What is a master license?

A master license is permission to use someone else's recording on your new audio recording. Common uses of a master license include sampling existing beats, recording karaoke, and commercial and corporate promotions.

Do you need a master license?

Whenever you make a new recording of an existing recording that someone else made, even if it's just a small sample, you need a master license. For example, if you sample a portion of a David Bowie song, even if it's a simple bass line, you need a master license. Another example would be recording yourself singing over a karaoke or background track. Sometimes you might want to use an entire popular original recording, such as for a commercial or corporate video. This also requires a master license.

Who gets paid?

A master license pays a royalty to the copyright holder of the original recording. The copyright holder is typically the artist or their record label. However, sometimes rights are sold. If master rights are sold, a song might have a new owner, other than the original artist or label. When you hire us for custom licensing assistance, we research and discover the current copyright holders for you.

How do you get a master license?

A master license is obtained by asking the copyright holder for permission directly. This is typically the artist or their record label, unless ownership has changed hands. Getting a master license can be complicated. For this reason, we offer a service to help you with this for a fee. Learn more about our custom licensing services.

Note that master licenses are custom negotiated with the copyright holder. This can be challenging because, by law, master rights holders maintain total control of their works. This means they can set any fee, take all the time they need, and reject the license outright. Many factors affect the response, including budget, use, and even the current workload of the copyright holder’s processing department. For this reason, it is important to temper expectations when requesting a master license.

You will also need the following:

Mechanical License (for audio-only projects)

Every time that you need a master license for an audio-only product (CDs, Digital Downloads), you also need a mechanical license. The master license pays only the artist for the right to use their recording; the mechanical license pays the composer for the right to use their song.

OR Synchronization License (for video projects)

Every time that you need a master license for a video or other visual product (YouTube, slideshow), you also need a synchronization license. The master license pays only the artist for the right to use their recording; the synchronization license pays the composer for the right to use their song.

When should you have your master licensing in place?

Master licenses must be secured before distribution. However, because they are hard to get, we suggest making your request many months before your anticipated release date. It is also smart to have at least one backup plan in place, in case you are unable to get the master rights you want. Our partners KaraokePopHits.com and Priddis.com have deep catalogs of affordable master recordings. These are cover versions that sound very near to the originals. KaraokePopHits.com will even make a new recording upon request, if necessary.

When happens if you don't get a license?

We are not in the business of enforcement. However there are publishers, labels, and third parties out there who are. The result can be permanent strikes on your account, takedown of the material, and in some cases legal action. Will you get caught? Maybe. Maybe not. But there are many more reasons to do things right than just the fear of getting caught. Check out all our reasons to get a license.

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