A Guide To Music Licensing For Independent Artists

A Guide To Music Licensing For Independent Artists

As you progress more toward being a professional musician, music licensing will be a topic that you will hear constantly. Before that, music promotion is an important step in becoming a professional musician; you can check out our guide on promoting your music.

Back with music licensing, despite how dry the topic is, getting your song licensed is one of the most important steps you can take as a musician. You don’t want a situation where your song gets performed without permission and you earn nothing from it - or worst, someone steals your song. Thus, in this article, we will answer the questions that most people ask about music licensing. 

Why do you need to license your music?

To answer this question in one sentence, it is to protect your rights to original creative labor. Nowadays, almost every media piece needs music - from Youtube videos to movie soundtracks. As the internet becomes more accessible than ever, it is so easy for people to simply download your music and use it for their personal use. The possibility of your music getting used without permission is as high as ever. 

Thus, a music license is designed to protect you from these bad scenarios. You have the right to get paid when other people use your music for commercial purposes or to sue when people steal your music and claim it as their own. Even as an independent musician, you need to take control of your music’s rights as you never know what can happen. 

Besides protecting your rights, having a license for your music is a great way to have passive income. To learn more about making an income as an independent artist, check out our article on how to make money from your music. 

What is music licensing? 

Music licensing is the right to distribute or use a piece of copyrighted music. Despite how simple the definition sounds, there are many types of music licensing with different sets of rules and payouts. In this article, we will cover the five most common types of music licensing. 

Types of music licensing

1. Synchronization License

Do you ever wonder how does a musician gets paid if companies like Apple uses their music in an advertisement? They get paid through a synchronization license. As more businesses invest in advertising and video content, the demand for music ads increases in recent years. Thus, a synchronization license permits businesses or any organization such as film production to use a master or re-recorded version of your song in their projects. 

With a synchronization license, you’re getting paid based on many factors but here are the three main ones: 

  • Scope of use (the media platform) 
  • Term (the duration of use)
  • Territory (the level of the media platform, ex: local station or national television)

2. Master Recording License

A mastered recording means an original recording of a song, sound, or performance - meaning it’s the source of all the later copies are made. With the right of owning a master recording, you can make money from royalties, sampling for other artists, and sync licensing for commercial music in adverts, film, tv shows, etc. 

However, for commercial uses, businesses or organizations need both master licenses and synchronization licenses as the master license only grant the rights to the mastered recording not the re-recorded version of the song. 

Since the master recording license belongs to the one who finances the recording, most of the time it's owned by record labels. In other circumstances, if you’re an independent artist, you will own the master right. 

3. Mechanical License 

Another word for a mechanical license is cover song licensing - meaning it’s a license that permits another party to cover your song in an audio form. A famous example of this is these Christmas songs cover that artists release every time the holiday season arrives. 

For instance, Ariana Grande would pay Mariah Carey for a mechanical license if she releases a cover of “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” However, it is important to note that a mechanical license can only be used in audio form. If Ariana decides to make a music video for that song, she would need to pay for a synchronization license. 

4. Public Performance License

When entering a Starbucks store, you would hear trendy pop songs in the background. A public performance license is when the song’s right holder permits businesses or entities to play music in a public place. Even though there’s the word “performance” in the title, performance in this context applies to any broadcast of the songs.

This license applies to any occasion or place that plays your music; for example, school fair, restaurant, shopping mall, etc. A public performance license is designed to you have the full rights for performance royalties every time your music is in use. 

5. Blanket License

Among the listed licenses, the blanket license is the most accessible for an individual artist. In a blanket license, the performing rights organization or collecting societies would offer a set of tracks for a flat annual licensing fee. The licensee for this type of licensing can be a radio station, shopping mall, or businesses like coffee shops and nightclubs. 

For an individual artist, this type of license is less time-consuming and more straightforward as there is a system of tracking the song that has been used and distributing the money to the song’s right holder. Many copyright societies are in charge of managing the artist’s rights: 

  • ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC in the United States
  • SOCAN in Canada
  • PRS and PPL in the United Kingdom
  • SACEM in France

How can you get started with music licensing?

Unless you’re a music business with resourceful networking in the music industry and money to spend on sync fees, licensing music is a complicated and time-consuming process. Often enough, major music publishers are the ones that gate-keep and overcomplicate music licensing to sustain their profits. Hence, realistically there are only two options for you to license your music: 

  1. Get signed to a record label. As the label will provide a music supervisor that takes care of you from A to Z, they have someone that helps you with the legal side. You can check our article on how to sign with a label.
  2. Find a suitable service to help you with music licensing. 

As music technology progresses, many services help independent artists to license their songs without the need of a music publishing company. For an individual artist with not many resources, we recommend you to find high-quality services that help you with licensing your music at a flat rate every month. 

You simply need to sign up for an account and list your music in the service’s music libraries. A simple Google search will help you find a lot of services out there to cater to your need. But we do recommend CDBaby as it’s famous for its accessibility and easy-to-navigate management system for you to keep track of your musical works

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