Intro to music licenses

Visit Us

Licensing music is simply the act of giving a third party the right to use your material – three common music licenses are the blanket license, sync license, and master license

Intro to music licenses

Music Licensing can be quite confusing, and while there are different types of licenses, I’d like to focus the three I feel are most vital to us as composers, producers, and artists: blanket license, sync license, and master license. Terms to pay attention to throughout this post:
Licensee – person/client in need of music or who work is licensed to.
Licensor – creator, rights holder of the music/work.
Tracks – music, cues, composition, material.

Now, before we get into these music licenses, let me explain what licensing is. Licensing music is the act of giving a third party the right to use your material. That’s all it is. Whether you do this for free or fee is up to you and whatever you decide to negotiate.

1) Blanket license
A blanket license allows a client to use a catalog of songs for an annual fee. This makes using music easier because there is less paperwork involved and a slew of music for the client to use throughout the year for any number of projects.

Venues that are likely to obtain a blanket license include hotels, bars, restaurants, hospitals, grocery stores, television stations, and just about any business that uses music to set the mood or tone for their establishment. I was surprised when I found out how much my local Marriott was paying for elevator music, as in the music you hear in the elevator or as you walk into the establishment (just throwing that out there). These licenses can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, it just depends on what’s negotiated.

2) Sync license
Of all licenses, the sync license is probably the most popular. It’s basically an agreement between licensee and the copyright owner. Sync licenses are most often used in TV/Film and video games, and anything else media related.

How much can be made from sync fees? A couple pennies, maybe even a few thousand dollars. It depends on how many clients you have as well as the following:
– How the song is used. Background music, stinger, main theme song of show – these all pay differently and are up for negotiation.
– Where the song is being used. You’ll be paid more from a placement in a major motion picture than you would in indie film (typically).

Other things to consider are:
– What type of television show will use the music? Is it a popular drama, simple reality show, growing reality show?
– Experience and brand. Someone like Han Zimmer is going to make a lot more than someone like you or I. The man has tons of experience and is known for writing great jingles and scores. It’s all about the brand name, it doesn’t matter how good the music sounds.
– Project’s budget. Bigger company typically means bigger budget.
– Middle Men. Are you working this deal on your own or is there a middle man? I’m talking about libraries, music supervisors, managers, agents and people that help you land placements. These professionals are going to take a cut from your profits – and they should.

[Ed. note: Having your music signed up and ready to license in a pre-cleared sync catalog, such as CD Baby’s Sync Licensing program, can be a bonus when a music supervisor is looking for the right song and needs it right away.]

3) Master license
Master licenses are made between the person who owns the master recording (company or creator) and the person who wishes to use the material (song). It gives the licensee authorization to use your pre recorded track/song in visual projects.

Having a master license is only half the battle though, in order to use the track in its entirety, a sync license is needed along with the master license. Master & Sync licenses are very similar as they are required for the licensee to use music in media-based projects, but there is a slight difference. The master license grants rights to the “original recording.” The sync allows the client to use the composition and rerecord the song. Normally when a record label signs an act they’ll almost always control or own the master.

Can you imagine what conflicts and disagreements could arise from that’s arrangement? Let’s say an artist like Rhianna is willing to accept a license fee of $9,500, but the record label owning the master and maybe even the copyright says “No, we want $33,000.” If that price range is out of the client’s budget, they’ll walk. I can’t say I’d blame the label, but can you imagine how difficult that must be for the artist? $8k, $5k, $10k… enough of those declined over time is a huge loss.

Image via

Greg Savage is an entrepreneur from California who makes a living producing music and sound designing for various companies without the use of a record label or manager. He started DIY Music Biz because he wanted to create a reliable resource for musicians, producers, composers, and artists that would be useful regardless of their success or skill level. Topics covered on DIY Music Biz include: Marketing Music, Music Licensing, Sound Design, Gear Reviews, Personal Experiences, Income Generation, Case Studies, and much more.

Read more
Making Money With Music Licensing – Part I: Copyrights and Revenue
Pay everyone but the musician
How Musicians and Composers Make Money
Retaining Your Master Rights Is Smart Business
Make a living in the music business – myths and methods

Learn How to Make a Great Master

19 thoughts on “Intro to music licenses

  1. Hello, I have redone 3 songs by each of the following artists, Beatles, Stan Getz and Paul McCartney/Stevie Wonder. My version is different from the original but you can tell the songs are played in a different style and flavor. Now what type of license (s) do I need to produce a CD as well as play them live? Who should I contact… Please I need help… to get this project going.

    1. Henry,
      this is a little complicated to advise because I don’t know how different your version is. When you say “I’ve redone 3 songs”

      Do you mean you’ve made cover songs?
      do you mean you’ve made similar sound tracks that are inspired by the artist’s you’ve listed?
      Is it just a derivative of the original?

      Need a little more information from you my friend. If you don’t want to post all the details here feel free to email me.

      1. Hi Greg,
        Thanks for replying. I use my own beat, rhythm etc… and I play somewhat a derivative melody of the originals. I dont want to post all details and I cant find your email anywhere here no matter what I click on. Please forward a note from your email to mine so I can email you with more infos.
        Thank you again,

        1. Henry,

          if you work is a derivative you’re going to need a mechanical license. You’re also going to need to negotiate the right to distribute the material, even if you’re releasing it for free.

  2. I have a question…I recorded an album in 2009 with a record producer who claimed that I would “own the rights to the music” once we had completed the songs for the album. He gave me the music, words, gave me an idea of how he’d like the melody to sound and I sang it. Simple as that. I had appx. 300 copies sent to my house for distribution, as well as linked with iTunes, Amazon, etc., etc., for distribution, as well. Totally legal, as far as I had known. Approximately a year later, I received a threatening email from a man who claimed to be the songwriter of two of my songs on the album and demanded that I take down the album from every listed source of distribution there was, or I was going to be faced with legal consequences. Even though he sympathized with me, insisted that I have the album removed from anywhere visible. I no longer have the potential to sell any of these albums, and I’m still stuck with hundreds of them. What legal advice can I gain or if anyone has any suggestions on what to do, please help!? Thank you!!

    1. A lot of goofy stuff in this “producer”s scheme. Firstly, if he gave you the music and the words, as well as on how to sing the melody (operative words being “music, words, melody”, you’re not the owner of any of the rights, really, since you didn’t write or create anything. You were the singer and interpreter, but technically nothing more. – Further, as it appears, the “producer” didn’t write some or maybe even all of the songs you sang on, so he had zero right to give you any ownership of anything. In the concrete world, that’s basically like receiving stolen property. — If you payed this crook for everything, THAT was a big part of his plan. You and the song writers have been victimized, along with who knows how many others, in the same scheme. OR it’s even possible (but less likely) that the guy threatening legal consequences is part of the greater scheme in bilking you out of mo’ money as the thief. (but from the info about him that you posted, he seems more a victim, as well). – Your options are few. -Live and learn, scrap the whole thing and cut your loses, since the recorded works are not yours. – Sue the guy for fraud, possibly even along with the guy whose songs he stole as a corroborating party – you might even find some other victims toward a class action lawsuit (but I don’t know about your varied legal options, consult a lawyer). – Or, at the risk of illegally distributing songs on the CD that other people wrote, that were ripped off like the other writer, you could consider working out a deal with the other writer, concerning his songs that you sang, toward selling them to a) begin to recoup your loses a little, and b) pay the writer for his writing and usage (work out a licensing and mechanical royalty agreement with him so he can make some cash from the recordings of his songs. – You could do the same if you can find all of the real writers/copyright owners of the rest of the songs, get permissions, pay mechanicals(writer’s royalties), and after you pay the proper legally binding moneys to the writers, you can put what’s left over toward recouping the money that this song shark made you pay to make the whole thing) – If you work with the people who did write the songs, if you can become aware of who they are, it’s possible to make it all work out to lessen everyone’s damage, if you play by the rules of permissions, royalties, licensing, etc. – as well as blowing the whistle on the crook producer, as you have proof of his illegal actions. – In the meantime, until these ownership issues (none of which are yours to own) are settled, that songwriter is right, you should pull your distribution. Continuing equals willful and knowledgeable sale/distribution of stolen property (i.e. the songs that someone else wrote that were used without legal arrangement or permission). If this other songwriter is also a victim, it might be helpful to find out how his music might’ve gotten into the hands of the producer crook, as well as to possibly find out if the songwriter has proof, like copyright office info, of his ownership – not to imply to him that he didn’t write the songs, but to prove to you that he’s not part of the scheme in cahoots with the producer, trying to get more money from you. – The whole thing is called “song sharking” and it’s been around since the beginning of the music industry. It’s illegal and part of the reason that intellectual property laws exist.

    2. Starving Artists nailed it.

      If i were in your shoes, I’d move on. Without any contracts (or did you have some in place) there really isn’t anything you can do, but move on.

  3. My advice?

    Wake-up, Shut-up, stop the whingeing and the whining about whether or not your music will or will not make you a millionaire, and just get on with doing what you do for the love of it.

    It won’t be you who decides the outcomes from your musical works…… just Do it !

    Please everybody………Please buy my records……..Please !!!!!!

    Doah !


    1. You’re taking the wording out of context.

      If you and Han were to pitch to same TV trailer, they are more than likely going to go with Han, he’s known and has branded himself as a quality composer.

      People will probably work with this man and his company based on clout. At that point, “quality” wouldn’t matter, his branding and print in his market damn near guarantees him the gig.

      Why bother?…. With licensing? Well, because there are plenty of projects out there that don’t have “Han Zimmer” money and are more and willing to find talent at a more affordable price.

      We can argue “quality” all day if you like. A lot of “great quality” tracks by composers standards are getting passed up for cheap mediocre tracks. Why? Person taste, budget, need etc

      That’s the thing about Artistic fields, the term “quality” … It’s subjective. Some directors/producers don’t need hit material for a scene where someones reading the newspaper on the can, it just needs to enhance the moment/scene etc → just an example

  4. I am in the process of recording a voice book that I wrote. I want to use part of the Warner Bros. musical recording “Congher” for the beginning and ending of each chapter. I plan to self publish and sale maybe on Amazon.

    What kind or type of license do I need to ask for?

    Jim wilkins

    1. Hi Jim,
      this is a good question and to be honest, I’m not sure. I’ve never done anything with audiobooks. It could be a typical sync license it or could be a little more complicated.

      Best thing to do is call them and ask what licensing options are available

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *