The 7 Different Types of Music Licenses: What Every Music Professional Needs to Know - Purple Fox Legal

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The 7 Different Types of Music Licenses: What Every Music Professional Needs to Know

By Purple Fox Legal

August 31, 2022

For songwriters, musicians, and other music professionals, proper licensing is paramount. Music licenses are crucial to protecting your copyrights and enhancing the commercial value of your intellectual property.

In this article, we will explore the seven different music licenses and offer some effective tips for getting the correct license for your specific needs.

What is a Music License?

To earn money from a musical production, you must have the proper licensing that proves you have permission. Music licensing serves this purpose. It is a type of legal documentation designed to be held by someone that shows that they have the right to use a piece of music in a specific way.

The Copyright Owner’s 6 Exclusive Rights

The U.S. Copyright Act grants copyright owners six exclusive rights. A license grants someone permission to utilize one or more of these rights for a specific purpose and for a specified period of time. These six exclusive rights include the right:

  • To reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
  • To distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
  • In the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

The 7 Music Licenses Every Music Professional Must Know

The way that you plan to commercially produce a creative work that involves music will determine the exact license you’ll need to acquire. That’s why there are so many different types. And, some licensees are required to obtain more than one type of permission. 

  1. Public Performance License

Have you ever thought about performing a song at a local club or bar? You need a license for that. A public performance license grants permission to the licensee for the public rendition of a song they do not own. And, public performances do not have to be in-person. They include any performance transmitted to the public, whether via television, radio, or an in-person interaction. 

A public performance license grants permission to publicly perform an artist’s work and is the most common music license issued. It applies to businesses that play music in their stores, restaurants, cafes, bars, etc. Performance Rights Organizations (PROs), such as ASCAP and BMI, generally manage these licenses and pay music royalties to artists on a per-use basis. PROs are responsible for collecting owed public performance royalties of works registered with them. 

  1. Mechanical License

Mechanical licenses are responsible for granting permission for the use of a musical production in audio format only. They are necessary for anyone considering the manufacture or distribution of a composition they do not own. Mechanical licenses are often granted to cover bands and those wishing to generate new recordings of the piece. 

Mechanical Rights Organizations (MROs), such as the Mechanical Licensing Collective,  are responsible for collecting owed mechanical royalties of works registered with them. However, copyright owners are free to grant mechanical licenses for their works through private transactions as well.

  1. Synchronization License

Synchronization licenses are legal agreements that grant permission for a musical production to be used in a motion picture (video) format or similar format. Synchronization licenses cover videos on the Internet (like those on YouTube) as well as DVDs, commercials, and other web videos.

  1. Master License

A master refers to the sound recording of a song. A master license allows the owner of a sound recording to grant another party permission to use the “master” sound recording in a video or audio project, but it does not allow someone to re-record the work (i.e., to cover or edit a song). Master licenses are often issued with sync licenses. 

  1. Print License

Print licenses are directly tied to the printed versions of a musical production, like sheet music or lyrics. If you have intentions of displaying, rearranging, or commercially printing music or lyrics that you do not own, a print license is necessary. Third parties who create and sell sheet music, lyrics, or chords containing others’ intellectual property must obtain a print license. Businesses specializing in printed music usually require this type of license and act as music publishers. 

  1. Theatrical License

Theatrical licenses cover “dramatic” performances composed of an audience that is more than just friends and family. This license is mandatory for covering a production, like an opera, musical, play, dance, or other dramatic performance. 

  1. Arrangement License

An arrangement license allows a party to modify an original work by means of reharmonization, melodic reorganization, or orchestration. When changes to an original work are planned, an arrangement license is typically required. This license is often issued to marching bands, percussion ensembles, orchestras, choirs, and similar musical groups.

How Licensing Fees are Priced

The price of licensing fees depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • The person or entity who will be licensing the music;
  • How the music will be used (i.e., advertising campaign, independent film, etc.);
  • Where the music will be used (i.e., bar, restaurant, cafe, retail store, etc.)
  • How much of the music will be used;
  • Anticipated number of viewers or listeners (i.e., expected audience);
  • Duration or how many times the music will be used; and
  • Popularity of material

Final Thoughts for Securing Music Licenses

It’s not the easiest thing to obtain a music license, especially for a high-profile production. You’re probably not the only person trying to get one. If you have legal knowledge surrounding record labels and music rights, the job might be much more simple. 

It is the responsibility of the business that will be using the music to ensure the correct types of licenses have been obtained by the appropriate parties before starting a project. 

As with most business problems, having an attorney in your corner can simplify the process. Hiring an attorney can ease the frustration of figuring out what type of license to get, who to ask for a license, and what licensing fees are reasonable.