Types of Music Licenses: Guide for Beginners
Holding a degree in Business Administration and Programming, Pablo established Legis Music in 2016. With a focus on the royalty-free music industry, he has contributed extensively to the field, authoring over 150 articles on various aspects of music licensing. His efforts have been instrumental in developing one of the most straightforward and liberal music licensing frameworks available today.
Behind the whole music scene, there is an industry that moves hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
Today, anyone involved in the music industry can generate huge profits.
Composers, arrangers, producers, musicians, vocalists, record companies… all of them are players in the huge music industry, which is growing year after year, a growth that generates vast amounts of money.
But where does the money go?
Well, mainly in the music licenses for commercial use.
Every time you hear a music track in movies, TV series, commercials, video games, radio, YouTube videos or other audiovisual media, it is because you have paid for the use of that music track.
In other words, it is because you have purchased the license for its commercial use.
And, which license has been acquired? Are there multiple licenses? How do they differ?
Yes, we know that the questions you may have are many, and to answer them we have created this super guide to explain them.
Whether you’re making music and want to learn how to get a license, or you’re looking to learn about the types of licenses that exist and what their characteristics are, in this article you’ll find everything you need to know about them.
What is music publishing?
When we speak of music publishing we are referring to the management of a music track that has been recorded.
It is important to mention that this management refers to the use of the music track for commercial purposes, that is, with the goal of using a song to generate money.
There is the possibility that the artist of a track takes care of the publication by himself. This has the advantage that he would get 100% of the profits generated through the royalties.
However, this is usually not the case because it requires a lot of dedication. In addition, the artists do not have the means or the contacts necessary to carry it out.
For this reason, artists who cannot publish their songs themselves usually contact a publishing company or, alternatively, a publisher.
The publisher will be in charge of:
- Drawing up agreements for the transfer of the rights to the music track - Compile all royalties generated by the use of that track - Finding opportunities, both for the artist and his music
When an artist signs a publishing agreement with a publisher, terms are established, including how the rights to the music track will be assigned to third parties and the percentage that the publisher will take of the royalty income.
Now that we have clarified what corresponds to music production, let’s see what a music license is.
What is a music license?
Music license refers to the legally documented permission that allows the transfer of a music track for commercial use.
It is an agreement to use the song for a certain purpose and for a certain time. These agreements provide, among other things:
- What you can and can’t do with a music track - How to use it correctly according to the type of music license - The financial amounts to be collected for the transfer of the commercial rights of the music track.
In most cases, music is licensed for commercial use in broadcast media such as:
- Films - Series - TV programs - YouTube or commercial videos - Video games - All kinds of ads, whether on radio, television or online - Podcasts
For example, the well-known series ‘Friends’ uses the song ‘I’ll Be There For You‘ by the group The Rembrandts as its header music.
In order to use this song as the title track of the series, the producers of the series will have had to acquire the commercial license for the song forever.
The royalties generated by the cost of acquiring this license will go to the publisher with whom The Rembrandts have the agreement of its music publication.
And, in that agreement, the distribution of profits is established according to the percentages that correspond to each one, both to the publisher and to the group.
Nowadays, licensing is one of the main tools used by artists -owners of the copyrights of their songs- to be compensated for the use of their musical works.
How is music publishing different from music licensing?
Maybe after explaining both terms, you’re asking yourself this question. So let’s see how they differ from each other.
As we mentioned before, the music license refers to the agreement that allows the transfer of a music track for commercial use.
On the other hand, music publishing is the management of the agreements that are made for a music track that is going to be used commercially.
If you recall, the publisher is responsible for, among other things, drawing up the agreements for the assignment of the rights to the music track for commercial use. These agreements, whose characteristics may vary, are known as music licenses.
- Music license = agreement that allows the transfer of rights to a music track
- Music publishing = music license management
Now that you understand the difference between music publishing and music licensing, let’s discover the different types of music licenses that exist.
Types of Music Licenses
Below you will find a list of the six music licenses that exist, explained in detail and with examples so that you can perfectly understand each and every one of them.
And we will start with one of the most important: the synchronization license.
The synchronization license is a type of license through which the use of a music track is allowed in an audiovisual project.
More specifically, the synchronization license allows the reproduction of a music track as long as it is coordinated with the moving image of an audiovisual work.
That is, you will need the synchronization license for anything where the combination of a moving image accompanied by music is given.
The cases in which this license is usually needed are, mainly TV shows and series, cartoons, films, DVDs, commercial videos on YouTube or other platforms, video Ads, or video games, among others.
When a song is played as part of any of these media projects, it’s called synchronization.
In fact, when they usually refer to the “music license” per se, what they usually mean is this synchronization or sync license.
Synchronisations have been the most widely used licences in the music and audiovisual market for years.
This type of license is usually issued, as we mentioned before, by a music publisher or a music publishing company.
In situations where it is necessary to acquire this license, the producer of the audiovisual project will be responsible for obtaining the license, and not the network or company that broadcasts the project.
When a music track is used and synchronized with moving images a synchronization license is required.
However, for the recording of the audiovisual project, another music license will also be needed, known as the master use license or master license.
The master license is the one that authorizes the use of a music track in audiovisual projects to the person who acquires it.
At first glance, this license seems to be practically the same as the synchronization license because both are needed to use the music in moving image projects.
However, they have some significant differences.
Among them, one of the most important is that the master license transfers the rights to the original recording of the song to the customer.
In contrast, the synchronization license allows you to use the composition of a music track, i.e. the score and lyrics of the song, among other things to make new recordings or new versions of the original song.
Another difference between the two licenses is membership. Whereas the master license is usually held by the record companies that have recorded the artist’s piece of music, the synchronization license is usually held by the publishers, the composers, or, failing that, the authors themselves.
Therefore, if you need to use a song in audiovisual media such as television, video games, or commercials, you must obtain both licenses: the synchronization license and the master license.
Public Performance License
After the synchronization license, the public communication license is possibly the most used within the music licenses.
Also known as the performance license, this license is the one that allows the use of a music track for public broadcasting.
This includes everything from concerts to radio, television, live music played on business or on the street.
In short, it will be necessary to reproduce the musical work in any place that is frequented by the public, whether it is a locale, a discotheque, a store, a restaurant or any type of business. In other words,
every time someone reproduces known music for an audience they must obtain and pay for this license.
Those who usually hold the rights to this particular type of license are usually the copyright societies, also called Performance Rights Organizations, which differ depending on the country you are in:
- In the United States, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC - In Canada, SOSAC - In the United Kingdom, PRS and PPL - In Australia, APRA AMCOS - In Spain, SGAE - In Latin America, ACEMLA
These societies are the ones dedicated to collecting music royalties from each of the sources mentioned where the music track is played.
In turn, they will distribute these royalties to the artists according to the number of times their song has been reproduced, subtracting the commission from their services.
Also known as a Mechanical License, the reproduction license is the one that allows a song to be reproduced and distributed in any media for a certain audience, and always for an exclusively private use of the music track.
This license is the one that entitles a company to set or record the music track in a medium or support to be reproduced.
That is to say, it is necessary to, for example, record a music CD, a vinyl, a cassette or any other support in which the music track is going to be distributed.
It also enables the customer of the music track to obtain copies of the music track, since the act of fixation also provides for the possibility of duplicating, for example, a disc for further marketing and sale.
It is worth mentioning that we will also need this license as long as we want to record our own version of a certain song, as well as for the export, in physical or digital format, of a video that uses the music track.
As the name suggests, the print rights license refers to the permission to make print copies of the scores of a given music track.
In other words, if you need to print out the score of a song in physical format, you will need this license.
This applies as long as you want to print, write, arrange or sell the score of a song, as well as if you want to use part of the lyrics of that song to include it on the back covers of a music CD or, for example, in the subtitles of a video on YouTube.
This license is a somewhat private license.
The theatre license is only used in the theatre and it is the one that allows you to perform a certain song in a theatrical play.
In other words,
you need to acquire the theater license every time a copyrighted musical work is to be performed on a stage in the presence of an audience.
Now that you know about the licenses that move in the music world, it’s time for you to know something important.
Many times you will not really need to use a specific famous song for your audiovisual project or your business and, therefore, you will not need to acquire any of the above licenses.
For example, there are alternatives in the market that offer their “own” licenses and that will allow you to use music tracks and sound effects for the different projects we have mentioned above, such as videos in social networks, TV and radio commercials, video games or audiovisual projects with a commercial purpose.
These alternatives are called royalty-free music licenses and there are several platforms on the Internet that offer them at a much lower price than it would cost you to purchase the above licenses.
Royalty-free music licenses
Below, I’ll introduce you to some of the royalty-free music licenses available on the Internet.
Each of them has been chosen as the best one for a specific use.
However, many times several of them can be used in many projects, something that, although we will try to explain it below, the best thing to do is do your own research to know which one to choose in your particular case.
|Epidemic Sound||Monthly subscription to access the entire music catalogue||Between $15 / month and $45 / month per subscription|
|Artlist||Annual subscription to access the entire music catalog||$199 / year|
|Legis Music||One-time payment||From $19 / lifetime|
|Soundtrack Your Brand||Streaming music for Physical Business||$34,99 / month (for USA and Canada)|
Epidemic Sound, the best music license for Youtubers and content creators
If there is one platform that content creators talk about, it is Epidemic Sound.
This Swedish company, founded in 2009, is one of the oldest companies in the royalty-free music industry.
One of its great advantages is its endless music library, which has more than 30,000 music tracks and over 60,000 sound effects.
Each of these music tracks is hosted exclusively at Epidemic Sound, so you won’t find your music anywhere else.
The main license of this platform is focused on independent creators.
It is called ‘Personal Subscription’, and has the following advantages:
- Unlimited downloads, only for as long as the subscription remains active - No royalties. All music is royalty-free, so you don’t have to worry about claims anymore. - Constantly growing music library. You’ll find new audio tracks and sound effects every week - Downloadable on all devices. Do you work with a tablet or from your smartphone? No problem with Epidemic Sound. - Monetization is available. If you upload your content to social platforms, you will be able to monetize it without any extra cost. - Find Similar. This feature will help you to find music tracks that are similar to the one you like, so that you can create a consistent sound environment across all your videos. - Stems. You can remove the sound elements you want from a song with this feature: the guitars, bass, voice … anything!
Speaking of the cost of your content creator’s license, Epidemic Sound has two different plans depending on your type of usage:
|Personal||$15 / month|
|Commercial||$49 / month|
In case you have taken the leap -or are planning to take it- and become a freelancer or a commercial production company, you will have to choose the ‘Commercial Plan’, that provides the following added benefits:
- One simple authorization for all client productions - Covered on all online platforms - Unlimited use in digital ads
Its monthly cost is $49/month, or if you prefer to make a single annual payment, its cost will be $299/year.
They offer new customers a free 30-day trial period to try out the entire platform.
This way, you have one month at zero cost to try it out and see if it’s what you need.
Artlist, the best license for film productions and commercials
Artlist.io is one of the references in the music sector without royalties for audiovisual projects despite its short history.
This Israeli company was founded in 2016, although its young age has not prevented it from being one of the top services in the industry.
It’s true that in this classification we have placed it as the best option for providing sound for film productions and commercials.
This platform has a very minimalist design and revolutionary usability, keeping all the options always at hand for its users.
You can filter their songs by mood, music genre, instrument, or Video Theme in almost a couple of clicks.
In addition, this last option -the Video Theme- will be a great help, because it will allow you to find the perfect music for your video’s theme.
For example, if your film needs music that represents a magnificent landscape, you can select the ‘Landscape’ theme and, in one click, you’ll have hundreds of tracks available according to that theme.
Isn’t that great?
But these are just some of the benefits.
However, with its universal license, Artlist will allow you to have other advantages as well, such as:
- Unlimited downloads for the duration of the subscription - Lifetime use of downloaded songs - Library renovated month by month with new music tracks - Monetization of your videos through YouTube - Use in any project, whether commercial or not
Now that you know everything that this platform has to offer, it’s time to talk about the price.
The Artlist Universal License costs $199 per year, about $16.60 per month, so you can get an idea.
However, unlike the other platforms, they bet on a single annual payment instead of monthly payments.
By doing so, they want you to forget about all the things other than finding the perfect music for your audiovisual project.
Artlist is running a promotion for new clients in which, if you subscribe to their newsletter and acquire their universal license, they will give you two months completely free.
It is true that this platform is often compared by the community with the previous one – Epidemic Sound – and that is, both offer services whose licenses cover, in many cases, the same needs.
Therefore, if you divide yourself between one or the other, perhaps our comparative guide between both platforms will help you.
Legis Music, the best music license for any use
At Legis Music we have decided to launch three exclusive plans this 2023 so that our customers can access royalty free music easily and cheaply.
What these plans have in common is that you only have to pay once to get them, allowing you to enjoy the songs unlimited for life and have the peace of mind of not having to worry about copyright claims in the future.
This way, you can choose the plan that best suits your needs:
- Starter Plan. This licence recommended for those who are looking for music to use in personal projects. It also allows you to use the music in all social networks and on any website, excluding Youtube.
- Personal Plan. If you are looking to get numerous songs to use in your personal projects, this is the license for you. The Personal Plan offers unlimited music downloads and can be used on social media and streaming platforms, YouTube, apps, video games and audiobooks, as well as podcasts, virtual classes and online advertisements. The price is $49 in a single payment and for life -if you use it for 3 years, it will be like paying 1€/month-.
- Business Plan. This plan is specially designed for freelancers, companies and those who work for clients. It is the most open licence of all, as any use case is covered and it also offers unlimited music (the only thing that is not allowed is to resell the songs). It is priced as a one-off payment of $99 for life – if you use it for 2 years, it will be like paying $4/month.
As you can see, if there is one thing that makes our licences stand out, it is the opportunity to enjoy them forever for a one-time fee.
Soundtrack Your Brand, the best license for shops and physical businesses
If you have a business located in a physical establishment, we are sorry to say that none of the above platforms will offer you the music licenses you need to be able to play music in your venue.
But don’t worry, because in every situation there is a solution.
And in this specific situation, the solution is called Soundtrack Your Brand.
Maybe you didn’t know it, but don’t worry, you’ll soon get to know it and you’ll love it!
This platform is possibly the biggest reference in the business streaming music industry.
They offer their users more than 300 soundtracks with hundreds of famous songs that will be quite familiar to you.
Something that we think is great about Soundtrack Your Brand is that it allows you to program the different types of music for different days of the week, and even for different times of the day, keeping the sensory marketing of your business in the palm of your hand.
And by your palm, we mean literally in the palm of your hand.
Because this platform provides its customers total control of the music by remote control from anywhere, through any device -tablet, mobile or laptop- and with any operating system -iOS, Android or Windows-.
Plus, it has something that other platforms don’t have. If you have a Spotify account, it will allow you to sync both accounts so you can drag and drop your favorite playlists into your business. Isn’t that great?
It probably is, but let’s talk about the price now.
Because you probably think this “total music solution” for your business will be difficult to afford. However, this is totally wrong.
Unlike the licenses offered by copyright societies, where the amount to be paid depends on the square meters of your establishment and the number of premises, at Soundtrack Your Brand they have decided to simplify things.
That is why they offer their services at a fixed monthly price of $34,99 -for the United States and Canada-.
This way you don’t have to worry about future changes, neither about the square meters nor anything else.
If, on the other hand, your business is located in another country, it is best to take a look at their pricing page and make sure you know what the price of their services is in your country of residence.
As you have seen,
music licenses are one of the most lucrative instruments in the growing music industry.
And the problem is that there are many actors behind each music track: the songwriters, the producers, the arrangers, the composers, the vocalists, the record companies, the PROs…
Each one of them, if they participate in the process of developing a track from its creation to its commercialization, has the right to share in the profits obtained each time the track is commercialized.
And that’s why there are six different types of licenses you’ve seen: the synchronization license, the master license, the reproduction license, the public performance license, the theatrical license and the print license.
All of them are licenses, but all of them are different and necessary for each use of a song.
And, depending on what you need the song for, you will have to ask permission from each of the actors mentioned above.
A quite complex process that can be simplified through the music licenses without copyrights.
You have already seen that this type of license offers, for a modest and reduced price, some features and characteristics that are very worthwhile to avoid problems and simplify the use of music in commercial projects.
Besides, now you know which ones are considered the best for different uses:
- Epidemic Sound for YouTubers and content creators - Artlist for film productions and commercials - Legis Music for any use - Soundtrack Your Brand for shops and businesses
Between the information we have provided you and the one you can collect from the Internet, you will be able to choose the most correct license for your project and your needs.
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