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  • Writer's pictureRandy McGravey

Different Types of Music Libraries Explained (Sync Licensing)

Today I'm going to address the different kinds of music libraries. The differences are mostly in the types of deals that they have with their composers.

Non-Exclusive Libraries

Non-exclusive libraries always seem to be the best option for newcomers since some are weary of being exclusive. NE libraries allow you to put the same music tracks on other non-exclusive libraries. In most cases you will maintain the publishing rights when working with these libraries, and they will make their money solely from the sale price. You can also submit music on a per-track basis with these libraries.

Types of Non-Exclusive Libraries

Royalty-Free - There is a common misconception about RF libraries. People think it means that you won't earn backend royalties, which is not the case. RF means that clients pay a one time fee for the music and can use it in unlimited projects. Royalty free music is mostly used for YouTubers. Rarely you might see some TV or advertising placements.

Example: Pond5

Performance Royalty Free - This is where you sell the music, and you actually WON'T receive any backend royalties. This is a shady practice that is trying to undermine the system, and these libraries usually don't want their composers affiliated with any PROs (performing rights organizations) period.

Example: Epidemic Sound

Boutique - Only a few of these libraries still exist, and they basically act like exclusive libraries. These libraries actively pitch music to clients rather than simply being a storefront. They will likely claim the publishing share for any placements that they obtain. Also, they are the most likely NE libraries to have higher sync fees, and are the best option for bands and artist music.

Example: Crucial Music

Subscription - Instead of clients paying per track, subscription libraries offer them a monthly or yearly fee to use unlimited music. Even with a large catalog, this system is not very lucrative in my opinion. These libraries are almost exclusively for YouTubers.

Example: Envato Elements

Exclusive Libraries

These are libraries that exclusively represent your music. This means that you can't place the same music tracks in any other library. Libraries like this don't own you as a composer, but they essentially own the publishing of whatever tracks of yours they publish. These libraries mostly accept full albums (10-15 tracks) of a given style, or tracks written specifically for their briefs. Exclusive libraries are where more than 95% of my TV placements come from, so I believe they are worth the risk for anyone who is serious about this field of work.

Types of Exclusive Libraries

Major Labels - These are labels in large catalogs, and libraries with major sub-publishers. Some major publishers include Universal, Warner Bros, BMG, APM, etc. Major labels often have worldwide distribution, large catalogs and sign music in perpetuity (forever). To find different labels, go on one of these websites and browse their list of labels.

Examples: APM, Universal

Independent/Boutique - These are independently owned and operated music libraries. They don't have any major sub-publishers, but may have minor ones. Independent libraries tend to be more personal and don't usually have as many tracks in their catalog as the big boys. It is also more likely that you can sign a 2-5 year deal with independent libraries as opposed to a contract in perpetuity.

Example: Jingle Punks

Work for Hire - There aren't many libraries that I know of that are strictly "work for hire" but this deal is worth mentioning. Work for hire means that you are paid an upfront fee for your music and you won't maintain the rights to the music. You effectively sell the rights to the music. This kind of deal might be made for a very large scale advertisement, where the company wants to own the rights to the music. The upfront fees can be great, but only you can evaluate whether this situation is comfortable for you.


Only you can determine which types of libraries are best for you, depending what stage you are at in your career. I started with mostly Royalty-Free libraries to get my feet wet, and moved on to exclusive libraries as the RF market became mostly subscription-based. If TV placements are what you are after, then exclusive is probably the way to go. If you only compose a couple tracks a month, then maybe the RF market is where you will be the most successful. In any case, this business is a long game so patience and persistence are key!

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