Sencit | Types of Music Licenses
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Types of Music Licenses

Anyone who’s ever edited, produced, or music supervised a movie trailer knows the power of a great cue. The right song or piece of sound design can create instant cohesiveness and lend structure to your project. The creative issues that have plagued your project for months seem to suddenly fix themselves. New exciting themes emerge, and the material comes alive like never before. The right cue is simply magic.

But with the perfect cue comes a process that is far less thrilling and intuitive. That’s right, we’re talking about music licensing. It can be tedious, tiresome, and time-consuming, but with a little guidance and the right resources, the process becomes a lot more user-friendly. Having worked for years in trailer audio, I’ve picked up a few tricks and tips along the way… and I’d like to share them with you over the course of the next few posts. Today, we’ll cover the basic terms and concepts of music licensing to help you determine which particular license is right for your project.

What is music licensing?

Music Licensing is the process of acquiring rights to use copyrighted audio or compositions. A music license is an agreement between the owner of the material (the “Licensor”) and the party seeking permission to use the material (the “Licensee”). Music licenses almost always have a fee associated with them. In the case of mechanical licenses, the fee is usually fixed, or compulsory; while other licenses -- like Synchronization or Master Use licenses - are usually negotiated by the copyright owner and the licensee.

Typical copyright owners include Labels, Publishers, Music Libraries, Artists and Songwriters. The two most common types of copyrights are sound recording (labels & artists) and composition (publishers and songwriters). Sound Recordings and Compositions function as two sides of the same musical coin.

Music Licenses for Visual Media

The first step to clearing the rights for a piece of music or sound is understanding what type of license you’re going to need. There are generally two licenses required to use a particular song in connection with visual media.

Synchronization License (aka Sync or Synch): A synchronization license grants the right to use a specific composition in connection with one or more categories of visual media (film, TV shows, commercials, video games and movie trailers, to name a few). These licenses are usually procured by film studios, television networks, production companies, visual media content creators on platforms like YouTube, and even film students. And most importantly, a Sync License only covers the underlying composition, not the recording itself. For that you’re going to need a...

Master Use License: In addition to obtaining a Synchronization License for the underlying composition, you'll likely need a Master Use License, which grants the rights to a specific sound recording. While the owner of the published material remains the same for every recording of a composition, the owner of the master rights changes depending on which recording is being used. For example, Sencit created a trailer music version of Behind Blue Eyes, written by Pete Townsend of The Who. To use this track, the Licensee must obtain the Sync License from Townsend's publisher as well as a Master Use License from Sencit, the owner of the specific recording.

Other Common Music Licenses

Public Performance License: A Public Performance License grants permission to play a song in a public place or transmit the track to the public by way of radio broadcast, tv broadcast, and/or the internet. Public Performance Licenses are commonly procured by TV networks, radio stations, movie theaters, restaurants, retail businesses, and venues. These licensees pay an annual fee to organizations called Performance Rights Societies (PROs) for the right to “perform” or play the music. For each TV Program, movie, commercial or live band performance, the licensee submits a list of songs played (the “cue sheet”) to the PRO, who then pays composers and publishers a pre-arranged share (“royalties”) from the total license fee. Note that show producers, DJs, and band managers typically draft the cue sheet for the venue or broadcast manager, who then submits the list to the PRO. Royalties for Public Performance are only paid to the music publisher and composer, not to the performing artist or owner of the recording.

Mechanical/Compulsory License: A Mechanical License grants permission to reproduce and distribute a sound recording that has been previously recorded and released to the public. This license is most commonly used for cover songs and applies to audio-only products, like digital downloads and interactive streams or Compact Discs. These licenses are most often procured by artists after recording (but prior to distributing) their cover song. Common ways to obtain a mechanical license for a cover song include The Harry Fox Agency's Songfile or from distribution platforms like TuneCore and Distrokid.

Due to the Copyright Act of 1909, the copyright owner of a composition is required to issue a compulsory license to anyone who wishes to make a mechanical reproduction – such as a vinyl record or CD – provided the following terms are met:

1. The song is a non-dramatic work

2. The song has been previously recorded

3. The previous recording has been distributed to the public

4. The new recording doesn't change the basic melody or fundamental character of the song

5. The new recording is only used in audio-only products

6. A compulsory license fee of 9.1 cents per copy (for recordings up to 5 minutes) is paid

Print License: A print license grants permission to reproduce printed lyrics and music. Print music is commonly distributed in the form of folios, sheet music, and guitar tabs; while print lyrics are typically used in books, advertisements, and merchandise. Note that guitar tabs as well as lyric websites like Genius must obtain a print license to display and print underlying compositions of a particular song.

How to License Music

If you are interested in obtaining a Music Synchronization License or Master Use License to acquire music or sound design for your media project, this post will walk you through the necessary steps in a clear and concise fashion.

To obtain Public Performance licenses in the United States, you will need to contact a Public Performance Organizations like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC or AMRA.

Mechanical Licenses are compulsory and can be obtained through the Harry Fox Agency.

Print licenses will always be obtained through the publishing company since this license is for the use of the composition.

Finally, remember that licensing music is more than a legal transaction. In an age when record sales are down and free streaming is common, your license fee can go a long way to support artists and performers. And if you need help with this, Sencit’s Rights Clearances team is always available to make this process easy for you. Good luck!

How to License Music

Sencit’s Rights Clearances team leverages its extensive knowledge on music licenses to ensure a seamless process in helping you obtain a music license. However you have the ability to obtain them on your own via the following sources:

  • A Music Synchronization License or Master Use License for use of music or sound design for your media project, our “How to License” article will walk you through the necessary steps in a clear and concise fashion.

  • Public Performance License in the United States can be obtained by contacting a Public Performance Organization like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC or AMRA

  • Mechanical Licenses are compulsory and can be obtained through the Harry Fox Agency.

  • Print licenses will always be obtained through the publishing company since this license is for the use of the composition.


Finally, It’s important to remember that licensing music is more than a legal transaction. In an age when record sales are down and free streaming is common, your license fee can go a long way to support artists and performers.

If you are looking for support or more information on music licensing, our team is always here to help.

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Licensing

All music and sound design provided by Sencit requires a license for use. To license music or sound design for your trailer, spot, or campaign, please follow these steps:

Find the tracks that you'd like to use.

Click Start Licensing below to fill the form or email [email protected] with details as described on that page.

Complete the license, pay for the use and sync the music!

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