The most important Sync / Music Licensing terms

Once you have decided to make your music available for placements in films, television, games and commercials a number of new terms will come up. Terms you should get familiar with so you will understand what the person on the other end of the line is talking about. And after all there will be contracts to examine… That’s why we have created a list with the most common – and most important – Sync and Music Licensing terms for you. 

Sorted, well, one after another, not alphabetically, maybe by importance – who cares, MusicBiz Madness is “punk”…

Sync / Licensing
This is the generic name of this entire business field. “Sync“ as in „synchronization“, when you put moving pictures and music in line. “Licensing”, well, whoever uses your music (a TV program or film producer) needs to obtain a license to do so. And boy (or girl), he’s gonna pay for it.

Music Library
Not really a term that makes sense, but it describes such businesses, often music publishers, that provide music specifically for the use in media productions.

The finished recording which you will have to differentiate from the…

The intellectual creation (words, music) that is embedded in the Master Recording.

Here’s why those two have to be treated separately, at least in your head:

Master License
aka Sync License, Sync Fee or Master Fee. This fee is being paid by the user – the film production company or TV network – to obtain the right to use the master. This fee is to compensate everyone who contributed to the master recording, such as performing musicians, music producers as well as the owner of the master recording, many times a record label. The Master License is being paid directly to the rights owners (musician, label) or their intermediary (music library).


Backend Royalties
Regular public performance royalties a composer and/or lyricist will receive through their performing rights organization after the film or show containing their song has aired.

You see, they once pay the performer (Master License) and the composers. If you’re both in one – great, you will cash in twice.

Needle Drop
This one hails from the good old days of the phonograph needle. A “Needle Drop License” is a license that has to be paid every time the needle gets dropped onto the record – in other words, every time a particular song gets played within the same film or TV show a separate license has to be paid.

Cue Sheets
Paperwork has to be filed with the performing rights organization whenever a TV network casts a film, series or show that includes music. The Cue Sheet lists the name of the song, the authors, the label (if any), music publisher, name of the film or show, duration, type of use, airtime and territory. The performing rights organization will use this information to determine the royalty amount due, charge the TV network and forward the royalties to the composers and publishers – minus a little overhead, who woulda thunk it…

Blanket License
A Blanket License requires a user to pay a one-time (flat) fee for the use of usually a publisher’s or music library’s full repertoire. Only very small amounts can be allotted to any individual song, so the money is in the backend royalties here.

…is the word that describes an alternate version of the full track such as instrumental version, drum and bass only, minus lead instrument, background instrumentation only and whatever sub-mix can be squeezed out of a song. Quite a number of music editors love these stems as they give them more options to incorporate a song.

This is a spezial type of „Stem“. Stingers are as short as jingles or tags and are often used to separate two scenes from each other. The slap bass in “Seinfeld” is a great example.

Temp Track
aka „Temp Music“ is a piece of music used by a film editor temporarily only during the editing of a scene.

Music Supervisor
This is the person at film production companies or TV networks who is responsible for the selection of the right music and the clearing of the rights that are connected to that music.

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About MusicBizMadness

Julian Angel is a chart-noted songwriter and film musician with Hollywood credits. He has successfully released six (physical) records by himself. MusicBiz Madness started as a business conference in Germany and keeps sharing hands-on advice for musicians and people in the music industry.
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