D.I.Y.

The Secrets Of Music Licensing

When it comes to making money in the music business, licensing is one of the more lucrative avenues to pursue. In this piece, Erin M. Jacobson reveals the secret to efficiently getting your music licensed, and what can make it very difficult.

Guest post by Erin M. Jacobson Esq. of The Music Industry Lawyer

This article was previously published on Synchtank.com

Licensing music is one of the more lucrative areas of the music business and I often get asked how one can encourage productions to license one’s music.

There are many factors that go into choosing a piece of music to license. For example, some creative factors include the song itself, the genre, the artist who recorded the particular song, the time period from which the music is from, the nature of the scene or commercial that is using the music, the product, the mood that the producers want to evoke, and other factors. From a legal perspective, factors that can influence whether a piece of music is licensed include the territory in which the music is available to be licensed, the length of time the music will be used, in which media the music will be used, whether promotional uses are allowed and what type, and more.

However, there is one factor that when all other things remain equal could win the license for one piece of music over another.

Without further ado, the secret to getting music licensed is…

Make the music easy to license!

Note that just because one’s music is easy to license does not guarantee someone will license it. However, what it does mean is that if a production is interested in licensing a particular piece of music that proves difficult and time-consuming to license, the production will very often abandon efforts to try to license the difficult piece of music and re-direct its efforts to another piece of music that is easier to license. This means that the owner of the piece of music that is difficult to license will lose that license and the income generated from it, and another rights’ owner now has an opportunity to get that license, and the income from it.


Here are some examples I’ve encountered where the music was not easy to license:

In one example, a new artist wanted a synchronization license for his cover version of a particular song. There were two writers of the composition, and two publishers from whom to seek a license. One publisher (“Publisher 1”), a major publisher, was responsive and regularly communicated in regard to approval status. The other publisher (“Publisher 2”), a lesser-known indie publisher who actually has a catalogue of some substantial songs, was completely non-responsive. This publisher ignored multiple emails and voicemails with the license request, including ignoring communication from Publisher 1, its co-publisher.

I am a big fan of publishers in general, and especially those that do their job well. However, in this case, Publisher 2 was actually losing a license for its writer by completely ignoring the license requests. It stands to reason that if Publisher 2 ignored the request in this example, it is very likely that Publisher 2 has ignored other requests as well. This means that Publisher 2 is actively losing money for its writer, and also creating a reputation whereby potential licensees will purposely avoid using songs administered by Publisher 2 because of Publisher 2’s difficulty. This, in turn, will lose even more future licenses and money for both Publisher 2 and its writer.

In another example, a successful podcast wanted to license a particular song for its intro and outro music. The publisher responded quickly with a reasonable quote. The master owner was in Europe and I contacted the office in the appropriate country. That office advised me to contact and obtain the license through a particular society.  This procedure didn’t sound correct to me, but I contacted the society per the label’s request. After several attempts at obtaining a response from this particular society, they informed me that the society only licenses for its particular country, and only for a podcaster’s own website, not for the major podcast distribution channels like iTunes. As this confirmed my appraisal of the situation, I contacted the label again with this information. As of the date of this writing, the label has not responded.

A third example involves clearing music for a video game on a past project. One particular composition was identified as being owned by a particular company. After contacting the company several times and the company initially confirming it could issue the license, the company then said it could not issue a worldwide license, as it turns out it was only the sub-publisher for a particular territory. Our team then asked this company to direct us to the company that could issue the worldwide license. The sub-publisher’s response was “we don’t know.”  A sub-publisher is responsible for accounting to the rights’ owner that is the main publisher, who in this case would be the company able to issue the worldwide license. The sub-publisher seemingly did not know who they were representing or to which company they were accounting! Thankfully, there was a happy ending as we independently found the worldwide licensor and licensed the song.


In order to avoid making the same mistakes as the rights’ owners described above, here are a few tips to make music easy (or easier) to license:

  1. Make sure the registration data is correct in all places where someone would seek information for the licensing contact.
  2. Have a one-stop license, if possible. A one-stop availability means a person or company owns or has the right to license both the composition and master. This is not always possible, especially with major releases, so in that case, see #3.
  3. Know who the proper licensing parties are (including co-owners) and be able to assist in the process, if needed.
  4. Respond to license requests!

While the four steps outlined above cannot ensure a particular piece of music will be chosen from a creative standpoint, they will assist in the licensing process when the creative interest is already present. Licensing is a very active area and it is possible to stay in and win at the licensing game if you play it correctly.

Note: This article does not constitute legal advice.

Erin M. Jacobson, known as “The Music Industry Lawyer”, represents and protects independent, established, and legacy songwriters and artists (including their heirs and estates), distinguished legacy catalogues, independent music publishers, Grammy and Emmy Award winners, and other music professionals at her law practice based in Beverly Hills, CA. For more information, visitwww.themusicindustrylawyer.com.

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