What Is a Music License Agreement?

A music license agreement is a binding contract that protects the rights of a musician and guarantees that all their work is under copyright. A copyright provision is necessary to protect the owner of the intellectual property. The agreement covers the owner offering exclusive authority to entities and corporations to reproduce and distribute their work in exchange for royalties. Music copyright works the same as other copyright arrangements. It is also up to the individual musician or music owner to decide the organization responsible for reproductions of their work while earning revenue. The agreement is between the creating entity or the licensor and the entity seeking to use or the licensee. A music license agreement is present when using original music for television, films, advertisements, and other promotions.

According to an article published on the website of How Stuff Works entitled How Music Licensing Works, music in a low-end tv show estimates at two thousand US dollars for a five-year licensing deal. For a film, it escalates to a ten thousand US dollar perpetuity. Popular songs are in the range of three thousand dollars for television and 25 thousand for film use. Using music in commercials costs more money, typically ranging from 25 to 500 thousand US dollars annually.

Types of Music Licenses

Music licenses are one of many ways that musicians or artists gain revenue or royalties for their work. It allows them to give another entity legal permission to distribute their music in any form of media. Generally, music licenses have six different types or classifications for various purposes. An original score of music work ranges from sheet music reproduction, theater productions, Broadway musicals, jukeboxes, major motion pictures, and big-scale movies. Below are the six principal forms of music licenses present in the industry, together with their usage.

Synchronization License: It is otherwise known as sync license. The use of the license revolves around a music track for an audiovisual project. Usually, the music pairs with some form of visual media or a moving image of audiovisual work. The sync license has a wide range of use, mainly in TV shows or series, cartoons, film productions, CD/DVD. Other uses include commercial videos on various media platforms, video games, and animation projects. Once a song plays in a media project, it is known as synchronization. It is the most widely used license in music and audiovisual markets. The music publisher or music publishing company handles issuing a sync license. The producer is responsible for obtaining the license for an audiovisual project.Master License: The master license is a little more complex than other licenses and shares similarities with a sync license. The master right for the music piece belongs to the entity that owns the recording of the song. In short, the master license grants the use of a music track to the person who acquires it, transferring the rights to the original recording. Another notable difference between sync licenses and master licenses falls on the music membership. The record companies house the music for a master license, while the composer holds the media for a sync license. If a television show, video game, film, or commercial uses a song, the master and sync licenses must go together.Public Performance License: One of the common music licenses available at present. Otherwise known as a performance license, it allows the use of songs for public broadcasts. It includes businesses or establishments that play music in their stores, radios, and other forms of public performances, including live events, concerts, and shows. Every occurrence of music reproduction for audiences, associates with paying the license. Copyright societies or Performance Right Organizations (PROs), including BMI, SESAC, and ASCAP, are responsible for managing public performance licenses and issuing music royalties to artists on a per-use basis.Mechanical License: The mechanical license or reproduction license allows a song to undergo reproduction and distribution of media to a particular market and exclusive private use of the track. The mechanical license permits a music company to record a music track in various mediums or tangible forms. The artists have legal agreements with record labels, distributors, and publishers regarding contract terms. Artists gain royalties per copy sold. A person also needs a mechanical license to record a cover song, even just a snippet. The license also applies if an individual chooses to add or change lyrics, produce remixes, or make alterations that affect the integrity of the original composition. Print License: The print right license refers to the permission to reproduce the physical copy of sheet music an artist creates. The license applies when an individual wants to print, write, sell, or arrange the score of a song. It also applies when parts or the entirety of a lyric appears on the covers of a CD or the subtitles on social media platforms. Theatrical License: A theatrical license is a form of a private license, with its use only possible in theater productions and plays. It is essential to avail of a theatrical license for a copyrighted musical work for a performance on stage and in the presence of the public.

Components of a Music License Agreement

Music licensing agreements vary in content depending on the type of license you are getting. An artist or musician must be aware of all the different components that affect the song rights and the value of these rights. Below are the common elements that must be present in the music license agreement.

Copyright owners: The music creator or artist usually have sole ownership of the song or music they produce. However, there are instances when there is more than one copyright owner. Copyright owners include lyricists, producers, composers, and record labels. A music license agreement must contain a list of owners to identify who to get permission from for content use.Specific use permission: Remember that a song license can be single, multi, or all-purpose use. More rights for a song equates to a greater value for the licensing agreement. It is best to be cautious of permissions, as it can lessen the rights of the owner. A single purpose is for a particular material, not enabling the licensee to use it for other projects. Multi-purpose permission allows the purchaser to use the song for other projects in association with the primary material. These additional rights add value to the music license agreement.  In terms of all-purpose permission, a song purchaser gains exclusive rights. The artist sells the entirety of the song and additionally waives their rights.Exclusivity: The exclusivity clause addresses how and where of song utilization. It largely determines the right of the musician to the song. The parties determine if the possibility of using or selling the song for other purposes. More exclusivity restrictions result in a higher price.Agreement duration: It is necessary to consider and indicate the term of the license agreement. The duration can be for a fixed period or through event-related contingencies. The term of use varies depending on the set conditions by the licensor and licensee. Geographic location: There are instances when music licensing agreement specifies a location that binds the agreement. Identify the areas that describe the use of the song and its accompanying provisions.Royalties: A musician can arrange and maintain royalty rights from the earned profits by the licensee for the duration of the agreement. The royalty agreements are also in addition or replacement of license payments.Song augmentation: The musician or the licensor decides whether the licensed song may be augmented or modified by the other party. Song modification or augmentation includes instances where the licensee clips, remixes, or extends the song. The artist also decides whether to maintain the integrity of the song or allow the song to undergo modifications to cater to the needs of the licensee.Assignments: The licensor and licensee decides if it is allowable to sell the license to a third party. For example, a film producer sells the rights of licensing to another producer for film use.

How To Get Music Rights

If an individual wants to use music for a film, video, commercial, advertisement, or other audiovisual projects, there is a need to acquire music rights. It can become a complicated journey to obtain these rights. However, following the steps below can help you get the music rights you need.

Step 1: Figure Out What Rights You Need for the Agreement

There are various types of music license agreements available that serve different purposes. The licenses give different rights to the licensee, and it is imperative to know them. If you are aiming for a film, it is best to use a sync and master license agreement.

Step 2: Determine if the Music Is in a Public Domain

For individuals in the United States, published musical works dating before 1922 are within a public domain. In other countries, music enters the public domain, elapsing the death of a musician at 70 years. If the music is within the public domain without a specific owner, recording and performing the song without a license is allowable. It is advantageous to research the origins of a song before use.

Step 3: Identify the Permission You Need For the Song

If you are aiming for a sync license, the permission comes from the copyright owner or publisher. For a master use license, identify the entity holding the ownership of the particular song you need. It is also advisable to contact the PROs, as they can help redirect you to the publishers or labels you need to seek permission for the songs.

Step 4: Contact the Associated Owners

After identifying the individuals or entities you need to seek permission from, the next step is to contact them. Writing a simple letter is a personal approach and proves to be more effective when requesting consent to use a song for free. In the case of multiple publishers, you must request permission from each one.

Step 5: Describe the Intention for Use

The music owner will want to know your intention for using their music. As a licensee, you have to prepare a project description or project plan for the owner. The plan must include the story plot for a film or tv show, project budget, project exhibitions, and other necessary inclusions.

Step 6: Negotiate for the Price

Finally, make arrangements for price negotiations. An owner sets fees according to the song and the intention of use. You also have the opportunity to try and negotiate with the payment that fits your intended budget.


A copyright license agreement is a written contract between a copyright owner and another party. In its content, it allows an entity to use copyrighted materials that serve the intended purpose. These intentions can be printing or distribution within a specific timeline.

What are the three Ps of licensing?

The three P’s of licensing refers to profit, promotion, and protection. Profit refers to determining the price points to establish a profit margin. Promotion describes the process of training staff and conducting effective promotional plans to generate higher sales. Protection identifies copyright and trademarks claims relating to a product or service.

How are licensors getting paid for licenses?

Licensors get their pay through generating royalties for the reproduction and sale of their intellectual property.

Creating music is more than producing sounds and tones. A musician makes music intending to relay their emotions and message to listeners. However, for starting or small-time musicians, it becomes challenging to reach a broader market with limited resources. In these instances, a musician can draft a music license agreement to share their music. Start a journey to spread the message while gaining royalties through the music license agreements available for use and download above.