I get asked a lot of questions about music licensing by songwriters who are interested in getting their songs placed in film and television shows and multi media projects. So much so I’m writing a blog series about it.

Since it’s a big topic, I’m going to break things up into small “bite-sized pieces,” covering certain aspects each week into a 7-part series.

So, here we go. Each part will be posted bi-weekly and may be split up into further sections if need be.



Part 1 of a 7-Part Series

There are basic terms in the music licensing space which might or might not be new to songwriters and composers.

You might be thinking, “Yeah, well duh, who doesn’t know this stuff?” But it is surprising how many songwriters I meet that don’t know what these terms mean and they’re too afraid to ask.

Composition: The song written by the songwriter(s).

Copyright: The ownership or control of an intellectual property, such as a song.

Sync License: A license that allows someone the right to synchronize a piece of music to a specific visual.

Cue:  A name for a track or song that gets synced with a visual.

License: A document or agreement that allows a person or company to use your music, usually in return for a fee.

Licensor: The person or entity that is providing someone else the permission or “license” to use a piece of music.

Licensee: The person or entity granted the permission to represent your music to film, T.V. and multimedia projects.

Sync Fee: The money that is paid upfront to license the right to use your piece of music in a specific visual project.

Placement: This is term used to refer to when you get your music used in a project.

Master: The sound recording of a song.

Master Use License: A license which allows for the copyright owner to grant permission to use the sound recording for use in a visual work. (goes along with a sync license)

Sync License: A license which allows for the copyright owner to grant permission to synchronize a piece of music to a specific visual.

Performance Royalties: These are monies owed when your music is used on T.V. , in a film or on the internet. They are paid by the network/entities that aired the program and is distributed to you via a Performing Rights Organization.

For example, a live performance by a musician, or a T.V. show being broadcast using your music in a scene. When your music is used like in these examples,  you are due royalties from the television station that aired the program where your music was featured. In order to collect these royalties you music must be registered with a performing rights organization.

Performance Rights Organization (PRO): The entity that collects public performance royalties for the songwriter. In the U.S., they are: ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.

Music Supervisor: the person whose job it is to find music for a t.v. show, film or commercial. In the ad world sometimes they are referred to as producers.

Music Editor: the person whose job it is to fit or edit the music into the visual. Sometimes the music editor also doubles as the music supervisor.

Temp track: this is the music/track which is temporarily selected to go with and cut in with the visual as a means of conveying to all involved in the project on what they hear or have in mind.  It’s called the temp track because no permissions have been given, nor any such clearances been acquired to use the track in the actual broadcast.

Music Library: Essentially a publishing company, usually with some sort of online portal, offering music for licensing. They can be big companies or small boutique ones.

Mechanical License: A license to reproduce and distribute a master recording in physical or digital format. CDs, vinyl records and digital downloads. They are granted by the publisher of the composition in exchange for a royalty for each sale.

Clearance: This is the permission given by the songwriters, publishers and all owners of the sound recording and/or compositions to the music users to license a track/song in a show or ad. campaign.

Pre-cleared Music: Most music libraries offer this – music that has been cleared to use. Music users have to go through this process before they can use music on television shows, in film and and advertising, Pre-cleared music means that all of the respective parties (songwriters, publishers, master owners) have given their permissions beforehand to have their recording and/ or composition be used, thus it is pre-cleared.

O.K., now that these terms are explained, I will be using them as we proceed along with this series so refer back to this first blog to get any clarifications.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series called “Publishing”.
In this upcoming post I’ll discuss the publishing aspects of getting your songs placed when working with music publishers, music libraries, music brokers or direct.


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