The ABC's of Music Licensing


Artists and repertoire (A&R) -  is the division of a record label or music publishing company that is responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and songwriters.

Bulk License: A method of licensing music. This allows clients to use a large amount of tracks in as many productions as they like for one set fee.

Buy out: Music a client can purchase once and own the rights to forever.

Catalog: Usually used to reference a collection of songs owned by a publisher or songwriter.

Copyright: The legal right to exclusive publication, production, sale or distribution of a literary or artistic work. Copyright is granted by law in most countries and in the United States by a federal statute called The Copyright Act of 1976.

Cover Songs: In popular music, a cover version, or simply cover, is a new performance or recording of a contemporary or previously recorded commercially released song or popular song.

Demo: A basic recording that highlights the talent and musical style/direction of an artist, often used as a term for a first pass of a custom piece of music made for a client.

Distribution: This is the process of selling recorded material to the public through physical and digital mediums, typically through record stores or online retailers such as iTunes, and bandcamp.

Exclusivity: If you choose to have a third party company represent your music exclusively, or have numerous companies represent your music non-exclusively.

Exclusive Rights: The privileges that only a copyright owner has with respect to their copyrighted work.

Exclusivity: Two definitions: this could mean a company having the exclusive/non-exclusive right to represent your music.

Alternatively a license could be for "Full Exclusivity" or "Partial/Industry Exclusivity." "Full Exclusivity" means a song could not be licensed for anything else for the term of that license. "Partial/Industry Exclusive" means a song cannot be licensed in a specific industry (e.g. baby products, or airlines) for the term of that license.

Infringement: The use of a piece of copyrighted music without first obtaining an appropriate license to use that musical work.

Independent/Indie: Independent normally means record labels that are not "majors" or artists that are not signed with a major publisher or label.

Instrumental: Music that is performed in a project that does not include a voice. Whether a cue is instrumental or vocal must be indicated on the cue sheet.

Invoice: A document issued by a seller to a buyer listing the goods or services supplied and stating the sum of money due.

Lead Sheet: A hand-made reproduction on paper of a written song.

License:  An authorization to record, perform, or otherwise use a copyright song.

Music Supervisor/Creative Music Licensor: The person on a film or television show who is responsible for helping the creative team select, license and record music for their project. Often the supervisor helps hire a composer and finds songwriters and singers for original music in the project.

Licensor: The person who is providing someone else with a license or permission.

Licensee: The person or entity to whom the work is licensed.

Master Rights: The owner of the Master Rights owns the actual sound recording of the song.

Mechanical Right and License: Like the synchronization license, the “mechanical license” pertains to rights held in the musical composition as opposed to the sound recording.

Mechanicals: are royalties derived from the sale of music.

Mechanical Royalties: These are payments due to you from the sale of physical media containing your music.

Meta tagging: The process of adding the metadata to your tracks so they can be found among other tracks on the front of Marmosets website.

Music library: A music library nowadays is usually a website that offers music to be licensed on behalf of composers.

Non-Exclusive: The synch rights granted to a licensee are not granted exclusively to you, and they may be granted to others.

One stop: This means that both the publishing and master rights be 100% pre-cleared.

Pre-Cleared Music: Music that is ready to be licensed for various commercial uses including video, film, advertising and the like.

Production music: is typically music that has been written specifically for licensing through a music library, and can be used for many media outputs.

PRO (Performing Rights Organization): help songwriters and publishers get paid for the usage of their music by collecting performance royalties on their behalf.

  • ASCAP is a performing rights organization (PRO) that stands for American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers

  • BMI is a performing rights organization (PRO) that stands for Broadcast Music Inc

  • SESAC is a performing rights organization (PRO) that stands for Society of European Stage Authors and Composers

Public domain: When music is in the “public domain”, it means the original owner/creator’s rights to it have expired or that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws.

Performance Royalties: These are payments due to you from the performance of your music – ie., a live performance by a musician, a TV show being broadcast using your music in a scene, etc.

Publisher: Administer, promote, exploit and protect your catalogue of songs throughout the world.

A record label: makes, distributes and markets sound recordings.

Royalties: When your music is used on TV, you are due royalties from the television station that aired the program where your music was featured. In order to get these royalty payments, your music must be registered with your local Performance Rights Organisation (PRO).

Sampling: is the act of copying a section of one sound recording and reusing it in a new recording.

Sound Recording: A recording of a musical work that is usually owned by the organisation that paid for and facilitated the recording (the record label).

Sub-Publishing: A contractual arrangement between a primary publisher of a song and a secondary or co-publisher to handle the exploitation, licensing and collection for the song in,

Score: is original music that is composed specifically to accompany a film or other audio-visual project.

Stems: describes the individual “tracks” of a song separated by instrument or instrument group.

Synchronization/Sync License: A license that allows someone the right to synchronize that piece of music to a specific media output.

Samples: A sample can have a couple of different meanings. If you take a portion of someone else’s music and use it in your own track.

Streaming: Public communication of a work from a platform with Internet access, which is accessed by a user and/or CLIENT without downloading the work.

Territory: is another element that comprises a music license, and can be defined as the specific area in which you plan to exploit the music.

Two Pop: Used in television production and filmmaking post-production, a 2-pop is a 1 kHz tone that is one frame long and placed 2 seconds before the start of program. It is a simple and effective method of ensuring synchronization between sound and picture in a video or film.

Term: The length of time that rights to a song are granted. This length will vary depending on the type of project that you are buying rights for.

Work for hire: Work-for-hire is when an individual is paid an up-front fee and in return, their artistic creations become the property of an employer – no copyright is retained by the creator.