Whether you're a content creator looking for music to fit the tone of your video or a company wishing to use music in commercials, music can be used in many different ways to help strengthen your brand. Finding the proper way to legally include music in your projects can be a little challenging, so we're here to help make sure you understand exactly which music license you'll need for your specific project. This article covers a comprehensive analysis of the different types of music licenses, covering their definitions, purposes, and scenarios in which they are frequently used so you can license music with ease.

What is a Music License?

Before we dive into the different types of music licenses, let's clarify what a music license actually is. A music license grants you the legal right to use copyrighted music in your projects. It serves as a permission granted by the copyright holder, allowing you to use their music under specific terms.

To use any piece of music, you need to work with a music licensing service or locate the manager of the license and develop a contract or agreement to obtain permission and use it. In some cases, you may have to seek out the composer, original artist, record label, music publisher, or Performance Rights Organizations (PROs).

Music copyright legally protects the producers, composers, recording artists, and others behind the creation of a musical composition or sound recording by granting them exclusive rights to the track. Copyright helps ensure that others aren’t stealing work and allows them to receive rightful compensation from royalties, which is why it is necessary to obtain a music license before using copyrighted songs in your projects.

To learn more about music licensing for YouTube, we’ve compiled everything you need to know, here.

What Are the Six Types of Music Licenses?

Depending on your project, the type of music license you’ll need will vary. Here are the six main types of licenses:

1. Synchronization License

2. Public Performance License

3. Mechanical License

4. Master Recording License

5. Print License

6. Blanket License

Synchronization License:

A synchronization (sync) license is necessary when you want to synchronize music with visual media. This includes using music in films, TV shows, commercials, online videos, and other audiovisual projects. The sync license grants you the right to pair a specific song with your visuals, ensuring that you have legal permission to use the copyrighted music in your project.

Example: Suppose you're creating a YouTube video and want to include a popular song as background music. In that case, you need to obtain a sync license from the copyright holder of that song to avoid any copyright infringement.

As a content creator, you’ll want to make sure you obtain a sync license as using copyrighted work in your videos can result in a copyright claim or strike. In the case of a copyright strike, your YouTube channel may even be suspended or banned for repeat offenses, so make sure you fully understand how copyright on YouTube works.

Track Club’s subscription model grants you unlimited sync music licenses for songs in the Track Club catalog and takes care of all the technical, legal business, and royalty payments so you can create quality content without any worries.

Public Performance License:

A public performance license is required for live performances or when you play copyrighted music in a public place. This applies to various scenarios such as live concerts, radio broadcasts, streaming services, and even playing background music in public spaces like retail stores or cafés. The license ensures that the copyright holder receives appropriate royalties for the public use of their music.

Some public performances, however, are exempt from needing a license. If music is played or sung as part of a face-to-face teaching activity at a non-profit educational institution or as part of a worship service, obtaining a music license is not required unless the performance is shared beyond where it takes place, like in a video or radio broadcast.

Example: If you own a café and want to play popular songs for your customers, you need a public performance license from the appropriate rights organizations to ensure that the songwriters and composers are compensated for their work.

Mechanical License:

Mechanical licenses are frequently used if you want to reproduce and distribute a copyrighted song that is not your own in an audio-only digital or physical format. You'll need a mechanical license when producing cover versions, remixes, or recorded copies of preexisting songs. With a mechanical license, you are given permission to replicate and distribute the musical composition to the general public.

If you decide to make a video cover of a song, you move from mechanical licensing to sync licensing, which as we explained before is when you want to “sync” music with visual media.

Example: If you're a musician planning to record and release a cover song version of a famous song, you need a mechanical license to legally distribute the recorded track. This ensures that you have permission to use the underlying musical composition.

Master Recording License:

A master recording license grants you the right to use the "master recording" of a particular version of a song in a new media-based project. Master licenses are custom-negotiated directly with the copyright holder upfront to create a formal agreement, which can present some challenges.

A master license can be used in audio and visual products, so it can be confusing to tell the difference between a master recording license and a sync or mechanical license. Basically, a master recording license is a sync or mechanical license for the master recording of a song that you will need to acquire directly by contacting the copyright owner, such as the record company.

Usually, if you have obtained a master recording license, if you decide to use it in a visual project, you'll need an additional sync license, and if you're using it in an audio project, you'll need a mechanical license as well.

Example: Suppose you're creating a commercial and want to use a well-known artist's version of a song. In that case, you need a master recording license from the copyright holder of that specific musical work. This ensures that you have the legal right to use that particular version of the song in your project.

Print License:

You'll need a print license when you want to reproduce and distribute sheet music or printed lyrics of copyrighted songs. This license is usually used by publishers, sheet music companies, and music teachers who want to duplicate the composition or lyrics of a song in a printed format.

Example: If you're a music teacher and want to distribute sheet music to your students, you need a print license from the copyright holder of the composition. This ensures that you have legal permission to share the copyrighted sheet music.

Blanket License:

A blanket license allows you to use a large catalog of music from multiple copyright holders for a specific purpose or within a specific venue. These licenses are commonly used by businesses like radio stations, restaurants, clubs, and streaming services. A blanket license simplifies the process by granting permission to use a wide range of music from various copyright holders under a single legal agreement.

Example: If you're the owner of a nightclub and want to play a variety of music from different artists, you can obtain a blanket license from a performing rights organization (PRO) that covers the repertoire of many copyright holders. This eliminates the need to individually negotiate licenses for each song played at the venue.

What is a Royalty-Free Music License?

Another popular licensing option is called a royalty-free music license. This type of license allows the user to purchase a one-off license to use the track without paying the artist additional royalties, which is the payment made to the copyright holder whenever the material gets played. Note that royalty-free doesn’t mean copyright-free, so you’ll still need to purchase a license to avoid legal issues.

Royalties are negotiated by the copyright owner and the licensing agreement doesn't grant the user rights to the copyright. Typically, purchasing a license to use royalty-free music allows the purchaser to use the music for a limited time for a specific, agreed-upon licensing fee.

The royalty-free music company pays the song's copyright holder the required royalties so that you don't have to do it yourself or negotiate a licensing agreement with them directly.

While there aren't any ongoing payments for the purchaser, there may be restrictions on how the music track can be used. So, it’s important to read the terms carefully when using a royalty-free music license in your project.

What is Public Domain?

Music in the public domain refers to compositions and recordings that are not protected by copyright or have reached the expiration of their copyright term. These works can be freely used by anyone without obtaining a license or permission.

Public domain music is an excellent option for those seeking music without copyright restrictions. However, it's crucial to verify the status of a particular composition or recording to ensure it truly falls within the public domain.

What Are PROs and Music Rights Organizations?

PROs (Performing Rights Organizations) and music rights organizations are entities that manage the performance rights of songwriters, composers, and publishers. They collect royalties on behalf of artists when their music is publicly performed, broadcasted, or streamed.

PROs play a vital role in the music industry, ensuring that songwriters and composers receive fair compensation for their work. By partnering with PROs or music rights organizations, music creators can make sure the licensing, royalty collection, and protection of their creative works are in good hands. The main PROs include ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.

How Can Content Creators Obtain a Music License Easily?

If you're a content creator, obtaining a music license doesn't have to be a complex and overwhelming process. Usually, what you'll need if you're looking for background music to go with your video is a sync license.

A Track Club subscription provides you with unlimited sync music licenses for songs in the Track Club catalog, without needing to negotiate with the rights holders.

Track Club’s filters allow you to refine the catalog and easily find the perfect song for every project, and you also have the freedom to customize your song to make sure you get just what you’re looking for using Track Club’s music editing tool, MixLab.

No need to worry about legal issues either, Track Club’s easy-to-use TrackID feature ensures that you have proper clearance to use the music tracks in your YouTube videos.


Understanding when and where to use the different types of music licenses is a must for anyone who wishes to use music in their projects. By familiarizing yourself with these licenses and their guidelines, you'll be able to easily take your project to the next level.

Track Club's music library contains a meticulously curated selection of high-quality, authentically crafted music, and uses Smart Filters to simplify your search process, helping you find exactly what you need, quickly. To really make sure you find what you need, you have the freedom to customize your songs with Track Club’s MixLab.

Need a music license? Try Track Club’s music licensing app for free! It’s the only small-batch music catalog that’s 100% customizable.