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Using music in your production

Using music to enhance your production

According to the first theatrical scholar, Aristotle, music is one of the six elements that are essential to drama. Live or recorded music can add much to a dramatic production.  

For example, to: 

  • create mood and atmosphere 
  • build tension 
  • strengthen an emotion or empathise the action onstage 
  • help set the scene 
  • indicate a change of time or location 
  • focus attention on a particular character 

Make sure that the music enhances your drama and doesn’t detract from what’s happening onstage. A director must consider the style of the production and select music and sound to complement that. Some playwrights specify the music they want to be used in their scripts. Tennessee Williams, for example, specified the use of blues music in several of his plays. Sometimes it used to help establish a certain mood or atmosphere. As in film, plays can use music to associate the action on stage with a certain theme. Certain characters and story elements will be associated with a particular musical theme to clue in the audience that they should be thinking or feeling a certain way. This is often done subtly when it is done most effectively.  

Source Music is music that occurs in the world of the play, such as fanfare upon entering a royal court. This is important for obvious reasons, as it helps to draw us into the world in the same way that a costume would. 

Underscoring is atmospheric music that would not occur in the world of the play and exists strictly to enhance or depress the mood of the action on stage. Underscoring is important because it creates a more immersive experience, as we frequently associate memory with sound and even song. Music can enhance our ability to empathize with the characters on stage and become more invested in their conflicts. 


All music belongs to someone and (apart from some royalty free music and sound effects (SFX)) and so has to be paid for. 

Such a license to use music in your production can be obtained from PPL PRS, who distinguish between: – 

  • Music which is not heard by the cast such as overture, entr’acte, exit, “incidental” “underscore” and “curtain” music. 
  • Interpolated music is music that is audible to characters within their dramatic world. This can be a song/dance number, humming a tune, or even as discreet as a ringtone or radio playing in the background of the scene. If a character can hear it, it must be declared on the Dramatic Rights Authorisation Form. 

The first category requires no special application, and is covered by the PPL PRS license held by the venue 


The second must be arranged in advance of the production. Be aware that authorisation is not guaranteed. The detailed guide (link below) was provided by PPL PRS for SCDA. 

  • Complete the Dramatic Rights Authorisation form as soon as possible when you are aware of music used within your show.

  • It is advised application is submitted a minimum of 28 days prior to your show taking place, however the sooner the better. If your performance has already taken place, please ensure that you still complete the application form. 

  • Once this is complete, please send this form directly to David Cork at PRS. His email is 

  • David will then contact you to confirm which tracks have been approved. If you need to make any changes to the music usage, you will need to submit a new application. 

  • Once the performances have taken place, PPL PRS Ltd will set up a permit account and send an invoice based on the information declared on the DRA form. 

  • You will have 28 days to make payment for this invoice once it has been issued. 


You can download the application form herePRS Application

Further information can be found here.  PPL PRS guide for SCDA