Tips to Improve Understanding Music Licensing & The Value of Copyright

Written by: MT Team

Updated: Apr 5, 2022

Independent musicians across the world do not always understand the legalities that go along with producing and owning their music. The legal aspects within the music industry can be challenging to understand and make musicians feel stressed and unsure of what they are doing if they are giving up rights they should keep, and more. 

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However, knowing your rights as an independent artist is crucial to helping you collect the proper money owed to you for your original work. Music licensing, which goes hand in hand with copyrighting music, can also feel like a highly complex process. 

Many questions arise when producing music and allowing commercial licensing, such as what type of licenses? What does each one mean? What are the benefits of licensing my music? Not a lot has been covered on this subject for a long time, but with the ever-growing digitalization and risk of losing your rights to your music, it is more important than ever to understand the value of copyright and how music licensing works.

As an independent musician who creates original tracks, you must have insight and understanding when it comes to copyright and music licensing options. Here we break down each aspect of owning music for the artist, how to go about licensing your original music, what types of opportunities are there for you, and why you should consider music licensing with your copyrighted works.

What is a Music Copyright?

Music copyright is the author’s right to property of their work. There is recognition of ownership of the work, respect for the integrity of the work, and the author has exclusive rights to the use of their work in any capacity. The rights include any performance or reproduction of that music so that they are adequately compensated.

Copyright laws protect your original musical pieces with two separate and distinct creations. The first is the musical works, the composition (melody, lyrics), and the second is the sound recordings or the final mix and master of the musical composition. The musical track’s particular version could be on any recording medium, including an MPp3, vinyl album, or disc. 

What is Music Licensing?

Suppose anyone other than the original author or publisher of the music wants to use a copyrighted work in a particular way. In that case, they must seek permission from the copyright holder and obtain the licenses required to do so. 

A music license permits the third party to exploit do something with the copyrighted music in exchange for some type of compensation (usually a fee). Typically, a producer, music supervisor, or other creative will want to use the original music for a project, be it a commercial, advertisement, or in the background of a feature film. 

Some licenses are negotiated between the copyright holder/independent musician (“author”) and a third party. This is, known as “voluntary licensing.” Other permits are provided by the Copyright Act, which is when the licensing party can use the music without negotiated permission, which is more commonly referred to as “compulsory” licensing.” 

What Types of Music Licenses Can You Have?

There are some differences in the types of music licenses that can be acquired. Here is the breakdown of the three major types:

  • Synchronization License: Also known as the “sync” license, this is for any producer or music supervisor who wants to use your song in a media format, and you give them this permission to do so. The sync license is the most commonly used type of license since it is done digitally for streaming.
  • Master License: This works with the sync license and permits the usage of the musical recording. For example, if the music is a cover of another song, the new master license references the song’s new recording instead of the original version.
  • Mechanical License: As an independent musician, you will need this if you want to record someone else’s music, such as doing a cover so that the songwriters and composers receive their fee if you decide to sell. The same goes if someone wants to make a separate version of your original musical work.

When planning to license your music, you should register your music with SAMRO, a performing rights organization, more commonly known as a PRO. These organizations are there to secure your copyrighted works and collect performance royalties that are owed to you as the “author” or independent musician who created the original track.

Another critical factor you should keep in mind when going to license original work is that your recording should be the master recording – as in, the final production of the music. 

“Protecting one’s copyrights and following laws for music licensing is important for young and independent artists,” states a music licensing company, that has helped many independent artists secure music licenses and protect their copyright laws. They also provide their artists with tools where they can easily mix and master your last original music recording for licensing purposes.

Since music licensing requires documentation and contracts, it can help to consult with a music industry lawyer if you are unclear or find anything challenging to understand in the process. In addition, a music lawyer can assist and provide you with clarity on what to expect when you enter a contract for licensing.

How Do the Payments Work When You License Your Music?

The way that the fee structure works for licensing is broken down as follows:

  • Exclusive License: With this type of license, you are not paid a straight fee upfront. However, you share the rights to a pre-recorded song or track with a publishing company, and you keep all of your Author’s share of the royalties paid. In some cases, the publishing company way wants to rename your track’s title so that they can claim the money, but this still allows you to preserve rights for the original master.
  • Partial Buy-Out: This allows you, the “author,” to receive an upfront fee to create a specific track or song,  and then a percentage of the sync fee as well, and ALSO all of the Writer’s share from the PRO. “Writer” is referring to anyone who contributed to the lyrics or melody (typically, you), and the “author” is anyone that might have the music copyrights for the recording (also you, the musician).
  • Non-Exclusive License: With a non-exclusive license, you permit the use of your music but can shop that same music around in other locations – in other words, it is not limited to just one sole use for the same music. The time constraint of these deals is a maximum of about five years. When your music is used, you set an agreed amount for the publisher to obtain, and you will still retain all of the Writer’s share. 

What are the Benefits of Copyright and Licensing of Original Music?

Independent musicians are always performing and working hard for more visibility and exposure into the music scene. If you copyright and allow distribution of original works through licensing, you have the benefit of significantly expanding your network. 

Having the musical education and knowledge of copyrights and licensing can help you make the best decision for your original musical compositions.

Independent musicians can establish strong careers by creating relationships with producers, music supervisors, film directors, and more who want to utilize their musical talents for various projects, advertisements, or movies. As a result, your music can be heard by the masses, and in turn, help to grow your following and fanbase, which will improve your chances of being discovered and ultimately make your stamp within the music industry.

About MT Team
Posts on all things related to instrument education, gear reviews, and so much more. Written by the MusicianTuts editorial team.

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