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License vs. Copyrights in Music Distribution for Independent Artists

License vs copyrights for independent artists

Digitalization has led to an increase in music piracy, with many consumers illegally downloading and sharing music online. This can significantly reduce the revenue musicians earn from sales, making it even harder to invest in their creative efforts.

Read on this article to be informed about the differences between licensing vs. copyrights. For an independent artist, they would essentially be inseparable to protect your music from any threats of being used without your permission. 

In addition, if you're looking for an effective music distribution to leverage your music career, check out the top 4 best music distributions of 2023 as we dived deeper into pros and cons of each, including legal considerations.

Why is this important?

When a piece of music is released, the artist automatically owns the copyright to that work. In other words, music copyright designates legal ownership of your song. 

However, the internet age has allowed musicians’ releases to be copied, shared, and used illegally. This is often blamed by the mismatch between usage information collected and the creative work of its rights owners. Problems arise as the artist excludes rights to redistribute and reproduce, or licensing rights that disable the copyright holder to earn royalties.

Understanding about copyright and licensing in music distribution ensures that artists are fairly rewarded for their talent and work, both legally and financially.

What are the key differences?

In short, licensing is used to “lend” others your song, but the intellectual property of the song itself stays with the copyright owner - that is, you.

  • Copyrights (or Author’s Rights) is the right to the intellectual property of a work. 
  • Music licensing is the licensed use of copyrighted music for public performance. A license must be obtained from the songwriter or publisher each time a recording of the composition is played as part of a broadcast.

You can think of it in terms of a house, if you want, the copyright is like the "deed" to a house. It says you own the house. If you want, you can rent the house out to someone, and that rental agreement is the 'license'.

How can you sign up with copyright and licensing?


With artists targeting the US market: although your work is protected by copyright from the moment it is fixed, you can (and should) register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office for additional benefits, including access to federal courts in case of infringement. Registering your work also makes a public record of ownership. 

Here are the costs that you would want to know from the US Copyright Office:

Electronic filing:

Single author, same claimant, one work, not for hire*     $45

Standard Application                                                             $65

Paper Filing:                                                                               $125

* While a work for hire is created in the scope of employment, registering a work with the Copyright Office involves asserting your own ownership over the work.

Besides that, to protect your music from being streamed and downloaded illegally, you will need those 3 require licenses: 

  • Mechanical rights: the right to record, manufacture and distribute another copyright holder’s musical work or sheet music
  • Performing rights: an important aspect of music copyright that enables music creators and publishers to earn compensation for their work when it is publicly performed. 

This means whenever a song is played or performed in public (radio, concert, streaming platforms), you are entitled to receive royalties for the use of your work. 

  • Synchronization rights: are agreements for the use of music in audiovisual projects. Licensing music for sync can be a great way for independent artists to earn money and gain exposure for their music.

If you are targeting non-US markets: Our article 3 Things Every Independent Artists Need To Know About International Music Distribution will prepare you well with additional step-by-steps.


While the initial copyright is created as soon as the musical work is fixed, extra steps are needed to ensure that the copyright is actually enforced. For most music included in mainstream broadcast programming, a license must be obtained and license fees must be paid. 

In this article, we’ll keep it concise about the licensing process. But if you’d like to go into the details, we have included an article when we answered the most F.A.Q.s about Music Licensing For Independent Artists.

Often enough, major music publishers gate-keep and overcomplicate music licensing to sustain their profits. Hence, realistically there are only two options to license your music: 

  • 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. 
  • Find music distribution service that offers music licensing inclusively for artists. For example: CDBaby guarantees to assist artists in getting licenses and monetizing your song on streaming platforms 

How to protect yourself?

Understand Digital Rights Management 

For an independent artist, Digital Rights Management (DRM) is an important tool to ensure that your creative works are only accessed and used by those who have the right to do so.

It is used to protect and control access to digital content such as software, music, videos, and documents. The system specifies who can access the content, how it can be used, and under what conditions. For example, a music file can only be played on a specific device or with a specific media player.


Review the contract with your music distributor

Independent artists should review contracts to ensure that you understand the terms and conditions of the chosen music distribution agreement you are entering into and what are the rights they can help you gain

Comply with platforms guidelines 

This ensures that your music sticks to its content and format requirements to minimize the risks of copyright violation. Understanding how artists are paid will assist you in making the right decisions for your music releases and promotions. 

To find out what to prepare in terms of paperwork and legal processes before jumping into the music distribution market, visit our past article A Guide To Music Licensing For Independent Artists.

Finally, if you are here looking to take your music career to the next level, try Base for Music. With our experience in promoting music for artists, we can help you get your music heard by simplifying the process of running ads and generating sponsored campaigns across popular social networks like Spotify, Youtube, TikTok...

Don't miss out on this opportunity, sign up for Base for Music - your ultimate music promotion service - now and let's make magic together!

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