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Music Licensing of Existing Recordings
When to get permission
Whenever you make a new recording of an existing recording that someone else made, even if it’s just a small sample (such as audio samples, karaoke tracks, or background tracks), you need a master license. Licenses should be secured before you use the music. Because of the complexity of master licenses, we suggest making your request many months ahead of your release, and also having a backup plan in case your request is denied. Reputable manufacturers require proof of licensing before they will duplicate copyrighted material. You do not need to license songs that you wrote yourself or songs that you know are in the public domain.
Whenever you need a master license for an audio-only product (such as CDs, digital downloads, and streams), you also need a mechanical license. The master license pays only the artist for the right to use their recording; the mechanical license pays the composer for the right to use their song.
Whenever you need a master license for a video or other visual product (such as YouTube videos and DVDs), you also need a synchronization license. The master license pays only the artist for the right to use their recording; the synchronization license pays the composer for the right to use their song.
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.
Master licenses are custom-negotiated directly with the copyright holder upfront and are quite complex. For these types of licenses, check out our Custom Licensing services or contact us. Alternatively, you can attempt to locate the copyright owners yourself and request permission.
Because of the challenges related to obtaining master licenses, we recommend securing them first, before attempting to secure the accompanying synchronization or mechanical rights you will also need.
The ℗ symbol
Most people are familiar with the copyright symbol, the c with a circle around it: ©. Did you know there is a similar symbol to recognize copyright ownership of a recorded audio? It is a p with a circle around it: ℗. Look for this symbol on the back of an album to learn who owns the copyright to the recorded audio.
How the royalties are paid
For master licenses, royalties are paid upfront to the copyright holder based on a custom-negotiated fee. When you hire us, we deliver your request to the copyright holder, negotiate the fee, and present it to you. If you accept, we collect the entire fee from you (which includes the royalties), and then send 100% of the royalties on to the copyright holder. If you need to reorder, a new license is negotiated. You have the option to follow all these steps yourself or hire us for assistance through our Custom Licensing services.
Challenges of licensing existing recordings
Master licenses require custom negotiations with the copyright holder. Obtaining master licenses can be challenging because, by law, the copyright holders maintain total control of their works. This means they can set any fee, take all the time they need, and reject the license outright. For this reason, it is important to temper expectations when licensing existing audio recordings. Many factors affect the response, including budget, use, and even the current workload of the copyright holder’s processing department.
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Relevant music licenses you might need
Public Performance License
Copyright Notary helps indie artists, corporations, churches, schools, community groups, and individuals get permission to use copyrighted music for all types of uses. Its Cover Song Licensing service makes it easy to get 100% of the permission required to release a new version of any song in 1-2 business days. Through its Custom Licensing services, Copyright Notary offers music rights clearances for any use, with dedicated, personal assistance from an experienced specialist. Committed to accuracy and transparency, Copyright Notary adds value to the music industry through innovation, education, and efficient rights administration.
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