The Ins and Outs of Music Licensing


Licensing a piece of music can be difficult and complex. Here’s what you need to know to make it easy and manageable.

Music licensing is a multi-step process that involves determining what permissions are needed, ascertaining and contacting the owners of the music, negotiating the appropriate license and administering written agreements in order to use a song in your production.

The process can be complicated because many people are involved in the creation of one piece of music, therefore it is necessary to get every individual’s permission. Whether you are using an entire song or just a small snippet, the following steps must be followed.

The first step of the music licensing process involves determining who to contact in order to get licensing permission. This will most likely include both the label and the publisher. The label owns the actual sound recording, and represents the people who recorded the song, including the singer, musicians and back-up vocalists. The publisher represents the song’s composer and/or songwriter, who own the actual copyrights for the song. In order to determine the writers and/or composers, resources such as BMI and ASCAP can be extremely helpful.

The next step involves contacting the individuals to gain both publishing rights and master rights to the song. Publishing rights are the rights that the writers hold, and you may have to contact multiple publishers if the song has multiple writers.

For example, EMI could own 33.3%, Warner Chappel could own 33.3% and Sony could own the final 33.3%. All publishers will require a separate license, and they must all agree on the same terms and fee, which is then split based on what percentage of the song each writer owns.

Next, unless you plan to re-record the song, you will also need to get master rights. Master rights are the rights held by the label, and covers the actual recording of the song. Often one song is associated with many labels, so it is important to make sure you are licensing the correct master that the client wants to use.

All labels are under parent companies, as well. For example, Atlantic and Rhino are owned by Warner. Once you find the correct label, they will have all the information on where and when the song was recorded, and who all the vocalists are.

The last step of the music licensing process, and possibly the most complicated, involves negotiating and making sure every party agrees to the same set of terms. When it comes to licensing a piece of music, there is not much room for negotiations. It is also important to know that most publishers and labels will not agree to exclusivity for internet. However, be sure to add exclusivity to your request, as getting a ballpark fee is very important.

When licensing music, there are steps and potential issues that you can run into. But if you understand the process, you can significantly decrease your chances of a potential problem. Although there are many potential roadblocks in music licensing, including the recent skyrocketing of prices, there are also ways to decrease the cost, avoid the pitfalls and obtain the rights to the perfect piece of music for your campaign.

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