Music Licensing for Streaming

When to get permission

If you post music for streaming online, such as on YouTube, Bandcamp, or your own web site or blog, make sure to get permission for any songs you did not write, recordings made by other people (such as samples, karaoke tracks, or background tracks), and any lyrics or music notes you display. The types of licenses you need will vary depending on the type of stream.

There are three types of streams to consider:

1) Video streams
(YouTube, other online video):

These include all types of video, plus any stream where an image is displayed over the audio, such as slideshows, displays of text (such as lyrics), and other visualizations. Video streams require a synchronization license. If lyrics or music notes are displayed, a print license is also required.

2) Interactive audio streams
(non-video, non-visual, audio-only, on-demand streams):

These can be selected, arranged in a playlist, paused, and controlled by the listener (think Spotify, Apple Music). Interactive audio streams require a mechanical license and a public performance license.

3) Non-interactive audio streams
(non-video, non-visual, audio-only, non-interactive streams):

These cannot be selected, arranged in a playlist, paused, or otherwise controlled by the listener (think Pandora, SiriusXM, traditional radio). Non-interactive audio streams require a public performance license. They do not require a mechanical license.

If any existing audio recording is used, a master license may be required as well. All licenses should be secured before the music is posted or streamed. 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.

Who is responsible

Some consumers believe the music services handle streaming licensing for them (YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud, CD Baby, Bandcamp). This is only partially true. For example YouTube pays royalties to some publishers that have agreed to a share of ad revenue in exchange for the required synchronization rights to stream video. However, most publishers have not agreed to this, and instead follow the more traditional practice of requiring the individual to obtain synchronization licensing before posting.

Another example is Bandcamp, a service that allows consumers to post audio for public on-demand streaming. Bandcamp does not secure the mechanical licenses required for these interactive audio streams. Instead it includes a disclaimer in the Bandcamp Terms of Use that places liability on the user that posts the music. CD Baby and Tunecore also require the artist to handle mechanical licensing for interactive audio streams that happen on their sites (check out CD Baby’s Member Agreement and Tunecore’s Terms and Conditions). This practice is fairly common, so please check the terms of use of each service before assuming they are handling your licensing.

The public performance license required for all types of streams is almost always handled by the music service, but you can confirm this by checking with the service or the performing rights agencies that administer these licenses in the United States (ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC). Outside of the United States, you can check with your local performing rights society.

How the royalties are paid

All video streams require a synchronization license. Synchronization licenses are somewhat complex. You pre-pay royalties upfront 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.

If you use an existing audio recording or display lyrics in your video, the respective master and print licenses that are required are custom-negotiated upfront with the copyright holder in the same way as a synchronization license (described above). For these types of licenses, check out our Custom Licensing services or contact us.

All interactive audio streams (audio-only, on-demand stremas where the listener can choose the order of the playlist and pause and control the songs) require a mechanical license. There are two scenarios to consider:

1) Streams that happen on major music services that handle the required mechanical licensing
(Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music, Amazon Music):
The major music services now typically handle mechanical licensing for all music streamed from their service. They do this by reporting to the copyright holders and paying a share of their revenues.

2) Streams that happen on your website, your blog, or any service that does not handle the required mechanical licensing
(Bandcamp, CD Baby, Tunecore):
You need to clear the required mechanical licenses yourself. You can easily obtain the required mechanical license through Easy Song Licensing’s Cover Song Licensing service. For mechanical licensing for streams, you pre-pay royalties upfront for the number of streams you anticipate. We suggest licensing what you think you will distribute in one year. It’s up to you to monitor your actual streams and make sure you do not exceed what you have licensed. You can do this by watching the reports that your web host and distribution service provides (CD Baby, Tunecore, Symphonic), or manually monitoring the number of plays on each service. 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.

Royalties from audio-only, non-interactive audio streams (where the listener does not choose the order of the playlist, such as terrestrial and web radio) are paid by the streaming services to the public performance rights agencies ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and SoundExchange. The services report numbers of streams to the agencies and pay a portion of their revenues. The agencies then distribute the royalties to their member songwriters (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) and artists (SoundExchange).

How to get permission

1) Video streams:
You can obtain the necessary synchronization licenses (video streams), print licenses (lyrics), and master licenses (copyrighted audio recordings) through Easy Song Licensing’s Custom Licensing services. Alternatively, you can attempt to locate the copyright owners yourself and request permission.

2) Interactive audio streams:
The required mechanical licenses can be cleared through our Cover Song Licensing service.

3) Non-interactive audio streams:
The required public performance licenses can be obtained in the United States by contacting the following performing rights agencies:

ASCAP       1-800-952-7227
BMI            212-220-3000
SESAC        615-320-0055

Outside of the United States, please contact your local performing rights society. To obtain licensing for any type of web radio that will be broadcasted in the United States, even if the originating server is outside of the United States please contact the following agency:


SoundExchange       202-640-5858

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    Relevant music licenses you might need

    Mechanical License

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    Print License

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    Synchronization License

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    Public Performance License

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    Master License

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    About CopyrightNotary.com

    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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