Music licensing has become widely popular as a method for musicians to solidify their reputation, gain more exposure, and connect with creatives on projects to use their original tracks. In addition, many independent artists have discovered the proper hardware equipment and audio software. As a result, they can easily create, mix, and master their own musical compositions.
Submitting your music to be licensed requires some upfront knowledge and know-how so that you are prepared for things like costs and legal rights. However, when working through a music licensing agency, you have the ease of submitting your work without having to do much of the backend, which can help alleviate the burden of doing everything on your own.
Regardless of how you submit your work for licensing, there are many aspects regarding a music license that you should know. Besides knowing exactly what a music license is, you should know how to copyright, register, and what type of licenses you are looking for before submitting your work.
MUSIC LICENSING – A BRIEF BREAKDOWN
So the basic idea behind a music license is that it is a legal contract that permits the use of your original work for a set duration of time. So when you allow someone to license your original music, two licenses are granted in this permission.
The first is the sync license, which grants the right to use your music composition, which is the lyrics and the melody. The second license is the master license, which is the recording of that particular composition, also known as the “master recording.”
THE SYNCHRONIZATION LICENSE
There are multiple types of music licenses, but the primary license that musicians will grant is the synchronization license and the master license (recording). The digital age and ease of online distribution make this the best way to license music.
The idea is that a music supervisor or film producer will be using your track in a media format or ‘moving picture,’ so to speak. A great example of this is having your song played in a commercial, advertisement, or a scene in a television show.
PERFORMANCE RIGHTS ORGANIZATION REGISTRATION
You need to ensure that you register your music with a Performance Rights Organization, or PRO for short. For example, when you license music through Marmoset Music, they will require that your original works are registered so that you are represented and can collect and distribute royalty payments to use your tracks.
The two main places that musicians register are with BMI or ASCAP. Performance royalties will be owed to the publishers anytime their music is utilized. The PRO is there to collect on your behalf.
In some cases, if more than one publisher was used in creating the work, both parties must be registered with the same PRO. Otherwise, you could run into legal issues. To avoid that type of problem, many businesses will invest in a blanket license from each of the PRO’s, so the licensee is allowed permission from the music from each.
THE MUSIC LICENSING CONTRACT
While you do not have to know every aspect of a music license contract because there will be many legal terminologies used, there are some parts of the license you should be familiar with, mainly about how you will be paid.
There are typically three payments for a music license:
- Master Sync Fee – whoever owns the master recording
- Publishing Sync Fee – whoever is listed as “publisher” – this could be multiple parties
- Performance Royalty – this again goes to the publisher or songwriter
The term of the license is how long you are granting the licensee permission to use the song. The length of time could be anywhere from a day to a few months, a year, or more. Some contracts grant “perpetuity,” which means they are given permission forever.
The media is outlining the way that the music will be used. In many cases, it is some type of advertisement, commercial, television show, or film project. The licensee may also ask for permission to put the final project with your music on the internet or release it for streaming.
The contract’s territory determines where the final work will be broadcast, as far as location. The location could encompass one country, all of North America, even worldwide. On the other hand, depending on the business, they might only want the territory limited to a few states.
There are standard verbiages and usages that are requested and frequently used in contracts, but don’t be afraid to ask questions or negotiate your terms as you see fit. You don’t want to give too much away and not be adequately compensated for your work.
Musicians should always look to optimize their exposure, and one such way of doing so is through the proper usage of metadata. Metadata, in short, is a summary of your musical track information. Depending on how you categorize and organize the words you use, people should easily locate your music and content when searching through licensing agencies.
A simple way to break down your metadata is to include the following:
- Artist (musicians)
- Track Title
- Genre of Music (and subgenre, if applicable)
- Composer/Publisher (if any differ from the Artist)
- Date released
- Other pertinent indications, such as those who contributed to the song in some way (sound engineer, studio), or if the music itself contains explicit lyrics
Many music licensing agencies will quickly sort your music in the fashion they choose to display within the music library. If you already have your information categorized, this makes the process happen quickly, and it also aids you in having an organized collection of your original work for distribution.
OTHER LICENSING TIPS
Going through a music licensing agency is an excellent option for musicians to focus on creating music since agencies will help pitch and promote your materials once you become a featured artist. Though they typically will take a portion of your sync fee, you can still control your publishing allowances and collect the performance royalties.
You also have the option of doing it all yourself – though this will take some more time and most likely require a more profound knowledge of the ins and outs of the music license contracts. If you ever have any doubts or are unsure about the legal terms used in your agreement, you should reach out for legal aid so you can ensure you understand before signing anything.
Some things you should keep in mind when you are getting ready to submit your music:
- Don’t use snippets, borrowed lyrics, or melodies from any other artist. You might not know if any of them already contain copyrights, and you don’t want to have to deal with any music infringement claims.
- Make sure you own and have copyrighted all of the rights to your tracks before you allow permission for use by another publisher.
- Do not use samples for licensing. You need to have final master recordings for all of the tracks you submit, either in a high-quality MP3 or WAV file. You can also double-check with licensing agency guidelines for more specifics if submitting to their libraries.
With all of this knowledge under your belt, you are ready to promote your music and distribute it across multiple channels. Once you are under a contract for licensing, it is a nice validation of the hard work you put into your craft that someone else out there can appreciate your music and utilize it for their own project.