Music Licensing Simplified

We hear from businesses every day that music copyright is insanely confusing. We know that clear, succinct resources are few and far between. To that end, we’ve been compiling common questions and answers to help make sense of it all. 

CAVEAT: In no way are we offering legal advice, just trying to simplify the complex world of licensing.

Below are a few of the most frequent questions we get. If you want more, definitely check out the full Music Licensing 101 page on and reach out to with any specific questions.

Why do I need multiple licenses for a single song?

Every piece of recorded music has two different copyrights that each require a license – the copyright on the recorded version of the song, often called a “master recording” and a copyright on the underlying words and notes for each song generally referred to as a “composition” (because it is written by composers).

Where do I start to figure out who I need to get these licenses from?

First and foremost, you need to identify how you are using music in your business. Once that’s clear, you can go directly to the rights holders for permission.

  • If you want to use music in a movie, commercial (even a social media ad), television show or game you need a synchronization license. This allows you to use music behind moving images. For popular music, a synchronization license can ONLY be obtained on a song by song basis by getting a license for the song(s) from the record label/artist and the publishers/composers (and that means all the composers that own a part of the song).
    Who to talk to: Record label and Publishers
  • If you want to use music in the background in your business or offer live music, you need a public performance license. A public performance license can be granted by a performing rights organization (“PRO”). In the US, there are 4 PRO’s. Each individual writer chooses what PRO they want to work with. The PRO makes it possible for a business to get one performance license that covers all of the writers that PRO represents. The only way to ensure you have a public performance license with all the writers of every song you use is to get a license with all 4 PRO’s. Note: you cannot use a personal streaming service (Spotify, Apple Music, etc.) for a business purpose. Your license with the streaming service specifically prohibits this.Who to talk to: All 4 Performance Rights Organizations, or work with a qualified background music provider.
  • If you want to use music in a fitness class (or any business in which music is integral to the experience), it’s more complicated. You still need to work with the PROs, but it’s a DIFFERENT license than the one you obtain for background usage.
    Who to talk to: All 4 Performance Rights Organizations and Record Label, or work with a qualified Group Fitness music provider.
  • If you want to use music in your app or website alongside video and you want the music to be exactly the same every time it is viewed. Initially, this is what most content creators want for their On Demand video library. Unfortunately, this will require a synchronization license, similar to licensing music for a commercial and is incredibly costly and time consuming.
    Who to talk to: Record label and Publishers
  • If you want to use music in your app or website and the music can be randomized for the end user. For example, a soundtrack to a workout that is pre-selected for beats per minute and timing, but songs are shuffled for the user each time they do the workout (like a radio station). This is considered Non Interactive and is orders of magnitude less expensive than Interactive/On Demand (think 100X cheaper) and does not require direct deals with labels or music publishers in the United States.
    Who to talk to:

Are music rights global?

In short, no.

There is no such thing as an “international copyright” that will automatically protect a work throughout the world unless licenses are obtained directly from copyright holders (e.g. labels and music publishers). Outside the United States, most licenses are handled by rights societies in each country. Master Recording licenses can be obtained either from US record labels or their counterparts in other countries. Publishing licenses other than PRO’s need to be obtained from publishers in whatever country you are offering your product or service (although many publishers outside the US can cover multiple countries). Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends on the national laws of that country, which means that rights need to be secured for each country in which you wish to play music in a commercial setting.

If I downloaded and paid for a song, can I play it legally in a business or a fitness class setting?

Downloading music you have paid for is in no way related to playing that music out in the open when people are paying your business for a service (e.g. a fitness class).

Music is vital for so many physical and digital experiences, and COVID-19 is forcing many business owners to find solutions more quickly than ever before. Given the complexity of music licensing, we’ve been (happily) inundated with requests to help “figure this out asap!” from organizations big and small. We’ve got a plethora of content under the “Resources” and "Free Guides" tabs at, and if you ever need a deeper dive please give us a shout!