What Is Music Licensing and Publishing?

Music Licensing

Licensing vs Publishing

Most up and coming musicians and creatives have heard at least once, or know very little, about Licensing and Publishing in the music industry. Ironically, while essential for the search of a sustainable career in the industry, it turns out not a lot of people understand the basic underlying concepts of these two, how they work, and the ways to exploit them to earn money.

In the times we are living, there are no live concerts and shows to count on for income. It is crucial to finally understand some of the overlooked “intricacies” in a business that has much suffered from the pandemic and worldwide quarantine, to create new opportunities for independent music.

How does music licensing work?

Whenever you want to use a copyrighted work (or a portion of it) to distribute and sell it, perform it live, or to create an entirely new piece, you must legally “clear” it, purchasing a License. 

So, in a nutshell, music licensing is the purchasing of these Licenses gives the buyers legal permission to use a copyrighted work on the agreed forms.

Licensing is another revenue stream for musicians, songwriters, and copyright owners, allowing others to pay for the use of the owned works. Song covers, TV commercials, CD’s and Vinyl, remixes, live performances, all must be Licensed to the copyright owners through one of these 5 categories:

  1. Synchronization License: pairing music with visual media components. (Film, TV, commercials).
  2. Mechanical License: the physical or tangible reproduction of copyrights, paid on a per-copy basis. “Mechanicals” are needed for CD’s, Vinyl, a song remix, a cover song when there is a substantial change in Lyrics or Melody.
    1. There is more for the compulsory mechanicals for a cover song. 
  3. Public Performance License: Live public performance of copyright. Includes concerts, radio broadcast, store music, and the royalties from this License are collected by the PRO’s (performance rights organizations) to be distributed to owners. 
  4. Print Rights License: when the sheet music of the copyrighted work is printed and distributed.
  5. Master License: the permission to use the copyrighted audio recording, or simply, the Master. 

What is music publishing?

Music Publishing

Music Publishing is one of the most underestimated aspects of the recorded music business. Music Publishing is responsible for making sure that composers and songwriters get paid when their compositions are commercially used (you guessed it, also referred to as “Licensed”). Publishing can also enter the creative efforts of an artist to help pitch and sell these licenses to potential buyers.

You can find the differences and perks of entering a Publishing deal in the article “Co-publishing vs. Administration Publishing Deals.”

Some of the tasks done by Publishing include:

  1. Collecting owned royalties
  2. Protecting copyrights
  3. Market and promoting copyrights to be licensed and also for tv, movies, commercials, known as Synchronization Licenses.

As you might have noticed, Licensing and Publishing go hand in hand and complement each other to protect copyright owners, earn royalties through commercial exploitation to draw in revenue for copyright owners, and foster its commercialization.

STEREO LIVE with Luis Lizarralde – the afterthoughts

On our first-ever edition of STEREO Live, we had the honor of speaking with Sony Music’s Licensing Manager for the Andes region, the Colombian Luis Lizarralde. He made sure to explain independent musicians and creatives, some key terms, and elements that make up the Licensing world.

Each recorded song has two separate copyrights, protecting the people involved in the creation of such a body of work. 

  1. The “Composition”: melody, chords, lyrics.  © 
  2. The “Sound Recording”: the sounds, or, Master, a performance of that “composition,” also known as Phonograph. 

The Composition copyright protects the songwriters, while the Sound Recording copyright protects the person who made possible that recording of the Composition. If an independent artist wrote, composed, and recorded the song, that artist owns both copyrights. But, if the artist wrote and composed the song, and the Record Label financed the production of that specific recording, the artist owns the ©, and Label owns the ℗.

In general, there are almost “universal” dynamics when it comes to copyright and its handling for monetary exploitation. However, from country to country, there are variations to some of the norms, and the way that the organizations in charge of the registration and collection of royalties work for its members.

Join our sharing community of industry professionals! 

Join Stereotheque TODAY!
Subscribe to The Hub to read and learn the best about the Music and the Entertainment industries!