7 Music Licensing Terms You Too Were Embarrassed To Ask About 1129 words · 6 minute read


By Christopher Rucks | Music Dealers

Do you remember how awful it used to feel raising your hand in class to get clarification on something the teacher was explaining? You were certain a wormhole was going to open up beneath you and swallow you alive, sucking you down into a purgatory filled with foolish children who asked one question too many.

Well, we experience that same fear of asking questions as adults, too. You know, when you’re in a conversation with someone from a different industry as yourself, and they’re rambling off foreign industry-specific terms, which you have no idea of. Instead of stopping them to gain clarity, you kind of narrow your eyes and nod your head, feigning comprehension, looking like you’re hearing profound things. Oh no? That’s just me then? Yea, right! Well, Music Dealers wants you to be successful in your role, so we’re going to address some of those eye-narrowing terms that can fly over people’s heads. Then, once your sync vocabulary expands, you’ll become sharp, and ascend to the level of music licensing badassery that you belong.

Perpetuity - Perpuh wha? There are several key variables that comprise an actual license and subsequent fee, one of these being the lifespan of the content featuring the music. Content creators can utilize a piece of music for any period timea week, a month, a year, two years, etc. Perpetuity is a term that means, “forever.” For example, let’s say you’re licensing for a web advertisement you plan to run on YouTube. You plan to upload the content and it will remain on your brand or company’s YouTube channel as long as you have one. You don’t plan on taking the ad down in a month, or 6, or a year from now. As it stands, it will remain. So, you plan accordingly and license your music “in perpetuity.”

Music Dealers Blanket AgreementsBlankets - Not just for toddlers or keeping cozy, blanket agreements are a staple of music licensing and often, new licensors are not aware they can strike these types of deals. For example, perhaps your company creates a reasonable amount of internal use only (industrial use) videos for meetings, presentations, and corporate events. You’ve been wearing yourself thin by purchasing “one-off” licenses, that is, licensing one song at a time. It’s time-consuming and it’s butchering your budget. You would benefit by working with a company with which you can sign a blanket deal, which gives you the ability to license a pre-determined quantity of songs for one, all-encompassing fee. You negotiate the terms based on your planning and budget, and in the process, remove the headaches of coming back for one song at a time. Voila.

Stems - Yes, stems can refer to an attractive pair of legs, but in our arena, they describe the individual “tracks” of a song separated by instrument or instrument group. You may find the perfect song for licensing, but let’s say that an individual instrument isn’t working well with your mix. In such a case, you or your team may request the “stems” of the song, and with access to the individual instruments that comprise the song, you can edit instruments and sounds within the song and gain a greater degree of control over the mix and sound of your content. 

Keep in mind, stems are not always available for a song. No access to the original recording session, analog recordings, and lost files are all culprits as to why stems may not be available.

Territory - Sadly, there’s no clever or comedic way to introduce the word “territory,” so we’ll get right into it. Territory is another element that comprises a music license, and can be defined as the specific area in which you plan to exploit the music. Will the music in your content be distributed worldwide, as is the case with web-based licenses? Will the music be leveraged in South America, or Europe, or Africa? The territorial use of the content influences the feemedia leveraged across a larger area costs more.

Music Dealers Publishing SidesSides - Mac and cheese, sweet potatoes, biscuits…no not those sides. “Sides,” as it relates to music licensing, refers to the owners who comprise a music copyright: the publisher(s) and the master recording owner. In order to successfully clear the use of and license a song, a licensee will need to obtain permission from both of these “sides.” Music Dealers has written a great article about sides, copyright ownership, and who owns what, which you can check out here.

Usage - Usage is another element that comprises your music license. It specifies the type of music that will be used in your content, and groups them into one of four basic categories: vocal (V) or feature vocal (FV), instrumental (I), background vocal (BV), or background instrumental (BI). The way you intend to utilize the music, once again plays a role in determining the fee for your use. Songs that prominently feature a composition with vocals are the most expensive, with background instrumentals as the least expensive. Usage is another factor that allows licensors to determine a fair fee based on your needs.

Mechanicals - Mechanicals isn’t some cool name for robots or a secret fraternity of car mechanics. Mechanicals are royalties derived from the sale of music. Now you’re wondering to yourself, “I just need to use the music for my ad, I won’t be selling anything, so mechanicals don’t apply to me.” Perhaps. There are a myriad of deals where your campaign could result in mechanicals.

Music Dealers Mechanical RoyaltiesWe’ve worked with clients on music-centered campaigns that offer free downloadable content from Music Dealers’ artists. For these free downloads, the artist needs to either be compensated on the front end to accommodate for the free content, or earn a mechanical royalty for the download. You could find yourself in a similar position, using music to further the ROI of a successful campaign by offering a free download of the song on your company’s site or through social media. You would suddenly find yourself dealing with potential mechanicals, so understanding the basics of how they work helps you navigate the execution of such a campaign.

Mastering terms such as these help to raise your sync-IQ, which of course, allows you to do your job quicker, easier, and better. And that’s exactly what we want. We want you and music licensing to skip through fields of tall grass together. We want you and music licensing to walk on the beach, holding hands with the sunset glowing behind you. We want you and music licensing on a bear skin rug by the fireplace. And we’ll continue to provide you with as much music licensing industry knowledge until that’s the case. Until next time.

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