Secrets Of Commercial Music Licensing That Every Musician Should Know

Music Licensing

Independent musicians have utilized music licensing as a lucrative way to promote their business and get their name noticed within the music industry. Many musicians who do not know or have yet to use the benefits of licensing their music should consider allowing their music to be licensed. 

Multiple factors go into developing music for licensing and the actual license itself. But musicians can gain attention and visibility through licensing. Music is licensed for use in various ways, from streaming advertisements, to commercials, and even feature films. 

Here are some insider secrets that musicians should know when looking to licensing their music for commercial use.


Before jumping into the licenses themselves – What is a music license? 

For those who don’t know, music licensing is a way that owners of copyrighted songs, musical tracks, or sounds allow others to use their musical work for a fee. Anyone who might want to utilize your music must sign a legal contract to be permitted by you, the musician. 

There are two copyrights given to a sound or piece of music, the composition and the publishing (recording). Both of these copyrights have to be licensed within the agreement.

Music licenses can be exclusive, meaning that the licensee can only utilize the music purchased for that specific project and licensee, or non-exclusive, which is when you can allow the music to be used multiple times by different licensees.


The following essential part that musicians need to have a solid understanding of is the differences in the types of music licenses that can be acquired. Here is the breakdown of the three major types:

  • Synchronization License: Also known as the “sync” license, this is for any producer or music supervisor who wants to use your song in a media format, and you give them this permission to do so. 
  • Master License: In conjunction with the sync license, this permits the usage of the musical recording. For example, if the music is a cover of another song, the new master license references the song’s new recording instead of the original version.
  • Mechanical License: You, the musician, will need this if you want to record someone else’s music so that the songwriters and composers receive their fee if you decide to sell.


A crucial part of allowing your music to be licensed is through registering your music with a Performing Rights Organization (PRO). The two familiar places you can register your music are through BMI or ASCAP. These organizations will collect performance royalties to give to you. 

You can also skip all of this work yourself and utilize music licensing service companies, which offer sync licenses to creatives worldwide to use your work. Submitting your work to a music licensing agency is an excellent option for musicians, especially new and emerging artists. The music license agency will feature your music within their library, and it makes it much easier for licensees to locate your music in a “one-stop” fashion. 

Agencies also have a vast network of producers who utilize their services to find the best music for their projects, which can go a long way for getting more visibility as an artist. And who knows, their next choice could just be you!


There are multiple ways independent artists are paid for the use of their music. Here is a breakdown of the kinds of deals you can expect to encounter for usage:

  • Partial Buy-Out: You would receive an upfront fee to create a specific track or song and then a percentage of the sync fee and all of the Writer’s share from the PRO. “Writer” is referring to anyone who contributed to the lyrics or melody (typically, you), and the “Publisher” is anyone that might have the music copyrights for the recording.
  • Exclusive License: For this license, you do not get a fee upfront, but you are sharing the rights to a pre-recorded song or track with a publishing company, and you keep all of your Writer’s share. In some cases, the publishing company might re-title your track so that they can claim money and allow you to preserve rights for the original master.
  • Non-Exclusive License: You permit the use of your music but can shop that same music around in other locations, as well. Typically the duration of these deals is a maximum of about five years. When your music is used, you retain your Writer’s share and the agreed amount for the Publisher’s share.


A critical factor that can heavily influence a piece of music for licensing to be picked up is making it easy to license. By registering your music and utilizing a music licensing service as indicated above, you have taken the best steps to secure the ease in which to license. 

Making sure that registration and metadata are correct is another way to make the process of music licensing easier. Metadata is the catalog or organization of how your musical tracks or songs are stored. It contains all of the essential information to make it easy to locate, including the artist’s name (you), the song or sound title, the album information if there is any, duration, and genre. Most musicians who register with music licensing already have their metadata organized and ready.

Producers and creatives also don’t have the time to jump through hoops to find publishers and other composers to get music licensing rights. If you are an original artist or only work alongside one other person, you make the process of obtaining a license that much easier. With copyrighted music, the licensing portion has to be signed by all parties involved within the making of the music or track. Sometimes, there are multiple publishers, and it can take a while for licensing to be approved. 


Once established, indie musicians should continually be expanding their efforts to allow music to be licensed. Look outside of television or film producers if that is your target – developing working relationships with music licensing agencies, online content creators, or submitting your music to featured music blogs online are also great ways to establish music licensing. 

Just because online videos or content blogs work with lower budgets in most cases than, say, a film might, does not mean you should not expose your music in those areas. The more you make yourself visible and show off your music, the more people you encounter and allow yourself that opportunity to grow and make money through your music.