Different Types of Music Licenses | Decibel Peak Academy

different types of music licenses - decibel peak academy

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If you’re going to be using copyrighted music in your commercial project, you need to know about the different types of music licenses. It’s also important information for musical entrepreneurs looking to start licensing their own work.

Disclaimer: Decibel Peak is not qualified to make legal/financial decisions on your behalf. Always exercise due diligence and consult multiple sources when it involves your music career. Everything you’ll read is based on my personal experience, so I hope this information is as valuable to you as it was to me.

The different types of musical licenses are as follows: Synchronization (Sync), Mechanical, Master, Performance/Broadcast, Press (Sheet Music) & Theatrical. You’ll also need to be aware of the TWO types of agreements you’ll be signing off; exclusive & non-exclusive. Acquiring all of these different licenses under one agreement can be challenging, but it’s much simpler if you’re working directly with the owner. Decibel Peak provides pre-recorded tracks and custom creations that include all these permissions.

NON-EXCLUSIVE agreements

These types of agreements are usually the most affordable, but they’re not the best option if you’re looking for something unique to your brand/project. In layman’s terms, the owner of the musical work can keep licensing his/her recording to other parties.

It’s also possible for the owner(s) to collect royalties on these types of deals.

The duration of these agreements and the specific restrictions can usually be negotiated.

In other words, non-exclusive agreements are tailor-made to your project and/or campaign so that both parties are equally compensated. The price can usually vary depending how much liberty the licensee is asking for.

Non-exclusive agreements usually include these permissions:

  • Synchronization
  • Master
  • Performance/Broadcast

Non-exclusive agreements usually exclude these permissions:

  • Mechanical
  • Press (Sheet Music)
  • Theatrical

You’ll understand why in subsequent sections.

EXCLUSIVE agreements (and/or BUYOUTS)

These types of agreements can range from expensive to extremely expensive. I mean, think about it… You’re basically striping the owner of all his exclusive rights (if not all of them).

The price for exclusivity is high, but the value for your money exceeds it.

Intellectual property is as rare as gold… Especially when it’s custom-made (by us, hopefully).

In other words, exclusive agreements are usually reserved for music works that were handcrafted for the occasion. Otherwise, you’re basically allowing the composer to keep profiting off of your initial investment.

That being said, it’s a win-win for copyright owners either way!

If you’re the licensee, you basically redeem exclusive rights for the music work and/or recording. However, the original owner may still retain authorship and be permitted to collect royalties for the performance/broadcast of the work.

Buyouts are different because they also strip the writer of his/fer “shares”.

Here are some situations that might require an exclusive agreement:

  • If you need to distribute the recording on streaming services (mechanical, master & performance/broadcast)
  • If you need to distribute the sheet music to bookstores (press)
  • If you’re the record label producing the album (synchronization, mechanical, master, performance/broadcast, press & theatrical)

There are more examples, but you get the idea.

Okay, let’s start talking about these different licenses and what they’re used for!

Synchronization (Sync) License

Non-Exclusive: Yes

Exclusive: Yes

Buyout: Yes

In simple terms, the “sync” license is used to manage the permission of synchronizing music works to moving pictures (TV/Film, Advertisements, Commercials, Trailers, etc…). It’s by far the most commonly used license and is usually included with any agreement.

If you’re looking for the individual that owns these rights, it’ll most likely be the person that composed the piece of music. It can also be his/her publisher and/or record label.

Just remember that you’ll need another license to broadcast to the public.

Mechanical License

Non-Exclusive: No

Exclusive: Maybe

Buyout: Yes

The mechanical license is required when one needs permission to reproduce the musical work in any shape or form. We’re talking about: CDs, DVDs, video games, streaming services, etc…

It’s usually not the easiest license to acquire, but most don’t need it.

Here are the individuals/entities that would require these permissions:

  • Publishing Companies
  • Record Labels
  • Distributors
  • Cover Artists

If that’s not you, then you most likely don’t need to worry.

The person(s) that owns the composition and/or recording usually retains these rights.

Master License

Non-Exclusive: Yes

Exclusive: Yes

Buyout: Yes

The master license is often the most ambiguous of all these licenses. That’s why it’s often confused with the “sync” license, but the difference is pretty distinct.

Here’s the example that made it crystal-clear for me:

  • Commercial using the original recording (master, sync & performance/broadcast)
  • Commercial using the COVER version (sync & performance/broadcast)

Performance/Broadcast License

Non-Exclusive: Yes

Exclusive: Yes

Buyout: Yes

The performance license is one of the most used permissions. I included the term broadcast because it no longer applies to musical performances (musicians) exclusively.

It now includes the broadcast of a musical recording to the public (considered a “performance”).

The owner of these rights is usually the one collecting performance royalties (i.e. the writer). That’s why cover bands still need to acquire this license to perform the musical work in public.

However, you most likely won’t need to worry about this license. Television stations and public establishments like restaurants are responsible for paying yearly “blanket” fees to performance rights organizations (PROs).

The only timer you’d need to worry is if you were performing/broadcasting on your property.

Print License

Non-Exclusive: Maybe

Exclusive: Maybe

Buyout: Yes

It’s not talked about often, but the print license is granted to allow for the distribution of the musical composition in the form of writing. We’re usually talking to the publisher if we need these rights, so that could be the composer or his/her publishing company.

It’s also necessary if the lyrics and/or musical notation appears on-screen.

For example…

  • Music Videos
  • Lyric Videos
  • Music Lessons (with tabs)

Theatrical License

Non-Exclusive: Maybe

Exclusive: Maybe

Buyout: Yes

Another license that is rarely brought up. The theatrical license is specific to the sector of theater. It’s usually called upon for musical works that fall under the category of: opera, musical theater, broadway show, etc…

However, you may find yourself licensing one of your tracks for theater one day (or vice versa).

Once again, these rights are usually shared between writer and publisher. Since it doesn’t usually involve the musical recording, this license is usually easier to obtain.

Which type of music license do I need?

I hope reading through this article helped you understand the different types of music licenses. It can be difficult to find relevant information and especially difficult to secure permissions when they’re not coming from one person.

That’s why it’s always advisable to work directly with music producers/composers.

Decibel Peak Productions owns 100% of its copyrighted musical works, so you’ll have maximum flexibility when it comes to deciding which license is right for your project.

We negotiate specific rates depending on your specific needs.

However, it’s best to start by grouping the different types of music licenses into:

  • Non-Exclusive
  • Exclusive
  • Buyout

It should be clear to you which of these include the licenses you’ll need.

If not, then you can schedule a 1-on-1 Consultation to get answers to your questions. Feel free to leave any comments below as well, I’m always happy to reply to these as soon as possible. Thanks for reading, I hope that simplifies things!




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