Over the past twenty years one of the largest revenue streams for independent artists, and freelance composers is the use of their music in various TV shows, Films, and Games. In the ever-increasing opportunities for modern musicians, lies the debate between licensing vs selling the rights of their compositions.

It is essential to understand both spectrums and be able to decide whether you are ready to part with the ownership of your composition (for good) or if you want to maintain ownership and be in control the whole time.


Licensing means you are granting the right (granted to you from your copyright) to use the music or audio material you have composed by a Licensee. This means that the Licensee will not own any rights to the audio content,  or have exclusivity to the content, or the ability to re-sell the material.

A license is simple; the licensee shall only pay for the intended use. A license will then be granted for the purpose of the audio material as per the terms. Unauthorized use of your music in any shape or form is considered as Copyright Infringement.


When you license your music for use in a TV Show or a Movie, the licensee has to pay a ‘Sync Fee’. That is an amount of money that is paid to you to attain the license for use. Sync fees are purely negotiable and are not regulated by statute; they are strictly contractual and vary significantly in amount depending on the usage, subjective importance of the song and production, and medium used.

After the synchronization fee is paid, the publisher can issue a license in three forms –

  1. One-time Use

    This type of license is used for synchronization of your music to only one other media. E.g. Your song was selected to be played in a specific episode of a TV show and is not the central motif of the show.


  2. Broad Spectrum

    This license is used for synchronization of your music to another media, and it’s different iterations. E.g. Your music is selected to be a part of a movie and is so vital to it that it is also used for the trailers and other short edits of the same film.


  3. Master Use

    This license is provided with exclusive rights. E.g. The song that you composed can now be only used by the licensee in perpetuity or as long as the license is issued for. You are still the copyright owner of the composition but cannot use it in any other shape or form.


After the license has been granted, you are then going to collect performance royalties for your compositions every-time the Movie/TV Show is aired and the number of times your music is played in that duration. With the help of a PRO (Performance Rights Organization) that you sign to as a writer/publisher, this amount is calculated and is forwarded to you.

Keep in mind that the performance royalties are only generated when your music is synchronized to TV shows or Movies. This is not the case for Games; hence it is important to demand a larger Sync Fee upfront when you are approached for a license for a Game Score.

Both IPRS and PPL, India’s PROs revived their board and brought in publishing expert Achille Forler as a consultant. Hopefully, we will see a more structured cycle and an implementation of the collection of these royalties in India.


When you hand over all the ownership of your composition to another entity, you no longer have any control over the use or any interpretation/representation/derivations of that composition. For a sum of money, you can transfer the copyright ownership of the composition of your tracks.

In many cases, this can also be labelled as ‘Works for hire’. In this scenario, the music supervisor or film’s producer asks for specific original music for a particular cue in a movie, TV show, or in a game. This requires the composer to create a composition under a specific genre/style and also to get the cue, create, mix and master and revise the music within a short period.

Due to the transfer of copyrights, there are no performance royalties and in many cases, no acknowledgements either.


This is a fantastic time for today’s musicians and producers to get their foot in the door with production houses and agencies and create compositions for licensing. Licensing has seen a considerable boost over the few years.

Global music licensing revenue totaled $1.23 billion in 2016. That’s up 3.4% from $1.19 billion in 2015 and 9.8% from $1.12 billion in 2014, according to digital media analysis firm Media Research.

As a musician, you can work on creating your music library with compositions of different genres and styles and approach music supervisors for either licensing or selling rights. However, to have control over the rights to your music and the provision to collect royalties from those compositions provides better credibility in the industry and a more promising revenue stream.

“Artists today have many more options then they had years ago. The goal for any artist or producer is to create a large body of compositions and then register them and exploit them for the myrid of uses that are out there. These uses include Game Scores, Movies, TV shows, and other performance based uses. The goal for any composer today should be centered around exclusive compositions and creating a library of stock compositions that can be licensed to various end users. All of this can focus around both Licensing of existing compositions, non-exclusive uses, and exclusive compositions. Overall if you can get your foot in the door with a music supervisor or production company, this could be one of the largest revenue streams in an independent artist’s revenue pie” – Steffen Franz, President/Founder, Independent Distribution Collective and Senior Music Business Instructor, Pyramind


A dental surgeon by profession, Ankit changed his stream to Music Production and Audio Engineering in 2016. He has since created a Music Promotions Agency and an Artist Management/Label to contribute to India's ever-growing music industry. With a knack for Music Business and tastemaking, he intends to share knowledge and music with everyone!

Write A Comment