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Music Production License Roadmap: 4 Core Steps to Simplify Music Licensing Negotiations

Music Production License

Music Production License: One Google search about music production license controversies will push you into a rabbit hole of messy lawsuits. Nobody wants that type of reputation for their brand, even if their podcast, YouTube channel, or Instagram feed is nothing more than a passion project.

Unfortunately, things we consider public property have copyrights guarding them to limit illegal usage of original content – and rightfully so.

In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re an organization, filmmaker,  or an individual self-made content creator. Anyone interested in adding background music to creative/commercial content and broadcasting it at live events needs to check with the original creator.

Otherwise, your claim to fame would be a controversy that you can never shrug off your digital record.

To avoid that, we’ve created a simple guide about music licensing and things you need to consider before applying for a license.

Have a look:

The Premises: What Is a Music License?

Music license refers to legal agreements between music copyright owners and licensee (you). The contract signals the official transfer of rights to specific tracks (lyrical and instrumental) and sound effects to the applicant.  In turn, ensuring that you don’t have to pay penalties or face a lawsuit when you embed and play copyrighted music on a public or commercial platform.

Ask and You Shall Recieve

Music licensing comprises different permissions that are granted to the licensee.

These exclusive licensing agreements allow you to:  

  • Play, use, and distribute copyrighted music (aka the master recording) in public and commercial spaces through digital audio transmission/streaming
  • Reuse copyrighted work in live performances (both onsite and on virtual platforms)
  • Modify and alter copyrighted music to create customized derivatives that align with your project goals/brand

Types of music license include:

  • Master license to receive ownership and multifaceted rights to use copyrighted music
  • Sync licensing for audiovisual projects
  • Performance license to play/perform copyrighted music compositions live via radio, television, and digital social networks
  • Mechanical license to reproduce and redistribute copyrighted music to expand the audience base
  • Print License (to use copyrighted musical scores in tangible format)
  • Theatrical license for on-stage productions (works for background music during recitals, dramas, and other performing arts projects)
  • Royalty-Free licenses allow you to obtain unlimited access to use chosen music from subscription-based digital music archives after paying for the license only once

Based on your project/business requirements, you can sign a music production license deal to request either one of these agreements or all of them.

Remember that licensing costs can increase if you ask for multiple rights. Therefore, it’s necessary to create a cost-effective and project-oriented outline by focusing on possible usage before binding yourself with a legal contract.

Musical Note: Watch this  Music Licensing 101 explainer video for more details on the subject.

The Four Fundamentals to Ask for Music Licensing Rights

Music Production License

When it comes to legal decisions, you need to understand the licensing system to prevent discrepancies thoroughly. Otherwise, you might wind up paying for more than what you need or receive a rejection letter.

Our handy tips will ensure that these worst-case scenarios don’t become your reality.

Here’s what you should know:

Know Thy Purpose

Recap: There are too many music licenses currently in place!

Ergo, novice licensees might ask for the wrong license when they don’t have a clear-cut plan for their music-related project.  For instance, you might need a sync license with your master license when you’re embedding copyrighted music in your documentaries, video ads, vlogs, etc.

In addition to this, decide where you plan to use your track and the duration of the background music. These tiny details can tip your budget regarding music licensing costs.

Moreover, you need to consider:

  • Rights for sharing your projects (i.e., videos, podcasts, brand marketing content, etc.) on international forums
  • Dissimilarities and requirements of content shared on streaming platforms vs. on-request channels
  • Target audience and third-parties that might benefit from your project


Once you’ve locked these variables, you can negotiate a cost-effective deal with the licensing representative.

Musical Note: Are you a filmmaker? Here’s a secret Filmmaker’s Guide to Music Licensing that you should review.

Take a Deep Dive into Licensing Databases

Once you’ve figured out why you need the music, you need to think about the “who.” Sometimes the original creator (i.e., recording artist or composer) has transferred copyrights to another party.

That’s why you need to identify the authorized copyright owner of your preferred musical composition (or sound recording).  Typically it’s an entity like a record label that owns the right to reuse, distribute, and recreate the protected music.

Unless you’re aiming to obtain rights for a well-known track from current artists (like The Weekend, Adele,  Taylor Swift, etc.), you might have to spend hours to find the true copyright owner. Even then, ownership of publishing/distribution rights might be murky.

We advise you to research accredited licensing associations operating in your country to prevent ambiguities.

These might include:

  • Broadcast Music Inc (BMI)
  • The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP)
  • The Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC)  

The majority of these licensing organizations have updated records of copyrighted music content. Use their search engine algorithm to find the right owner. You can even use these digital intermediates to apply for your music license.

However, before you go on your research spree, review the remaining pointers to make the right licensing decision.

Music Note: Learn How to Find Out If a Song is Copyrighted to streamline your quest for a track you can use legally.

Read the Fine Print

Verbal negotiations are a major no-no in the music licensing sector. You can’t trust copyright owners to transfer rights for free or give you complete control over how you plan to utilize the licensed music.

That’s why it’s essential to sit down and go through every contract clause before you sign the dotted lines.

Ask yourself:

  • Does the deal cover all the relevant music licensing rights?
  • Are there any hidden costs the copyright owner slipped in?
  • Do you notice any loopholes that could result in a potential lawsuit?
  • Are you aware of your rights and responsibilities as a licensee?

Lastly, clarify vague details to limit the danger of dealing with unexpected restrictions and responsibilities of the license. Alternatively, you can consult a lawyer to eliminate legal complications and setbacks associated with the deal.

Have a Plan B

Suppose things don’t go as planned. The license might exceed your current budget, your application might get declined, or you aren’t sure who the authorized copyright owner is and where to find them.

You should explore different options to obtain a music production license at times like these. Thinking out of the box might get you what you want at a lesser price and more creative rights. For instance, maybe there’s a copyrighted cover of the same song or an aspiring artist composes similar-sounding tracks. These plans will ensure that you acquire the soundtrack of your dreams without compromising your visionary (or budget) goals.

Let’s Get That License!

Music production licenses safeguard artists in a deceptive world where original creators often get ripped-off when commercial and public businesses. That’s because these entities and individual money-minded team members use the copyrighted content without paying a reasonable compensation fee.

With a legally-binding licensing agreement, you get to incorporate your favorite music tracks in different ventures without dealing with any complicated or costly conflicts.  Use our actionable guide to decode legal complexities and technicalities before sending your official request to receive a music license.

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