Music licenses can be a complex matter and there are a lot of different types available that are worth understanding to ensure your music is protected correctly and that all artists earn their royalties fairly. We break it down here to help you understand what each type of music license means.

Master Recording Licenses

A master recording license allows the license holder to use music from an artist or label that they don’t own. Master licenses must be obtained from the rights-holder of the recording which is usually the artist themselves or their record label.
This applies to all elements of a recording so whether you’re sampling a single part of a track or if you’re using the entire song for a compilation release you will need a master license.

Synchronisation Licenses

Sync licenses are granted to use the music in a video format. For example if you want to use a song in a scene in a movie then you will have to obtain a sync license from the rights-holder that allows you to literally ‘sync’ the song with your media.
Synchronisation licenses apply whenever you want to use music in a TV show, movie, video, commercial or any other form of video media that you want to use music with.

Mechanical Licenses

This license applies to the actual composition of a song, unlike a master recording license which applies to the actual audio recording of a song. Mechanical licenses are required to release the re-worked or re-recorded composition of a song.
The most common use of mechanical licenses are for the release of cover songs where the recording is your own but you have used someone else’s composition. For medley’s of multiple songs you would need to acquire a mechanical license for each individual song.

Performance Licenses

These are normally acquired by clubs, bars and businesses for the use of music in a public space. Performance licenses cover everything from bands playing covers live at a venue to shops playing the radio over speakers for their customers to listen to.
Often performance licenses are acquired in one bulk – known as a Blanket License – for a yearly fee from a performing rights agency like PRS, BMI, or ASCAP. These societies keep track of performances as best as possible and collect royalties from establishments to distribute it between rights-holders.

Other Licenses

There are two other main types of licenses for music that you can acquire. A Print License which gives permission for the lyrics or notes to be arranged in print form – such as a music notation less book or a lyrics collection. The final common music license is a Theatrical License which once gained gives the owner permission to use a copyrighted composition in a theatrical performance such as a play, musical, ballet, opera, etc.