10 Things Every Musician Should Know about Music Licensing

Things Every Musician Should Know about Music Licensing

People make music not only because they would like the rest of the world appreciate and enjoy their creations and share in their passions. They also make music to live their dreams. One of the ways musicians can achieve both is by licensing their music.

Unfortunately, not everyone in the music industry seems to understand what music licensing is and what it means for them. Here are 10 essential things about music licensing that every musician should know.

Publishing and licensing are two different, yet interrelated concepts.

It would be impossible to license something that other people are not familiar with or do not know exists. That is why all musicians have to understand music publishing first before they can move on to licensing their creations.

Music publishing involves the effective management of copyrighted music material, made available to the public.

Most musicians work with a music publisher to manage their work. The downside to such an arrangement is that the publisher will retain a portion of the proceeds. That is why some artists would rather publish their music on their own.

This gives them 100% ownership and control of whatever proceeds they make from their works. Once published, you can start thinking about music licensing.

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Only copyrighted music material can be licensed.

In the discussion above, we mentioned about the copyrighted nature of the music material for publishing. If your music is not copyrighted, then you will not be able to publish it. You may, but it will be illegal. Having said that, licensing it would be out of the question.

There are two types of music copyright you should know about. One is the composition copyright. This is for those who write the song and arranges the lyrics and melody of the song.

If you were the one who arranged the sounds or recorded the song, then the correct copyright to get is the sound recording copyright. If you are both the singer and the songwriter, then you need both copyrights.

Being the owner of an original music entitles you to 6 exclusive rights.

All musicians who have copyrighted their works can enjoy six exclusive rights. These rights include the creation, recording, distribution, and performance of the copyrighted material.

You also get to make derivatives of it and even display or market it. Only you have these rights. As such, when someone else wants to do any of these things with your copyrighted music, they will have to ask your permission.

This is where licensing can come in, especially if the other party is going to use your material for commercial purposes.

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It is not necessary to register your music at the copyright office, but you should anyway.

It is not a must that you register your music at the copyright office. The moment you create your music and put it into a tangible form, you already have copyright for your music.

You also get the six exclusive rights. However, if someone else uses your material and you decide to go to court, you will need to prove that you are the original creator of your music.

This is not a problem if you have the official registration of your copyrighted material from the Copyright Office.

Joint owners of copyrighted material can license the song individually.

You do not need the permission of a co-owner of a copyrighted music to license it to someone else. However, you should pay the co-owner a share of whatever amount you receive as payment for the licensing. It is also possible to come to an agreement with the co-owner of the copyrighted music if you require different rights or fee splits.

Music licensing is a contract.

A music license specifies how the copyrighted material can be used. It includes the medium of delivery of the music and the period of effectivity of the license.

For example, if you only license your music to be used in a live performance, then the licensee should never use it for other purposes. He cannot make copies of it or even play it in an advertisement.


There are several types of music licenses you should know about.

A broadcast license allows others to broadcast your copyrighted music in a specified medium. Mechanical licenses are what you give to music distribution companies that reproduce your copyrighted music.

Single-use licenses allow others to use your music only one time and only for a single purpose. Public performance licenses give others the right to perform your music.

A sync license is applicable to entities that use your music together with other materials, such as visuals, track, or voice.

Only a license-holder can use the license, nobody else.

It is important to understand that whoever you license your copyrighted material to; only he or she has the exclusive right to use your material within the provisions of the license contract. He cannot transfer the license to another person.

For example, you gave a radio station the license to broadcast your music.

If another company plays your song simply because they are under the notion that the radio is free, then you can sue that other company. The broadcast license is only valid for the radio station, not another entity.

There is such a thing called ‘creative commons’ licensing.

This is a special case that we see today because of the explosion of the internet and social media use. In this type of licensing, a musician creates a song and then posts it online, often via YouTube, Facebook, or other similar platforms.

He can still issue a license for other people to use his song. He can specify the conditions for the use of his material without having to go to the Copyright Office.


It is best for musicians to affiliate with a Performing Rights Organization.

These are organizations that collect royalties on behalf of songwriters for every use of their copyrighted material. It would be impossible for you to keep track of all the businesses and other commercial entities who use your music and which you are entitled to a royalty.

In other words, the organization makes sure you will never miss out on any revenue coming from the use of your copyrighted music by others.


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