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Must know Music Licensing Terminology

Clearing music rights can be a complex and time-consuming process, especially in today’s fast-paced visual media landscape. With new music platforms emerging and an abundance of music to choose from, it can be difficult to navigate the licensing process and understand the specific terminology used by music agencies and rights holders.

In this article we’ll talk you through the essential terminology and process of music licensing.


In short, sync licensing (or “synchronization licensing”) refers to all the music that is used to “support visual content”. The exact term refers to the synchronization of music and image.


A music publisher is a company that controls and administers the copyrights of songwriters and composers. They are authorized to license the copyrighted use of a particular musical work in film and advertising. Their tasks include promoting their catalog’s songs to recording artists; licensing compositions for use by films, television, advertisements, and other media; monitoring song usage; and collecting and distributing royalties to songwriters. As a licensee, you need a written approval from the publisher to use their song in advertising or film. Since a song can have many composers, and each composer can be represented by a different publisher, it’s not uncommon for a song to have more than one copyright owner (or publisher).


A track is a term used to collectively describe a Composition (Song) and the Master (recording).

Publishing Sync License

If you have (only) licensed the publishing sync rights, you have the rights to use the composition, for instance in a film. Practically, if you obtain a publishing license but you don’t have a license for a recording (or a master), it means that you can use the composition (music & lyrics) to create a cover version of the song.

Composition (Song / Work)

A composition is the copyrightable collection of elements that make up a song, including lyrics, melodies, harmonies and rhythms.


The Master is  the actual sound recording of the Song. To illustrate the difference between Master and Composition: the master of “Make You Feel My Love” by Adele is a recording of a composition written by Bob Dylan.

Record Label

Although their involvement varies, a (record) label is a company typically focussed on developing artists and releasing, promoting and/or exploiting sound recordings (Masters). The rights to a Master are often held by a record label. This means ‘to clear the master side’ a Master Sync License is to be acquired from a label.

Master Sync License

If you have acquired the Master Sync License for audiovisual media (for instance a commercial), you are allowed to synchronize / place  a specific sound recording (Master) in the commercial. In addition, Master Sync License contains terms regarding the territory, terms and media where the film including the Master can be made public. The Master Sync License only covers the use of the Master. In addition, for the use of the Track in the film, a  publishing sync license is also required.

MFN (most favored nations)

This term means that every nation (or involved party) will be treated equally and without preference. In music licensing it means that all songs used in an audiovisual production are awarded the same fee. Or that the owner of the master recording is awarded the same fee as the owner of the publishing rights.

There are circumstances when it isn’t really logical to handle the same rates for publishing and masters. Think about it, if my band covers a Beatles-tune, the license for the composition by the Beatles will be much higher than my master recording. But if Paul and Ringo decide to cover one of my band’s tunes, their recording will be worth much more than my original composition.


In order to use a piece of music, in most circumstances it needs to be ‘cleared’ with the rights owners. This means requesting permission from the rightsholders (publishing & master), negotiating the terms of the licenses and licensing fees.

Licensing in perpetuity

This means that the time duration of use as included in a license is endless. In most cases, licensing for perpetuity means a higher fee than for a fixed duration (a number of weeks, months or years).

One Stop

A piece of music that is considered a ‘one-stop’ is a song of which a licensee only has to contact one party to clear both Publishing and Master Rights. This is very attractive to music supervisors and licensees as this often means an easier and faster clearance process.

Bespoke Music Production

Composing and recording new music for a film (scoring) is often called a bespoke music production. It means an original, custom production that is created specifically for a project.

Production Music

Production music is typically music that has been written specifically for licensing through a music library, and can be used for many media outputs. This category is also referred to as ‘stock music’.

If you want to know more about music licensing or have any questions about the terms above, reach out to us via the button below and we’ll be happy to explain in depth!

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