Mechanical Vs. Sync Vs. Master Use Licenses: The Real Difference

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Written by Ramsey Brown.

Nowadays, everything happens online and social networks seem to monopolize everything. If you don't have one or more profiles on the main social and streaming platforms, it is essentially impossible to succeed as an artist. In the last ten years and especially after the coronavirus pandemic, the way in which music is related between artists, record labels and their fans is totally different. 

If someone wants to hear your music, they automatically go to their favorite streaming service to easily find you. If an A&R is scouting out new talent, they go directly to social media to see how the artist interacts with their audience online. This new and digitized industry has made everything much easier and faster, but this accessibility also comes with risks.  

It sounds counterintuitive, but today's simplified way of sharing and listening to music has complicated many other avenues of the music business. Artists’ intellectual property and data have never been more vulnerable to piracy and intrusion than it is today. 

Because digital media is well, digital... the legality and rights that protect the authenticity and distribution of music is more like an invisible barrier. 

Artists profit off of the fact that their music can be listened to and shared with just a few simple clicks on a smartphone. However, this simplicity makes it much more complicated to control what is done for honest purposes and what is done to seek profit illegally at the expense of other people’s work. 

Which is exactly why it is so important for artists to understand music licenses and the proper application of copyright in each and every song that they make. 

Throughout this article, we will explain how copyright and the different music licenses that exist within the music industry work. There are many different licenses but the three most important ones for artists to know are: synchronization license, the master license and the mechanical license.

These licenses and copyright are an important tool to understand and implement to protect you and your work from legality issues in the future. Continue reading to find out more.

What Artists Should Know About Music Licenses

Before explaining the different varieties of music licenses, it is important that you understand the concept of Copyright and how it works within the musical career of any artist today. Because although both concepts are similar, they have different functions that you will have to learn to differentiate in order to protect all your rights correctly. 

Take note!

What is a Copyright? 

A copyright is what signifies ownership of intellectual property by a person or entity. A music copyright specifically designates legal ownership of a musical composition or sound recording. It can essentially be thought of as a license that grants the owner (or artists) certain rights to their creative work.

Ownership of your music copyright gives you leverage, protection, and power when it comes to making money from your music. With the proper copyright in place, it legally prevents someone from taking a song you created and claiming it as their own.

Therefore, it is crucial that musicians learn and understand what these legal concepts mean and how they work. Copyright may seem boring, confusing, or unrelated to your true passion for music. But in reality, this knowledge will only benefit you as an artist and help grow your career without any future impediment. 

To learn more about music copyright and how to copyright your own music, check out our article below:

What is a Music License & What is it Used For?

So, what exactly is a music license and what is it used for? The answer is complex but to sum it up — a music license is the legally documented permission that allows the transfer of a music track for a certain time and for a specific purpose. 

Nowadays, licensing is one of the main tools used by artists (or owners of the copyrights) to be compensated for the use of their musical works. It is the primary way artists can receive royalties for their music or the owners of copyrights on musical works are compensated.

Music licensing is an agreement that gives legal permission to one party who’d like to use another party’s work for commercial purposes. In most cases, music is licensed for commercial use in broadcast media such as TV, film, YouTube, commercials, video games, ads, podcasts, etc. 

This is the primary way you can protect yourself legally if you'd like to use a copyrighted song in some form of media. Whatever the intended use of the song is will determine what type of license the person or entity will need.

Which brings us to the 3 main types of music copyright which we will discuss below... 

Synchronization License

This music license is one of the most widely used in the last decade and refers to the right granted to an entity or individual to use a music track for an audiovisual project. An audiovisual project refers to anything with a moving image and a sync license must be granted when there is any music synchronized with it.

It is very important to emphasize that this type of license only serves to combine music with moving images, and not static images. The most common cases for which this type of license is usually requested are:

  • DVD

  • Movies

  • Videoclips

  • Cartoons

  • Commercials

  • Video Ads

In situations where it is necessary to acquire this license, the producer of the audiovisual project will be responsible for obtaining the license. 

When a music track is used and synchronized with moving images a synchronization license is required. However, for the recording of the audiovisual project, another music license will also be needed, known as the master use license or master license.

Master License

A master license allows you to use a music track for an audiovisual project. This license is very similar to the sync license, however they have a couple of very important factors that make them very different.

The master license transfers the rights to the original recording of the song to the customer. While the sync license would allow you to access the documents that were part of the composition, such as sheet music, lyrics, among other things to make new recordings or new versions of the original song.

On the other hand, while the ownership of synchronization licenses are always in the hands of composers and music publishers, master licenses are always in the hands of the major record labels who have recorded the artist's piece in the first place and who seek to continue to profit from all the secondary work done by their employee.

If you intend to use a song in audiovisual media such as television, video games, or commercials, you must obtain both the synchronization license and the master license.

Mechanical License

Also known as the reproduction license, this license allows an entity to fix or record a certain musical track on a physical medium or support to be reproduced. This license is no longer used as much since music has mainly been consumed over the internet. However, it is still in demand for the recording of records, vinyls, cassettes, etc.

In addition, it will also allow the owner of the license to create several copies of this recording, because the license not only contemplates the right to record it but also to duplicate that support to later commercialize it.

It is worth mentioning that we will also need this license as long as we want to record our own version of a certain song, as well as for the export, in physical or digital format, of a video that uses the music track.

Wrapping Up

We hope that through this simple guide you have a better understanding about what music licenses are, the main differences between each three mentioned, and how to use them to protect your work. Although music licensing isn’t the most exciting topic to discuss, it is an extremely important one. 

When music licenses are used properly along with copyright, it can be extremely lucrative for your music career. The composers, songwriters, vocalists, producers, and whoever participated in the creation of a track has the right to share in the profits obtained each time the track is commercialized. 

Between the knowledge we have dropped and the information and resources you can find on the Internet, you will be able to choose the most correct license for your project and your needs.


When your song is ready to go, it's time to start promoting it to potential fans! Omari has the best organic promotion services money can buy. With packages for Spotify, Apple Music, Instagram, and YouTube, we will get your music the traffic and attention it deserves! Click below for more information.  


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