Clear the Path: Music Licensing for Musical Theater

Oct 25, 2022


By: James Rocco

 Hi TheaterMakers! I'm James Rocco – some people call me Rocco, some Jamie – I am cool with all of them.

Like many of us in the theater industry, I have worn multiple hats: singer, actor, writer, producer, consultant, administrator, and, most frequently, director. In March of 2020, I was working at the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle and came home to St. Paul for a "quick weekend" visit. That following Monday, the Covid lockdown began, and my trip turned into a very, very, very long "quick weekend."

 As we all dove headfirst into this new reality, I joined other theatermakers in discovering new ways to keep creative. Suddenly, I was producing online readings, YouTube and Facebook videos, creating online concerts and podcasts, consulting and career coaching, and taking lessons myself. Everything signed #NothingCanStopLiveTheatre.  

 As our worldwide intermission extended, I rediscovered my affection for parts of my career that had gone ignored. Most notably, the shows I have written that use pre-existing music.

Light bulb:

"What a perfect moment to check up on those clearances, Rocco!"

It turns out an administrative "tidying up" task gave me a new hat that fit quite soundly (pun fully intended): music license and clearance agent.

Upon reflection, it really should come as no surprise. I have always fancied myself a music fanatic and curious historian. I embrace navigating contracts, removing boundaries from theatermaking, discovering connections, and "digging in" with friends new and old.

While exploring this new craft, I learned from generous industry experts like Roger Bean, Janet Billig Rich, and Linda Osher. Before I knew it, I had cleared music for about 15 shows. The most rewarding moments are when you search for a song that seemingly has no publisher and are led to the writers' family members. It's so much fun to hear their stories about the songs.

Parallel to this time, I talked with Renee Prola, my former associate at The Ordway Center for Performing Arts. Renee is the best contract and company manager I've ever worked with, and we had been tossing around business ideas. And…

Voila! — Thirty Saints Music Licensing

A division of Thirty Saints Productions and The Songbook Live Experience, was born.

We are here to help make the intimidating process of getting music cleared much less scary.

The truth is, every time someone uses someone else's copyrighted work, they must get permission and a license to use that work. The use of this work can range from sheet music reproduction to onstage theatrical runs to major motion pictures. If these licenses aren't pursued, the user may be subject to legal action or litigation. Mind you, this is an industry in its arguably most tumultuous and ever-changing time. From streaming rights to royalty structures for multiple performances to hundreds of royalties for shorter fragments of songs – these are all realities in today's multi-faceted ways of storytelling, and these are all things we can assist you in navigating.

Thirty Saints Music Licensing primarily handles Theatrical Licenses, which make it possible to use pre-existing songs in a stage play, musical, or revue. 

We have also dabbled in Sync Licensing (for music paired with visual media aka commercials, films, streaming, advertisements, and more) and Master Licenses (a license that gives the user permission to use a pre-recorded version of a piece in an audio or visual project.) Sync and Master Licenses often go hand in hand.

As a longtime supporter of artists, I feel I was called to this path. After all, music licenses were created as the primary way artists receive royalties for their music. And ultimately, we at Thirty Saints Music Licensing believe in the importance of respecting our fellow artists. Interested in learning more? Have a project you need help with?

Let's get to work! Visit us at or drop me a note at [email protected].



1501 Broadway

New York, NY 10036

Phone: 877-806-9969

Email: [email protected]