Musicians are creating original works every day, but many of them do not understand their rights to music licensing and streaming their music on platforms. There are plenty of royalty-free places for creatives to find music for their next project, but if they want something unique and brand-new, they will need to seek permission from the original artist.
Independent artists need to educate themselves in music licensing and streaming and how they relate to one another since technology is constantly evolving music. It is essential more in today’s online digital world, where so much is presented across platforms, videos, websites, podcasts, and more.
The basic gist is that for anyone to stream music for their own use, they must acquire a music license. However, this is only the beginning of understanding how licensing and streaming work together.
WHAT IS MUSIC LICENSING?
The easiest way to explain music licensing is with an example. Let’s suppose a music producer for an upcoming film is trying to locate the right music for a scene, and they come across some of your original work. If they enjoy that work and want to utilize it for their film, they must be granted permission by you, the artist, in the form of a music license.
Many musicians don’t realize that when you create an original piece of music, two copyrights are born:
- The Composition – the composition of the music includes the lyrics and melody (and if it is on sheet music, that is covered as well).
- The Recording – it is also referred to as the “master” recording, but this is the medium in which you have laid down the music, be it on an mp3, CD, record, etc.
And because there are two copyrights, there is almost always more than one license that needs to be granted by a third party. In addition, multiple types of licenses may be necessary, depending on how the music is used.
Licenses in music are often covered by music licensing companies, making things a lot easier for the independent artist. The companies usually cover all legalities and documentation associated with the license, and the third party granted the license. You will usually have to invest in becoming a featured artist with the company, but you are given more exposure and networking, so it is generally worth the cost.
MUSIC LICENSE TYPES
Now that music licensing is understood, a musician should also know the different kinds of needed licenses. The license itself will be a signed agreement between you (the artist), any other publisher(s) of the musical works (author), and whoever it is that is going to use the music.
Here are the common types of music licenses that are granted:
- Synchronization License: most people call this a “sync” license, and it is one of the more commonly used licenses for streaming music. It gives the third party permission for the use of your musical recording in a digital media format. These days, those formats are primarily for videos, where an image or sequence of images is displayed over the audio, as we often see on YouTube or digital advertisements.
- Mechanical License: A mechanical license covers previously written songs when a musician decides to record someone else’s music (a cover). The license is to ensure that the original author(s) receive royalties. Many musicians can get their start and gain more exposure by covering a well-known song. While this is a great idea, you should be sure to research and find out what fees are owed to the original music author and make sure you get the license to record it yourself for distribution.
- Public Performance License: Performing music in public also requires its own license. This type of license also covers any performances that are done online or on the radio. An excellent example of this license is a community theater organization that will need to perform the music for its show on a stage. This also applies to live streams, which is a form of streaming but with a public performance.
- Master License: this type of license is used frequently with a sync license and the other licenses above because it provides the third party with the master recording. An example of this with a mechanical license is that if the music is a cover of another song, a new master license would be necessary for the new recording instead of the song’s original version.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LICENSING AND STREAMING
Any music that is used for streaming needs to have a license with it. Musicians and original artists are paid upfront by the likes of the new licensing platforms like Track Club music for videos for whatever type of licenses are necessary, and many streaming platforms such as, Bandcamp, Apple Music, and Spotify pay for their licenses in the form of a “blanket,” where they pay in their fees to the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC).
Musicians must understand that they have the power to negotiate the terms of the license, which will include payment and other things like duration and exclusivity. Licenses that are exclusive entail the third party the only accessible musical recording, whereas if you keep it non-exclusive, you (the artist) are free to use the same recording to license with another party at any time.
When working with a music licensing company, they may negotiate the terms on your behalf with the streaming platform. Different streams require separate licenses, such as an audio-only stream (like on a podcast) that would need a mechanical license, and streams that use the recording for video need sync and master licenses.
While other licenses can be custom-tailored depending on the situation, you agree to enter with the third party. Therefore, it is beneficial to grasp how music licensing works. You should also know how the licensing correlates to music streaming since this is the most popular way listeners consume music.
If it all sounds confusing to you as a musician, that is okay. Take your time and research streaming platforms and licensing companies before deciding where to take your original work. If you need more help, you can always reach out to a musician or two who already utilize these services or possibly a music lawyer to go over the legalities and find out more about the process.