Music Licensing Glossary

If you want to make it as a professional composer, it’s vital that you know about all the different licensing terms, jargon and organisations associated with the production music industry. We’ve gathered a selection of the most popular definitions to help you be a composing guru.

Performance Royalties – These are payments owed to you from the performance of your music. For example, if a TV show used your music in the background of a scene, you’d receive royalties for this.

Performance Rights Organisation – Often abbreviated to PRO or PRS, examples of these are ASCAP or BMI. You need to register with them to collect your performance royalties. The collection society you need to register with depends on your location.

Mechanical License – This basically allows the licensee to record/distribute a track on a tape, CD or MP3. You can get a compulsory mechanical license or a negotiated mechanical license. Compulsory is when a song has been made available to the public intentionally and allows anyone to record their own version of that song without asking permission. A negotiated mechanical license is the opposite – the licensee is not acquiring mechnical rights via law but is decigin on terms with the licensor.

Music Library – Pretty obvious but it’s a website which offers music to be licensed on behalf of composers. They can be run by one person or a huge team and can operate worldwide. Music libraries offer different terms, benefits and policies so it’s important to do extensive research when choosing which music library to use.

Pre-cleared music – You’ll find the majority of production music libraries offer this. It just means the music has been cleared to use before the sale has been made. The music library clears the rights to use your music in different types of productions in the contract you sign. It just means that when someone purchases your music, they don’t have to come to you to ask permission to use it as you’ve already given that permission to the library.

Keywords – If you’ve experimented with uploading your music to production libraries, you’ll of had experience with keywords. When you upload a track, you’ll be asked to add it’s name, description, tempo, keywords, genre etc. Also known as tags, keywords are just phrases that you would associate with the track. E.g ethereal, fun, ambient.

Metadata – This is the information you add to a track when you upload to a music library. It’s often in a spreadsheet format and has a list of all the track names, descriptions, keywords etc. Sometimes, music libraries require you to enter the metadata manually when you upload the track.

Work for hire – This is when a composer is paid an upfront fee for their music to become the property of an employer. No copyright is retained by the composer. E.g Pixar. ask you to write a track for one of their films, they can then become the author and owner. Often you’re paid more for this kind of work because you forfeit the ownership.

Blanket License – This is a way customers can license music which allows them to use a large amount of tracks in as many productions as they like for one set fee. It’s often used by radio stations and TV to save time and give them access to large volumes of music. The music library then split the performance royalties with the composers used in the blanket license.

Exclusivity – This means you can only submit your track to that music library. You can’t submit it to other music libraries as well. If you wanted to submit your music to a number of libraries, you’d need to approach non-exclusive libraries. Both exclusive and non-exclusive have pro’s and cons.

Licensor – This is the person whose providing someone else with a license. As a composer, you’re the licensor and you’re often providing a music library/publisher with the permission to provide others with a license to use your music.

Licensee – The person or company who is being granted a license.

Creative Commons – This is a license under which you can release your music, allowing people to share or use your wok for free but with some conditions attached. Your music must be copyrighted in order to release it under the creative commons license.

More On Creative Commons

Royalties – These are due to you when your music is used on TV. To get these payments, you’ll need to be registered with your local PRO.

Term – You’ll often see the word ‘term’ used in contracts. It’s used to describe the amount of time being agreed upon. E.g, some contracts agree on a term of 3 years so the contract is valid until then.

Watermark – This is a sound put over the track to prevent people from downloading music and using it in productions without purchasing the license. The watermark might be beeps over the track or ‘Copyright Tune Bud’ for example. Music libraries tend to offer a ‘try before you buy’ facility so customers can try out tracks before purchasing – they’ll include a watermark on these.

Public Domain – Music goes into the public domain when the original creator’s rights have expired. Once this happens, anyone can use the music, copy it or record their own version. The length a composer can retain copyright of their music varies dependent on location but it could be between 50 and 75 years.

Re-titling – If you submit your music to non-exclusive music libraries, they need to re-title and re-register your track so they can collect their share of royalties from it. For example, if your music gets placed on TV, how will they know which library actually placed it if it has the same name?

Publisher – An entity in charge of ensuring you get paid when your music is used commercially. A music library for example is a publisher as they agree to register your tracks, market the music, fill cue sheets and handle payments as well as protecting your rights and collecting royalties etc.

Royalty free – The actual meaning of ‘royalty free’ is often confused. Some libraries take it to mean if you purchase a track once, you can use it as many times as you like in the future. Other libraries take it to mean if you purchase a track, you won’t have to pay any royalties for TV use. So if you’re going to submit music to a library, always check their definition of royalty free first.

Samples – A sample can refer to a couple of things. If you take a portion of someone else’s music and use it in your own track, that can be called a sample. But it can also refer to select music creation software which contains samples sounds.

Hybrid – This term is becoming more and more popular in the music licensing business. People are getting bored of hearing the same sounds so composers are now starting to mash musical genres together such as Dubstep Orchestral hybrid music.

License – A document or agreement which allows a person to use your music. When you license your music to someone, it means you keep the rights to the music but you’re allowing them to use it for a specific project.

Cue – Simply another name for a track

Stems – These are the individual instrument files that make up a track. For example, you may have a track that contains drums, guitar and piano, these can be downloaded and used individually.

Meta tagging – The process of adding the metadata (definition above) to your tracks so they can be found among other tracks in the library,

Buy out – Music you can purchase once and never have to pay for again.

Sync license – A license allowing someone to synchronize a piece of music to a specific media output.

Stinger – A short piece of music that could be used for logos, transitions, highlights etc. Example, when a scene changes, you’ll often hear a stinger.

Production music – Music written for licensing through a music library and can be used for any project. Also known as library or stock music.

Territory – A term used in contract to describe any regional laws a contract is subject to.

Bumper – Similar to a stinger and also used in transition. However it’s longer than a stinger and can be between 30 seconds to 1 minute long.

Master use license – A license which allows someone to use the sound in a visual project. You also need a sync license to accompany this.

MCPS – Stands for Mechanical Copyright Protection Society – they collect mechanical royalties due to you.

Upfront fees – If your music is being licensed, you can be paid this in order to purchase a license to use your music. Often you’ll also get further income such as TV royalties too.

Work on spec – This is when you write a piece of music without a guarantee that it’ll be used and without guarantee of payment.

Edits – Video editors will often want edits and alternative versions of your track to give them more flexibility. For example, they may want a 30 sec version, a no drums version etc.

We could go on for days about all the musical definitions out there so these are just a select few. But do let us know if you have any you think are worthy of our glossary!

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