• Randy McGravey

What is Direct Licensing? (Music Licensing)

One aspect of this business that not many seem to know about, is direct licensing. Have you ever wondered why music libraries and supervisors work with TV channels that don't pay backend royalties? In most cases, they are direct licensing the music to these stations.


Direct licensing is the act of receiving upfront fees for the usage of music in lieu of backend payments (from PROs). Basically these channels are somehow avoiding paying fees to performing rights organizations. When music supervisors work with libraries, they usually pay a blanket license fee (basically a monthly or annual subscription) to use the music in their productions. Some libraries (not all) will charge a larger sync fee for programs on these channels.


Direct licensing is not ideal for composers, but it is hard to avoid since most libraries do it. You should always read a library's contract to find out their direct licensing situation. If they are in the habit of doing direct licensing deals, then make sure you are paid a share of the blanket license fees (the good libraries will pay you a fair share of blanket license fees anyway). Having a conversation with your library contact is always beneficial anyway, as they can explain in more detail than the contract can.


Some American channels that don't pay backend royalties are:

  • ESPN (ESPN U, ESPN Classic, etc.)

  • Food Network

  • FX

  • Hallmark

  • AccuWeather Network

  • C-SPAN (1, 2, 3)

  • QVC (1, 2, 3)

  • The Weather Channel

  • Cinemax

  • Showtime

  • Starz

  • HSN


If you see these channels showing up in your Tunesat account, don't get too excited. It is frustrating finding out that you got placements but won't be paid for them. This is why it is important to have the direct licensing details before signing a contract with a new library.


One reason why libraries work with these channels/programs, is the possibility that the shows will someday air on another station that does pay, or make their way to streaming services that pay (Netflix, Hulu, etc.). Some shows are broadcast internationally and could receive backend payments in the future.


In a nutshell, direct licensing isn't ideal. If you cover your bases before signing away tracks with a new library, you can avoid giving your music away for free to these stations. And head for the hills if you come across libraries that don't want you to be involved with a PRO!


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