26 May 2024 in Releasing

Understanding Music Licensing: A Comprehensive Guide

by nOzart 9.26 min reading time

Understanding music licensing is crucial. This comprehensive guide will explain the essentials based on my personal experience and learnings. I hope it also can help you to ensure legal compliance and maximise your creative potential.

Whether you're a DJ, music producer, or a business owner utilizing music, understanding music licensing is crucial. Music licensing ensures that creators get paid for their work, protects you from legal issues, and allows you to use music in various ways, whether for performances, recordings, or media. Navigating the world of music licenses can be complex, but this guide will break down the essentials to help you ensure legal compliance and maximize your creative potential.

Types of Music Licenses

When I first started in the music industry, the different types of music licenses were a major source of confusion. Here's what I've learned:

Mechanical License

Synchronization License (Sync License)

Performance License

Master Use License

Print Rights License

Licensing Entities and Organizations

Understanding who handles what can be tricky. Here’s a breakdown I wish I had when I started:

Steps to Obtain a License

Early on, I struggled with this process. Note that when working with a record label or a distribution service like DistroKid, many of these steps are handled by them. Here's how it actually works:

  1. Identify the License Type: Determine if you need a mechanical, sync, performance, master use, or print rights license.
  2. Contact the Appropriate Entity:
    • For mechanical licenses, contact agencies like the Harry Fox Agency.
    • For performance licenses, register with PROs such as ASCAP or BMI.
    • For sync licenses, negotiate with the music publisher or licensing agency.
    • For master use licenses, contact the record label or owner of the recording.
    • For print rights licenses, contact the music publisher.
  3. Negotiate Terms and Fees: Understand the fees and terms, which can vary based on usage, duration, and reach. As a starting producer, there is, in my experience, little to no room for negotiation. It's often a matter of accepting the terms as they are. This may change as I gain more experience and recognition in the industry.
  4. Secure the License: Ensure all agreements are documented to protect both parties legally.

Self-Releasing Music

When I chose to self-release, platforms like DistroKid made the process easier. Here’s what you need to know:

Releasing via a Record Label

Releasing via a record label is currently still my preference. This route provides the benefit of a critical second-party review of my track, which is something I don't get with self-releasing. Additionally, having a label release your track can enhance your marketing efforts, leveraging the label’s social media presence and industry connections. However, it's essential to research the label's marketing capabilities, as not all labels actively promote their artists. This choice is very personal and can evolve over time, depending on your career stage and goals.

Publishing Agreement

Master Agreement

Clarifying License Handling with a Record Label

When you work with a record label, they typically handle the following types of licenses:

However, the label does not handle:

It’s important to note that these 50% splits are specific to the agreements with the record label. When you register your tracks with a PRO and global royalty collection services for royalty collection, you retain 100% ownership of your tracks. This distinction is crucial and can be confusing for new producers, as it was for me when I started. Ensuring clarity in these agreements helps avoid misunderstandings and ensures you get the full benefits of your work.

Distinction Between Local PROs and Global Royalty Collection Services

When I first navigated the world of royalties, distinguishing between local PROs and global royalty collection services was a challenge. Here’s what I learned:

For a deeper understanding of the registration process with PROs like Sabam and using global royalty collection services like Songtrust for royalty collection, check out my personal experience and comprehensive guide about here.

Important Considerations

Practical Applications for Your Activities

For a DJ, a performance license is often essential for legally playing music in public venues. Creating promotional videos or livestreams may require a sync license.

For a music producer and a music band, distributing EDM tracks online or through streaming platforms necessitates mechanical licenses. If your tracks are used in videos or advertisements, sync licenses are also needed.

By understanding and obtaining the correct music licenses, you can ensure your creative projects are legally protected, allowing you to focus on what you do best – creating and sharing amazing music.

If you have specific scenarios or further questions about licensing, feel free to reach out!

For more details on registering your tracks with a PRO and using global royalty collection services, check out my personal experience described in my other comprehensive guide about registering your music.



Music Producer

Antwerp based DJ and music producer Olivier Arntz is active in the music business since the mid-1980s. As nOzart he is producing music in several genres without pinning himself down in any particular type though his style is often progressive, melodic, techno, deep house and chill tunes.

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“Without music, life would be a mistake.”

Friedrich Nietsche