How to Fix “This sound isn’t licensed for commercial use” on TikTok: The Ultimate Guide

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Hey there! Have you ever tried using a popular song for your business TikTok videos only to see the frustrating "This sound isn‘t licensed for commercial use" error? I feel your pain. As a fellow marketer, I‘ve been in your shoes before.

Many TikTok business and brand accounts are finding their music options limited by licensing rules against using mainstream songs without permission. But don‘t worry – in this comprehensive guide, I‘ll walk you through everything you need to know to fix this TikTok music error for good!

By the end, you‘ll learn:

  • Exactly why some accounts get the "not licensed" error
  • How TikTok‘s rules around music changed for marketers
  • Steps to fix it by switching your account type
  • Creative workarounds to legally use music as a brand
  • How this impacts your overall TikTok strategy
  • Tips to succeed marketing on TikTok even without mainstream music

Let‘s get started!

Why You‘re Getting the "Not Licensed for Commercial Use" TikTok Error

First things first – why do some TikTok accounts see this licensing error, while others don‘t?

This all comes down to the type of TikTok account you have:

Personal Account: Used for posting TikToks as an individual creator. These accounts face no music restrictions.

Business/Brand Account: Used for posting marketing content on behalf of a company. Starting in May 2020, these accounts became restricted from using mainstream music without proper licensing.

So in a nutshell, if your account is registered as a TikTok business profile, you can‘t freely use mainstream music in your videos anymore. TikTok now reviews brand accounts to check they have commercial rights to each song.

This change came after TikTok received pressure from music labels and artists. They wanted more control over their songs being used commercially without permission.

So TikTok divided music into two categories for brands:

Mainstream commercial music: The popular Billboard chart hits and viral songs on social media. This now requires a license for commercial use.

Royalty-free music: Instrumental background music that TikTok provides to brands to freely use in content. No need for additional licensing.

While it‘s a bummer we can‘t tap into mainstream hits anymore as marketers, these changes help respect music copyright and make sure artists get paid.

But how exactly did the policy shift for businesses on TikTok? Let‘s take a look:

How TikTok‘s Music Rules for Brands Changed Overnight

Up until May 2020, all TikTok accounts could use any music without worrying about licenses.

As a brand, you could easily tap into the latest chart-topping hits or viral meme songs for your videos. Music helped content stand out and get shared.

But TikTok ultimately had to rethink its loose music policies to comply with copyright law.

Major record labels like Sony began suing TikTok and issuing takedown notices of their songs used without permission.

To satisfy these labels and avoid further lawsuits, TikTok instituted a major policy change in 2020.

They divided music into the two categories of mainstream vs royalty-free based on licensing:

  • Personal accounts can use both mainstream and royalty-free music with no restrictions at all.

  • Brand accounts can only use TikTok‘s royalty-free catalog – to use mainstream music, they now need to obtain proper commercial licenses first.

This shift granted music rightsholders more control over who can commercially leverage their content. But for many brands accustomed to freely using the biggest hits of the day, it amounted to a creative limitation on their TikTok presence.

Let‘s look at how we can fix this annoying music error as a brand account.

How to Fix the TikTok Music Error by Switching to a Personal Account

The most straightforward fix is to simply switch your TikTok account from a business profile to a personal profile.

Since personal accounts have no musical restrictions, this immediately grants you access again to use mainstream music however you want. Problem solved!

Here are the steps to change your account type on TikTok:

  1. Open your TikTok account‘s profile page
  2. Tap the "three dots" icon in the top right corner
  3. Select “Manage Account” in the menu
  4. Tap “Switch to Personal Account” and confirm your selection

It only takes a few seconds, and you‘ll regain full music abilities like the good ol‘ days.

But there are downsides to losing your business profile:

  • Lose access to detailed TikTok analytics and metrics
  • No more linking to your website or online profiles in your bio
  • Inability to run paid TikTok ad campaigns to boost reach

Weigh whether these business features are essential to your TikTok marketing goals before switching over to personal. Some brands maintain multiple accounts to separate business and personal content.

If you decide to operate as a business profile for the analytics and promotional capabilities, you‘ll have to abide by the royalty-free music restrictions.

Limitations and Downsides of Only Using Royalty-Free Music

Operating as a business profile means you can only use TikTok‘s limited catalog of royalty-free music.

The advantage of these songs is they‘re 100% cleared for commercial use on TikTok. You‘ll never get a takedown notice or licensing error.

But the selection tends to be mostly generic mood music and background instrumental tracks. You won‘t find any of the latest chart-toppers here.

This poses multiple marketing challenges:

  • Less opportunities for viral hits. It‘s tough to make content blow up without taping into trending songs and memes.

  • No emotional connection. Mainstream hits provide a nostalgic resonance that helps content strike a chord.

  • Need for more innovation. Requires extra effort to constantly come up with fresh ideas beyond song trends.

  • Difficulty standing out. If all brands use the same royalty-free music, you‘ll blend into the crowd.

  • Lower brand recognition. An unknown melody won‘t get associated with your brand in viewers‘ minds.

  • Less control over UGC. Can‘t stop users adding your brand into content with mainstream songs.

The ideal solution is coming up with creative alternatives to make up for the lack of popular music. Let‘s look at some tactics and workarounds.

Creative Workarounds for Legally Using Music as a Brand on TikTok

While the options are more limited compared to personal accounts, there are still some savvy ways brands can creatively tap into music trends legally:

Use mainstream music uploaded by other users. Songs uploaded directly by other creators may bypass restrictions. Duet or stitch these clips into your own content.

Partner with up-and-coming artists. Reach out to lesser-known artists to collaborate on custom music for your brand at affordable rates. Offer revenue sharing.

Produce original songs. Hire musicians to create a song unique to your brand that you fully own commercial rights to.

Only use very short snippets. Some experts argue clips under 6-7 seconds may fall under fair use depending on context.

Do a cappella covers. Sing or rap your own musical covers without any background music.

Leverage remixes and parodies. Covers that transform a song creatively may not face the same licensing issues.

Jump on trends early. Keep tabs on emerging viral sounds and ride the wave in your content before songs fully blow up into the mainstream.

It takes some musical sleuthing, but it is possible to put together a strategy allowing you to tap into the biggest TikTok trends without facing licensing headaches.

Now let‘s pull back and look at the bigger picture – how do these music limitations impact your overarching TikTok marketing strategy?

How Mainstream Music Restrictions Impact Your Broader TikTok Marketing Strategy

For brands seeking an organic presence on TikTok, the inability to easily leverage mainstream music poses some marketing obstacles:

Fewer viral opportunities. Relying solely on royalty-free music makes it tougher to create those lightning-in-a-bottle hits.

Difficulty connecting emotionally. Popular music provides a deeper emotional resonance that helps marketing content resonate more powerfully.

More need for innovation. Constantly coming up with fresh, creative ideas without music trends is challenging.

Less differentiation from competitors. If all brands in a niche use similar royalty-free songs, it‘s harder to stand out.

Weaker brand imprinting. Without a recognizable mainstream melody, your content is less likely to imprint your brand in minds.

Reduced control over associations. Can‘t stop customers adding your brand into UGC videos with unapproved music.

Table: Impacts of Mainstream Music Restrictions for Brands on TikTok

Challenge Impact
No viral trend opportunities Less organic reach
Lack of emotional connection Lower engagement
Need for more innovation Increased effort
Less differentiation from competitors Blending into the crowd
Weaker brand imprinting Lower awareness
Less control over associations Risk of unauthorized use

The key is getting creative to build your own signature style – from visuals, effects, editing, captions, narratives and more. Rely less on popular music to attract eyeballs.

Lean more heavily into your brand‘s unique identity. Tell compelling stories that resonate with your target audience. Produce content that feels authentic to your brand, even without the top 40 hits.

It may take more effort, but it‘s absolutely still possible to cut through the noise on TikTok as a business without music trends to lean on.

Tips for Brands to Succeed on TikTok Without Mainstream Music

Here are my top tips for brands seeking organic TikTok marketing success within music licensing limitations:

Analyze competitors – See what music strategies succeed in your niche for inspiration.

Jump on trends early – Capitalize on sounds before they go fully mainstream.

Use data to guide choices – Use analytics to identify what songs resonate most.

Form artist relationships – Foster partnerships with music influencers and emerging acts.

Be transparent – Educate your audience on your music approach.

Get licensing sorted – Streamline approvals for any commercial usage upfront.

Focus on visual storytelling – Let bold visuals and engaging narratives shine beyond just music.

Highlight your uniqueness – Show your brand‘s personality through content style and tone.

Leverage other platforms – Promote your TikTok presence on sites where music rules are looser.

With the right strategy tailored to the TikTok music rules, you can absolutely produce stand-out video content that captures attention and delivers results for your brand.

Closing Tips: How to Succeed With Music on TikTok

  • Dig into analytics to identify winning songs resonating with your niche and brand.

  • Stay on the pulse of trends through keyword tracking so you can jump on rising music memes early.

  • Cultivate partnerships with music creators and influencers to open up collaboration opportunities.

  • Get copyrights and licenses sorted upfront so any commercial music use is streamlined and compliant.

  • And most importantly, focus on captivating visual storytelling and content style that shines even without mainstream songs.

While music is an amazing creative tool on TikTok, it‘s not the end all be all. With the right strategy tailored to fit the platform rules, your brand can absolutely produce stand-out videos that capture attention and deliver results.

The key is learning how to showcase your brand‘s unique identity and tell compelling stories authentically, with or without the latest chart-topping hits.

I hope this guide helped explain exactly why you got that pesky "not licensed" error on TikTok and how to fix it for good. The limitations are frustrating, but surmountable. Feel free to reach out if you ever want to chat TikTok music strategies!


Written by Alexis Kestler

A female web designer and programmer - Now is a 36-year IT professional with over 15 years of experience living in NorCal. I enjoy keeping my feet wet in the world of technology through reading, working, and researching topics that pique my interest.