What Are the Different Types of Music Licenses and Which One is Right for Me?

There’s no greater feeling than finding the perfect beat to inspire your next musical creation. You search and scroll through Airbit, listen to a bunch of online beats, and you find the one with just the right vibe shining through your speakers. When you go to download it, though, you’re faced with several licensing options at different price points with loads of other details. If you’re new to the business side of music, this can raise a lot of questions. How does beat licensing work? What’s the difference between an exclusive license and a non-exclusive license? How is a premium lease better than a standard lease? Don’t fret–this primer will walk you through the basics of beat licensing.

What are beat licenses?

As an artist, you have ownership over the music you create. When you incorporate someone else’s beats, though, that person owns a piece of the pie too. Paying a producer for the right to use their beat in your track is called licensing, and there are two main types of licenses you should be aware of: exclusive licenses and non-exclusive licenses. The easiest way to remember the difference is to think about it in terms of beat selling versus beat leasing. If you purchase an exclusive license, you are essentially buying the beat from the producer, and you become its owner. A non-exclusive license, on the other hand, is more akin to renting or leasing the beat—you can use it, but the producer remains the owner.

Exclusive licenses

An exclusive license is pretty straightforward. If you purchase an exclusive license from a producer, you become the new, sole owner of their beat. The producer won’t be able to sell the beat to anyone else or even use it themselves once they’ve sold it to you. You usually won’t be able to resell the beat, but other than that, an exclusive license pretty much gives you free rein to use the beat however you want. One important note, though: if other artists purchased non-exclusive licenses to the same beat before you, they are still able to use it under the terms of their existing contract.

The great thing about this license is that it can help give you a unique voice as an artist, but there is a price for this exclusivity. The cost of licensing is highly subjective between producers, but an exclusive license will always be more expensive than its non-exclusive counterpart. We’re talking $50-75 at the minimum, with common pricing in the $100-200 range. Licensing beats from a well-known producer could even set you back a grand or more!

Non-exclusive licenses

A non-exclusive license is a great option for newer and less-established artists, because it allows you to get high-quality beats without breaking the bank. If you’re an independent rapper or singer without a label to help defray the cost, purchasing a limited, non-exclusive license for ten or twenty bucks can be preferable to dropping some serious cash for exclusive rights to a beat. This sort of license is less expensive because the producer retains ownership, and they are free to sell their beat to as many other artists as they please. In addition, the producer can set terms for what you can do with their beat, such as how many copies of the track you can distribute before needing to pay royalties. Producers on Airbit are free to adjust these limits however they see fit, so you will see different terms and prices for every beat you check out.

Other licenses

In addition to these two major license types, there is a third, unique one you should know about. A synchronization (or sync) license is a special type of non-exclusive beat licensing contract for projects that include a visual element. If someone is interested in using beats as background music in their video game or in a commercial or in any sort of TV show or movie, this is the license they’ll need. As an artist, the main reason you might need a sync license is if you’re planning to make a music video.

So how do I pick a license?

Non-exclusive contracts offer a lot of wiggle room, which is why you’ll sometimes see so many options when you go to purchase a beat. You may see terms like “Standard” or “Premium,” but the important thing is to understand exactly what you are purchasing at any given price. The least expensive tiers typically include an MP3 of the beat, while more expensive levels can get you high quality WAV files or even tracked-out audio files. When you’re looking at a beat on Airbit, it should be clear what sort of files are included at each price point (MP3, WAV, or Trackout). But the audio quality is only one factor that determines the price of a license: for the other details, make sure you check out the License Terms of each option.

When establishing terms for each license, producers can make many decisions, including whether it includes broadcasting rights, and whether to put a limit on how many times the track can be streamed, downloaded, and performed. For example, a less expensive license may grant you unlimited free downloads and non-profit performances, but only 5 or 10 paid performances before you have to start paying royalties. The more expensive licenses will generally give you more extensive rights for broadcasting and distribution. An exclusive license will be more expensive than any non-exclusive license, and accordingly provides you with essentially unlimited rights to distribution. It’s your duty as an artist to make plans and projections to make sure you pick the license best suited to your needs.

Hopefully this introduction to beat licensing can help you get off your feet. It can be a long process to understand all the little details, but learning the ins and outs of the different types of licenses is a must if you want to work with beats from the talented producers on Airbit.

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