of you showed up wanting to perform to the “Matrix” soundtrack!
  • contact the artist and request permission. This tends to work better with lesser-known bands. If you really love the song, it’s worth a shot!
  • pay to use a popular song. Click here to delve into this very involved topic.
  • Pay to use royalty-free music from a site like or . Have a look – the songs don’t suck!
  • Have your music composed. This is by far my favorite option! Once your act is REALLY finished, you can have a perfect piece of music created just for you – no one can swipe it, it’s completely unique, and it suits your act perfectly. WIN!


Choosing Tunes: Music Must-Know

Whatever you decide to go with, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Levels are crucial. Music that stays in one place for five minutes is booooooooooooooooooring for circus acts. Look for changes in tempo, percussion, orchestral levels, etc. – you want LOTS of variation!
  • Lyrics are tricky! Unless your piece is actually about the words, it gets super weird. An audience will automatically assume your piece is about whatever lyrics are playing, so don’t trot out that song about motorcyles, waxing, and a pickle unless you mean it! (note from Laura: please, PLEASE – do not make a piece about motorcycles, waxing, and pickles. Please.)
  • Keep your audience in mind. Cirque-style corporates require one thing, your roommate’s bohemian naked art fest requires something completely different.


Whatever you choose, keep in mind that music is one of the most important elements of your performance – don’t choose it lightly! Love and pull-ups, Laura


As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.


Spread the word. Share this post!

8 comments on “Play That Funky Music! Choosing & Using Tunes for Your Act”

  1. Kate Reply

    Hi there. This is my first piece of choreography that I have choreographed, ever… My husband is a composer. So using a piece of music that he composed was a no brainer. The piece is called The Treasure Fleet and it is loosely based on the controversial book, 1421: The Year China Discovered the World.

    Anyway, if you need a composer contact my husband, Rob, he would love to compose something for you!

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Amazing, Kate! And thank you for the composer contact – so valuable!!!! 🙂

  2. Michelle Reply

    Hi there. I come from recreational poledancing and I’m now crossing over into aerial. In poledancing, most performances use popular songs with lyrics. As such, I know how to search for those quite easily, but I’m not sure how to find good songs without lyrics! At the moment, I’m looking for 2 songs that fit the theme ‘Dark Carnival’ for an aerial silks student showcase where the music has to be approved by the dance studio (bellydancing) that are setting it up. This is proving very difficult! Does anyone have suggestions? Thanks!

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Hi Michelle! It’s super tough! There’s really no rhyme or reason to it, I’m afraid. iTunes is useful in that it offers suggestions similar to a song you select, and once you find a few artists you like, you can often branch out from there. Try looking at some Beats Antiques, Dead Can Dance, Bond, and Loreena McKinnet for a start. Hope that helps a bit!

  3. Michelle Reply

    Oooh you’re awesome, thanks Laura! And I’m going to research this idea of getting something composed for you. Do you then also have to pay someone to record it in the instrument/s of your choice?

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Hi Michelle! It’s been my experience that the composer provides you with a finished piece of music, recorded and ready to go! I think it may be a different story if you want something played on a really out-there instrument, but we’ve been given completed pieces (and LOVED them!). 🙂

  4. Stephanie Reply

    Here’s a question: If you’re performing in a nightclub, bar, theater, at a festival, etc… and the venue has paid their ASCAP fees and has one of those “blanket” licences, are you not covered?

    Used to date a musician/show promoter and we had this discussion all the time because I was worried about pissing off musicians/record companies… hasn’t happened yet but I am small potatoes compared to some of you folks.

    Certainly if you are creating your OWN SHOW you would need original music or pay licenses, but I’m talking about the one-off variety show performers and nightclub/festival gigs…

    • Lewitwer Reply

      My understanding (which may be incorrect) is that ASCAP does not cover dramatic performance – circus included. It would cover pre-show music, or ambient music in a bar or lounge, but not performance music.

Leave a Reply to Michelle Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *