Music licenses aim to protect the rights of musicians and ensure that they receive fair payment for their work. There are six different music license types that cover different works and associated rights:
- Master license
- Public performance license
- Theatrical license
- Mechanical license
- Print rights license
- Synchronization license
A copyrighted music work can be used in many different mediums and for a wide range of purposes. For instance, a streamer can play a copyrighted song in their live stream, a YouTuber can use it in their video, a company can use it in their internal communications, a brand can use it in their advertisements, a theatre troupe can perform it on the stage, a music band can play it in their concert, a musician can rerecord and publish it in their album… Possibilities are almost endless! That is why there are different music licenses whose purpose is to offer detailed guidelines to denote how, when and by whom the song can be used.
In general, you need the written consent of the copyright holder of the song to use it in your projects. There are two exceptions: Songs in public domain and royalty free music.
Although the intricacies of public domain is a bit complex, a useful rule of thumb is checking the recording date of the song. If the recording is older than 100 years, you can use it freely in both your personal and commercial projects. Here you must pay attention to the specific recording you want to use. “Happy Birthday” song is, for instance, in public domain as a song but its specific recordings, such as the one by Stevie Wonder, can be subject to copyright. Which means, you can record “Happy Birthday” song yourself and publish it freely but you cannot use Stevie Wonder’s recording without the written consent of the copyright holder.
Royalty free music is, luckily, much less complicated! Let’s say that you are a YouTuber and want to create a Halloween video for your channel. You can find a Halloween royalty free music track on royalty free music archives like Snapmuse, then all you need to do is purchase the track you most liked. After you make your payment, you acquire the lifelong right to use that song. You can use it as many times as you wish in your personal projects, YouTube videos, commercial projects and much more without making additional payments. Unlike copyrighted songs, royalty free tracks don’t require you to make payments for each use, performance, or view.
When it comes to copyrighted songs, licensing is a bit more complicated. Depending on where and when you want to use the copyrighted song, you need to pay for a different type of license as the user. As the artist, you must make sure that you know enough about the different types of licenses to protect your own work against piracy and illegal uses. Below we will explain each type of music license.
Master license: This license protects the recording of a song. It is held by the person who owns the original recording. When you purchase the master license, you can use the original recording of the song in your project but you cannot re-record the song, make a cover, publish or distribute it.
Public performance license: This type of the license is one of the most issued and purchased one. It covers all variations of music “performance,” such as broadcasting the song. Playing the copyrighted material in your public event, store, concert and so forth requires getting the public performance license. In order to purchase public performance licenses of a copyrighted song, you need to get in touch with the copyright owner, often through performing rights organizations such as ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. You must bear in mind that public performance license is issued on per-use basis. In other words, you need to apply for a public performance license for each time you want to play a copyrighted track.
Theatrical license: This type of music license is needed to perform a song on theatre stage. You must also bear in mind that you need to issue theatrical license for each time you want to perform that song on stage.
Mechanical license: This license protects the rights to create and distribute physical copies of a song, such as publishing CDs or vinyls. The owner of mechanical license, often the musician, signs a deal with the recording labels for mechanical licenses. Recording labels produce physical copies, distribute and sell them. They also pay a certain amount to the owner of the song. Often, recording labels offer payment per sold copies of the song or album.
You also need to purchase the mechanical rights license of a song if you are planning to record a cover, remix, or use samples from the song. Any musical production that changes the integrity of the artist’s composition necessitates obtaining mechanical rights.
Print rights license: If you want to print or reproduce the sheet music for a copyrighted song, you need to obtain print rights of that song.
Synchronization license: Also known as the synch license, synchronization license is required if you want to use a copyrighted song in an audio-visual project. Once you obtained the synchronization license of a copyrighted song, you can use it in TV shows, films, series, cartoons, video games, advertisements and similar media.