The March/April 2023 issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “The Business of Composing Part 2: Licensing” by Dan Forrest with Jake Runestad. Following is a portion from the article.
If you publish music with a traditional publisher, and don’t care about all the inner workings, you don’t have to understand all the details of licensing; you can trust your reputable publisher to handle all this for you. However, as more composers self-publish, the number of questions keeps increasing, especially regarding choirs making audio and video recordings of their music, and it’s extremely difficult for composers (and conductors) to find a comprehensive overview of licensing. So, we’re going to try!
This article will explain the various revenue streams from licensing, with an emphasis on the complicated world of digital audio and video. Our goal is to share the things we’ve learned, in hopes that we can clarify terms, processes, and issues for our entire choral community. We want to educate and empower composers, and enable conductors to support the composers and publishers of the music they love! Ready for a deep dive?
Licensing refers to all the ways that composers and publishers (as well as performing artists, sound recording owners, etc.) grant permission and collect revenue for various uses of their copyrighted work beyond the sale of the original sheet music. Selling sheet music is usually the more profitable income stream; many licensing situations do not yield significant income. However, licensing can be lucrative in certain situations (i.e. if a composer’s music is used on a widely-broadcast TV show or commercial), and even the smaller aspects of licensing can add up to worthwhile income.
Most types of licensing generate royalties, which are typically paid to the publisher and then split 50/50 between publisher and writer(s) (the composer, and, if applicable, author or text copyright holder)—a much higher percentage than the traditional 10% royalty paid on sheet music. Self-publishers, of course, keep “both halves” of licensing royalties (composer 50% and publisher 50%), but have much more work to do.
There are many types of licensing, and publishers’ policies may vary on some of them, including license to arrange (adapt/change original content), transcribe (translate to a new medium/instrumentation without altering original content), or orchestrate copyrighted music (arrangement or orchestration license); to reprint copyrighted music as part of a collection or project (print license); to create performance tracks; to broadcast recordings of the copyrighted music on radio or television (broadcast license), etc. Policies for these types of licensing are best discussed directly with individual publishers.
In all these aspects, the publisher (traditional or independent/self) controls all rights to the original work, and the works may not be used or adapted without at least permission, and often a license (with an associated fee) from the publisher, which generates income for the composer. Conductors, take note: when you properly pursue permissions and licensing, you’re directly supporting choral composers!
Read the full article in the March/April 2023 issue of Choral Journal. acda.org/choraljournal