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Music Licensing for Physical, Audio-only Products
CDs / Audio-only products
When to get permission
If you distribute any physical, audio-only product such as compact discs; vinyl records; player piano rolls; music boxes; or even a microchip in a greeting card; make sure to get permission for any songs you did not write; recordings made by other people (such as samples, karaoke tracks, or backing tracks); and reprinted lyrics or music notes (if any). Licenses should be secured before you distribute your physical product. Reputable manufacturers will require proof of licensing before they will press your CDs. You do not need to license songs that you wrote yourself or songs that you know are in the public domain.
In most cases you don't need a custom license for cover songs. Learn about the exceptions below.
How to get permission
It is important to note that underlying what most people think of as a “song” is actually two components: the composition (music notes and lyrics that make up a song, created by the composers) and the original recorded audio (recording of musicians playing the song, created by the artists). Often the composers and artists are the same people, but not always. These song components can be owned separately by different entities. For this reason, there are two types of licenses to protect the two types of creations: 1) a mechanical license (audio-only) or synchronization license (video) for the composer to protect the composition, and 2) a master license for the recording artist to protect the original recording. It’s important to understand both components, and both types of licenses when obtaining permission for a “song”:
(mechanical or synchronization rights)
The composition is the music notes and lyrics that define a song. The rights to the composition are usually owned by the composer or their publisher. Permission is obtained through a mechanical license (audio-only) or synchronization license (video).
The recording is a recorded performance of the composition (song). The rights to the recording are usually owned by the artist or their record label. Permission is obtained through a master license.
If you own the rights to the recording, such as if you recorded a cover song, Easy Song Licensing can help you get 100% of the permission you need for the composition (mechanical rights) quickly and easily in 1-2 business days through our Cover Song Licensing service. Master licenses and print licenses are custom-negotiated upfront with the copyright holder, and are a bit more complex. For these types of licenses, check out our Custom Licensing services or contact us.
How the royalties are paid
For physical product, royalties are paid to the copyright holder upfront for every copy made. When you hire us, we collect the royalties from you, and then send 100% of them on to the copyright holder. If you need to reorder, you can get a new license for additional units. Our fees are half-price on reorders to make it easier to choose a lower initial quantity if you wish.
Relevant music licenses you might need
1 – For cover songs, usually you do not need a custom license. However, some exceptions apply:
- If you changed the lyrics or melody (more than general rearrangement) you need a custom license.
- If you want to use a song that has never been released, you need a custom license.
- If you want to license retroactively (a previous release of yours), you need a custom license.
- If you intend to release for any purpose other than private listening (performance, karaoke), you need a custom license.
- If you wish to license an international song, not copyrighted in the United States, you need a custom license.
- Learn about the compulsory law where these limitations come from.
If your cover song fits within the Compulsory Law (in other words, none of the above apply), you do not need a custom license: Click here to start your cover song licensing. If any of the above apply, or if you require some other use, you need a custom license. See 2 below.
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