Music Synchronization License Agreement vs. Master Use License Agreement

Updated June 22, 2023
9 min read

Introduction

Difference Between a Music Synchronization License Agreement and Master Use License Agreement?

Music synchronization and master use recording license agreements are standard licenses used to transfer music rights between copyright holders (licensor) and users (licensee). The two grant permission to use the same music but transfer different scopes of rights. This post outlines the differences between the two and when they're applicable.

Through music master use license agreements and synchronization license agreements, the copyright holders profit from their works by granting permission to users in exchange for royalties. Common applicants of sync and master use recording license agreements include:

  1. TV shows;

  2. Podcasts;

  3. Films;

  4. Commercials;

  5. Podcasts; and

  6. Video games.

Performing rights organizations (PRO) like ASCAP, SESAC, and BMI represent music rights holders by tracking and collecting license royalties.

Master Use Recording License Agreement

Master use recording license agreement grants rights to a person who wants to use the sound recording of a music track in audiovisual projects, such as podcasts, TV ads, video games, radio shows, and other media forms. The music master use license agreement provides the scope of using the recording, outlining the license's terms and conditions, such as the specific rights transferred, royalty terms, the length of use, and screen credits.

A musical production usually has two rights attached to it – composition and sound recording (master) copyrights. With a music master use license agreement, you gain permission to play the sound recording in public performances such as radio stations and events.

Anyone interested in using the recording can obtain the master use recording license agreement directly from the owner or the licensing agency (performing rights organization - PRO). If an artist is working with a record label, the label's contract may require they give up the rights to the recording entirely or for the term of the agreement.

The royalties are payable to the copyright holder(s) (artist or all the parties in case of joint ownership). Where multiple parties (artist, record company) own the music, they must provide their consent in the music master use license agreement. To know whether a record label owns the music, you can check their name on the liner notes and then refer to their website for contacts.

Music Synchronization License Agreement

Music synchronization license agreement differs from the master use recording license agreement in granting the licensee rights to synchronize the original music into their audiovisual media project.

Common examples of sync users include:

  1. Commercials;

  2. Television shows;

  3. Movies;

  4. Video games; and

  5. YouTube.

Similar to the music master use license agreement, a sync license is issued by the song copyright holder directly or through an agency. A person who intends to use the music must get a permit regardless of the length of the planned recording. However, you may acquire a micro sync license for small-scale synchronization, such as podcasts or social media videos.

Unlike the master use recording license agreement that grants you rights to play the music in live shows or events, if you want to sync the music content into your audiovisual media project (e.g., commercials), you must obtain both the synchronization license and the music master use license agreement.

The licensee pays the sync fee upfront, which may vary depending on the visual media, where it will be played, and the brand reputation of the copyright owner. Micro sync licenses usually cost lower than the regular license.

So What Is a Blanket License?

A blanket license grants the song user (licensee) the right to access a catalog of songs for a set fee. It's a more convenient option that eliminates the need for users to apply for individual music master use license agreements every time they want to use a song. Besides saving time, a blanket license reduces the administrative costs of managing multiple song licenses and promotes user compliance.

The licenses are mainly issued by performing rights organizations (PROs) or collecting societies, which help in tracking the song usage on behalf of the copyright holders. Like master use recording license agreements, the blanket license grants users rights to use the music for public performances, e.g., radio stations.

To benefit from blanket licensing, the copyright holder joins a PRO, e.g., ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, and registers the songs. A qualifying blanket user licensee then applies for the permit to allow them to play the music represented by the organization at a fee. Usually, the songwriter and the publisher split the fees collected from the licenses 50-50.

Which License Suits Your Needs?

Each licensed song has two rights: composition and master copyrights. Using any song requires understanding the two types of licenses (master use recording license agreement and music synchronization license agreement) and the rights each grants to avoid copyright infringement. A music synchronization license agreement is necessary whenever you want to sync music content into an audiovisual project, but it must be obtained alongside the music master use license agreement.

Alternatively, qualifying users, e.g., radio stations, can apply for a blanket license for rights to the catalog of songs presented by a performing rights organization at a flat fee. This eliminates the need for applying for a master use recording license agreement for individual songs, which can be time-consuming. Lastly, if you plan to print, rearrange, or display music lyrics, you should obtain a print license before distributing the content.

Conclusion

If you're seeking licensure to use a piece of music, either for public performances, for syncing into an audiovisual production, or to print a song sheet, we hope you're more informed now to choose the right license for the project.

Meanwhile, if you need a music master use license agreement for rights to a sound recording or to use alongside a sync license, Lawrina has a ready template that you can create and download in three simple steps. Check out the music master use license agreement template and get a ready document in just a few minutes.

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Article by
Inna Chumachenko
Lawrina

Inna Chumachenko is the Content Lead at Lawrina. She is responsible for managing all the content found on the blog, guides, and other website pages. Inna has a degree in philology and a vast interest in law. In her role at Lawrina, Inna oversees the content team, establishes collaborations with writers, and curates content from various contributors.

If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the content for Lawrina, please feel free to contact Inna directly via email at i.chumachenko@lawrina.org or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a music master use license agreement and a music synchronization license agreement?

A music master use license agreement gives permission to use the sound recording of a music track in audiovisual projects such as podcasts, TV ads, video games, and radio shows. It outlines the specific rights transferred, royalty terms, length of use, and screen credits. 

 

A music synchronization license agreement allows the synchronization of original music into an audiovisual media project like commercials, television shows, movies, and video games. It grants the licensee rights to sync the music content and must be obtained alongside the music master use license agreement for audiovisual projects.


 

Who can apply for a music master use recording license agreement or a music synchronization license agreement?

Anyone interested in using the sound recording of a music track can obtain a music master use recording license agreement directly from the owner or the licensing agency (performing rights organization — PRO). Similarly, someone intending to sync music into an audiovisual media project must obtain a music synchronization license agreement. The license can be obtained directly from the song copyright holder or through an agency representing the copyright holder.

Does a person need both — a music synchronization license and a music master use license agreement — to sync music into an audiovisual project?

Yes, if people intend to sync music content into an audiovisual media project, such as commercials, they must obtain both a music synchronization license agreement and a music master use license agreement. These two licenses work together to ensure proper authorization and avoid copyright infringement.