As an independent musician, you typically gain most of your traction when it comes to obtaining an income through live shows and gigs. However, there are musicians who have found innovative and different ways of making it in the business, which still provides them with a solid income and a rewarding career.

Though performing and finding venues for live gigs can be a lucrative way to conduct your music business, musicians should not overlook the other ways in which they can sell their music. If you’re just starting out in the music world, you may not be aware of all of the many ways that musicians can make a name for themselves.

One of the best ways to get your music heard and out into the public ear is through music licensing.

What is music licensing?

Music licensing is a way that owners of copyrighted musical tracks and sounds allow others the use of their work for money. Basically, those that want to utilize the music have to sign an agreement to be given permission by you, the musician, with all the restrictions and/or limitations that you set forth. This can include defining whether or not the music is exclusive - meaning, it will only be used for this particular project - or non-exclusive, where it can be used multiple times in various projects by others.

The breakdown in a licensing agreement goes like this:

  • the license itself (rights granted and payments to be made), which includes:

term (how long they will have use of the music)

  • the licensor (musician/owner of music);
  • the licensee (one who’s using it);
  • the performance/broadcast (how and where the music is going to be used and if any changes will be made);
  • the performing rights (whether will be single-use/exclusive and what companies will it be used for, if any).

Musicians who create their own music have the option to allow it to be used by others. It is important to emphasize that musicians should be sure to have owner copyrights to their music so that you will receive 100% of the royalties.

An easy way to ensure this is by making sure when recording in a studio that you pay the studio upfront for the use of the studio, so you can keep the rights to your music, or develop the music yourself in an in-home studio. Even if creating the music at home you will still have some costs for equipment, so be mindful that either way you have to invest.

It is important to make sure that first, you establish the kind of musician you want to be, and make sure you are continuing your music education along with your performances. Music licensing can be viewed as a way of “selling out” but for others, it’s a means to be found.

Types of music licenses

There are multiple types of music licenses that you can enter into, and there are 6 different kinds of licenses that a musician can use:

  • Synchronization License (‘Sync’): This is one of the most common forms of music licensing, which is where the music is paired with a form of visual media - this includes commercials, films, streamed ads, and more.
  • Mechanical License: This allows the licensee to use the music basically in any ‘physical’ form, like a compact disc - this type is usually with actual record labels and producers.
  • Public Performance License: Another very common form of licensing, basically it allows any type of broadcast of music, such as those who want to play music in their store, or a jukebox in a bar, and all the way up to live concerts. Most performing rights companies manage these types of licenses for their artists.
  • Master License: This type of license is more complex, though similar to a sync license, just not as wide-range. This type of license gives the user permission to use a pre-recorded version of the music but doesn’t allow them to RE-RECORD the song, such as doing a cover. Usually, this type of license is issued along with a sync license.
  • Print Rights License: This is when an actual copy of sheet music is needed by an artist that has created it. This is used the most by music teachers, as they pay an upfront fee in order to print the music out for use in the classroom.
  • Theatrical License: This, like in its name is a common license used in the theater industry, and is required any time copyrighted music is performed on-stage in front of an audience.

Another type to consider is known as highlight reel music licensing. This is used by anyone - from athletes to actors - who may want to showcase their best work and set it to music. What better way to have your music heard than to a backdrop of someone’s greatest achievements?

How to license your music

There are multiple music licensing companies that other businesses utilize to find music for all types of projects, going through a library of music for purchase. As a musician, this is probably the easiest way to make sure your music can be discovered.

Typically, you will pay a fee to become a member of whatever company you decide to allow licensing through (and maybe even more than one) so that you have your music featured. Once your music is found by someone, and they like your work, you can easily establish relations with various creatives for the use of your music tracks, and at that point, you might even want to start contacting music supervisors or filmmakers on a more direct level to set up licensing agreements.

Why music licensing?

When you allow your music to be used for licensing, one thing it gives you is a solid reputation as a musician since you are providing yourself in a legal manner. Many musicians write and perform music as a hobby, and unless you make yourself legitimate it can be difficult to be taken seriously.

Another benefit you give yourself is the ability to give yourself another stream of income, which also helps to solidify that you are indeed a true musician. Taking yourself seriously and setting up your music as a business will go a long way for your career. It can open doors to more exposure as well as income, and with licensing, you get all of the credit for the success in the use of your music.