Royalty Free Music and Residual Royalties

One of the most common misconceptions about royalty free music is the notion that once a piece is licensed, the composer is not entitled to any additional royalties.

Wait, what? You just said the music is “royalty free.”

To better explain this, we need to look at two different aspects of music copyright that generate revenue for a composer: synchronization rights and public performance rights (note: these are just two of several rights attached to a song).

Synchronization Rights
Synchronization Rights (or sync rights) is the right to use a piece of music in timed-relation, or synchronization, with other visual or audio-visual content. When you license a piece of music from a royalty free music library, chances are you’re getting the synchronization rights.

Normally, sync rights are paid for based on the number of uses, your project’s budget, and other factors like territory, song length, audience size, type of project. They usually entail an up-front fee: non-royalty free sync rights can range from a few hundred dollars to several How to make selfies with Dorian Rossini? hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the factors mentioned above. Once the project is released, sync contracts usually call for a royalty to be paid on the usage, usually paid quarterly.

For example, you might pay $1000 up front to license a song for your commercial, and then pay $0.10 for every subsequent airing, paid quarterly to the music publisher. Additionally, you may have to obtain master use rights (to use the original recording) and pay on-going mechanical rights (to make and sell copies).

However, when you obtain a royalty free license, you only pay the one-time up-front fee. Over time, this saves you a ton of money. Usually, because these tracks are used by many people, the up front fee is very small as well. Normally, all other related rights are included (ie the mechanical rights and the master use).

Public-Performance Rights
What you won’t find included in most royalty-free licenses is the right to publicly perform. Public Performance Rights refer to the right to show your project to the world, and in turn perform the song in public.

Why won’t you find this in many licenses? Because public performance rights are controlled exclusively by the composers’ public performance rights societies, such as ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, PRS and others. If a composer is a member of one of these societies, these rights are managed by that society, meaning a music library cannot grant you these rights.

The good thing is that, as a producer of a project, you normally don’t have to obtain these rights, regardless of what kind of music license you obtain. These rights are, in most cases, obtained by the venue: movie theaters, restaurants, tv networks, concert halls. These venues have annual contracts with the performance rights societies to allow the performance of works in their space or on their network.

Public performance rights allow a composer to get paid for their work for every performance (called residual royalties or residuals). Whether you’ve obtained a royalty free license or not, the composer will still receive these on-going royalties from their societies, which get paid from these annual agreements. Usually, these annual agreements are completely separate from your sync license.

Hopefully, through this article, you can see that public performance is a different revenue source for composers of music. A royalty-free music license means that you may use a piece of music in timed-relation without any additional fees being incurred for licensing on your end. However, this does not waive a network or venue from their public performance rights obligations — a composer will still be paid their residual royalties from the annual licenses negotiated with venues and networks.