Licensing royalty free music is easy!

Should You License Your Music?

BY JESS KELLER

Why you should License your own Music?

The bottom line answer: yes. If you want to make compensation of any kind off your work, it will need to be licensed. We all know how the digital age has shifted the music industry with easier access and a higher rate of piracy. Luckily, most high-traffic streaming sites have made it hard to avoid copyright policies, YouTube’s Content ID included.

But that means if your music isn’t licensed, that anyone can use your music without your permission and without you making any money. So how do you license your music? What’s the best way to go about it? Copyright laws are complicated, extensive, and constantly changing. But we’ve outlined the basics you need to know so you can protect your work and start making money off of it.

Copyrights

To copyright a piece of intellectual property (in this case, music) is to take legal ownership of it. If you hold the copyright you hold the power to have the music reproduced, distributed, performed etc. Officially copyrighting your music through registration means going through the government. It does cost money but will protect you in the long run. While copyright technically exists from the moment of creation, registration will protect you in lawsuits and creates a public record of your works. If you are serious about making music your career, seriously think about registering your copyrights. Luckily you can do this easily online through the Copyright Office of the United States (copyright laws will vary between countries). If you want an easy run-down of the legalities of copyrighting music in the US, check out this simple PDF. But this is where things get complicated: in music there can be multiple people whom the rights belong to. This is because of the difference in composition and lyrics, who writes the music and those who writes the words. This is usually split 50/50 but can vary between the artists. So if you have any partners in your musical endeavors, make sure to communicate these rights before getting into official copyrighting. A license can be granted for the piece of copyrighted music in exchange for payment – these are called royalties. And royalties are how you get paid. Licensing can vary greatly depending on the usage of your music and the companies you work for. But more on that later. First, let’s get into PROs and how you can get royalty payment.

 

PROs

PRO stands for performance rights organization. These are the people that make sure you get paid when your music is used. They do this by collecting royalties on behalf of the rights owner. PROs collect royalties from public performances, which includes radio play, TV air time, commercials, and public spaces. Those who use your music are required to pay the royalties for it. According to the US Copyright Act, the PRO collects royalties, and you, the musician, or rights holder gets paid out. If you do not belong to a PRO, you will not receive royalties. So if you want to get paid for other people using your music, make sure you belong to one. The most popular PROs in the US include:

  • BMI
  • ASCAP
  • SESAC

One of the important things you’ll negotiate with a PRO is writer performance vs publisher performance. When a piece of music is publicly performed or broadcasted, both the songwriter and publisher are owed royalties. This is why it’s important to understand what the differences between writer and publisher performances are. It will affect your payout. These payouts are separated to make sure the publisher doesn’t gain control of the writer’s share and you as a musician get the money you deserve. The writer is the person who created the music.The publisher is the person who manages your property. Publishers often take a cut from royalty payouts – typically 30-50%. This is important to know when distributing and selling your copyrighted music.

 

Synchronization and Licenses

So you’ve copyrighted and registered your music and you belong to a PRO. Let’s talk about ways in which your music can be used to make money. Synchronization is the use of music with visuals such as movies, trailers, video games, TV shows and more. This is where the use of your music could lead to big exposure and big money. This requires a sync license and a master use license (for the master recording usually done through your label if you have one). But all sync licenses are not the same, meaning prices will vary. For example, if a music supervisor wants to use a top 40 track for a film, the sync fee can be thousands of dollars. This all can be negotiated through your publisher (another bonus to having that management). Or a media producer can access smaller musicians for a more affordable price. So the producer pays a sync fee and arrange a license that outlines how your music will be used. They must also fill out a cue sheet that specifies how and when your music will be used. So even after having a media producer pay a sync fee, you will still get royalty payouts for the public performance of the music. Syncing your music can be one of the most effective ways to get your music out there.

Types of Licenses

It is important to know there are different license you can determine before selling your music.

Exclusive: Many publishing agreements are exclusive, seeking out the entire catalog of a composer. In this case you’ll be working with only one publisher or company. But if you do go into an agreement like this, you won’t be able to sell your music on other platforms.

Non Exclusive: If your catalog is non-exclusive, it’s best to publish your work on several platforms. The more you can get out there the better. This is when royalty free music sites can be beneficial to you.

How To Sell

If you have an already existing catalog, there are a few ways to get your music synched and ultimately get that money.

  • Individual hustle
  • Playing music live and locally
  • Selling on iTunes and BandCamp or putting your music up on streaming sites like SoundCloud and Spotify
  • Publisher management
  • They seek out opportunities for you and chase opportunities in the synch business – these usually seek out exclusive usage
  • Ad agencies
  • Production studios
  • Corporations
  • Video game studios

Royalty Free Music

I know this sounds scary, especially since we just outlined how royalties are how you get paid. But it’s not you that’s not getting royalties, it’s the producers who don’t have to pay your royalties. Instead, users pay a one time sync fee for a flat rate to be able to use the music in a synch fashion. Royalty free music eliminates the roll of the publisher in a way. Instead of the publisher actively looking for synch opportunities, customers and media producers themselves are. This is where a blanket license comes into play – music is sold for a flat fee or subscription fee, and it comes with a license that specifically outlines how the music can be used. This can be easier for you because you or a publisher doesn’t have to negotiate license prices. You just put up your music for sale and let the customers come to you.

It may seem like copyrighting and licensing your music is a hassle with a lot of steps. But while going through the legal wringer is annoying, you’re just making the extra effort to protect you and your art. But if you want to make music your career, all of this is necessary. Now you have the knowledge – license your music and make that money.

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