Sync Licensing & Production Music Terms 101
Updated: Nov 24, 2021
For those of you who are new to the world of production music and music licensing, I have prepared a list of some basic terms and definitions. Most of these terms are necessary for your understanding of the industry, and will help you to be knowledgeable about the field. Please let me know if you come across any more terms that you are unsure of, and I will gladly add them to this post!
Performing Rights Organizations (PRO's) - These are organizations such as ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, PRS, SOCAN, etc. These organizations collect "backend" royalties on your behalf for things such as TV placements, live performances, streaming services, stadium uses, etc. They usually pay their members quarterly, and you are encouraged to sign up immediately if you write your own music, or publish music. The sooner you join, the sooner you can start registering your songs and collecting money.
Publishing and Writer's Shares - A song copyright consists of 2 parts: writer's share (50%) and publisher's share (50%). If you personally publish your own music, you will maintain 100% of the copyright. If you sign your music to a publisher, you will maintain the writer's share and they will maintain the publisher's share. When PRO's in the US pay, they will pay an even amount to the writer and publisher.
Non-Exclusive Libraries - These are music libraries where you can submit your music on a non-exclusive basis. This means that you can submit the same tracks to other non-exclusive libraries. If you have "artist" music, then you should submit it to non-exclusive libraries so that you can maintain the publishing rights.
Exclusive Libraries - These are libraries that are exclusively assigned to publish your music. This means you can NOT submit the same tracks anywhere else. Almost all of the major libraries are exclusive (Universal, Sonoton, Warner Bros, BMG, APM). Exclusivity is not something to be afraid of, in fact more than 90% of my placements have come from exclusive libraries.
Retitling - Some libraries and publishers may re-title your music. For example, a popular non-exclusive library re-titles tracks by adding a code to the title in order to collect the publishing share for placements that they get. This won't interfere with placements that you get otherwise.
Some exclusive libraries will re-title tracks in order to maximize the track's potential and appearance towards clients. Retitling isn't an issue for exclusive libraries, because they will be the only ones shopping the music anyway.
Some composers re-title their non-exclusive tracks on different websites in order to discourage price shopping. This is a risky move in my opinion. One reason is that it will be hard and tedious to keep track of via your PRO. Another reason is that 2 libraries could be shopping the same track to the same supervisor under different names. If I was the music supervisor in this case, I would consider it a red flag for the track, and maybe even the composer.
In Perpetuity - This essentially means the life of the copyright. When you sign a contract in perpetuity, you give the publisher the exclusive right to exploit your music for the length of the copyright (songwriter's life plus 70 years).
Reversion Clause - This is a part of a contract that tells you when you can take your music back from the publisher. If you sign a 5 year deal with a reversion clause, that means you can take back the publishing rights after 5 years.
Royalty Free - Contrary to what some may think, royalty-free does NOT mean that you won't get royalties from the music. Royalty-Free (RF) means that a client pays for the music 1 time and can use it in unlimited projects. Keep this in mind when pricing your music.
Performance Royalty Free - This means that you WILL NOT get backend royalties from the performance of your music. I avoid these types of deals like the plague!
Blanket License - Most (if not all) exclusive libraries deal with blanket licenses. A blanket license is basically a subscription that a network pays to the library in order to use their music for a certain period of time.
Sync Fee - A sync fee happens when someone pays to use your track specifically for their production. It is basically an "a la carte" purchase as opposed to a blanket license situation. Sync fees are more common for advertisements, movie trailers and movies.
Music Supervisor - This is the person in charge of selecting music for a production. Composers can deal with music supervisors on their own, but many music supervisors prefer to deal with libraries. This is because libraries are one-stop shops where they can grab everything they need, and they usually have relationships with the library.
Cue Sheets - Cue sheets are documents that list every usage of every track on a program, including length, type of use, composer, publisher, etc. It is necessary for networks to file cue sheets with PRO's in order for the writer and publisher to get paid.
Stinger/Sting/Logo - This is a short (usually 4-8 second) track that can be used at the end of a commercial, end of a scene, as a transition, etc. Generally the stinger is the last phrase of a track.
Bumper/Bump - This is similar to a stinger, but a bit longer (8-12 seconds).
Narrative/Underscore version - This is a full-length track, but without the lead instrument(s). They call it "narrative" because the lack of lead instruments makes it easier to put dialogue on top of the music.
IPI Number - This is a unique number assigned to you by your PRO, which identifies you in their system. When signing music to a publisher, they will ask for your IPI number so that you will be the registered songwriter for the music, and so that you will get paid for uses of the music.
ISRC - Stands for International Standard Recording Code. This is a code that is embedded onto a sound recording so that it can be identified on streaming services, YouTube videos, Shazam, etc.
ISWC - International Standard Work Code. For purposes of PRO's, this code gives a song an ID which is referenced on cue sheets and otherwise.
Public Domain - Songs enter the public domain after the life of the writer, plus 70 years. Public domain songs can be covered without permission. Classical music, old Christmas songs, old nursery rhymes and many others are public domain.
Bespoke Music - Bespoke music is music that is written specifically for a client or project.
Briefs - Briefs are calls for certain types of music. Libraries may send out briefs for current projects they are working on, or to compile an album of a style that they are currently lacking.
Mechanical Royalties - Royalties generated from on-demand streaming services (YouTube, Spotify for desktop, iTunes) and physical music sales (CDs, tapes, records)
Digital Performance Royalties - Royalties generated from streaming services and internet radio services that are NOT on-demand (such as Pandora)
Synchronization (Sync) License - This type of license allows someone to sync music with video.
Mechanical License - This type of license gives permission for someone to use audio only in their project.
Master License - This license gives the right for someone to use the master sound recording in their project. Typically you need the master rights for either of the previous types of licenses.
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