The rights to use music are bought and sold every day, and not just to Hollywood music supervisors curating killer soundtracks or shoe companies searching for the perfect pop song to sell sneakers. Whether it's the tune that plays when a child pushes a button on a toy, the songs serenading skaters at an ice rink, or the backing track in the latest viral video, nearly all of the musical recordings we hear in our daily lives are owned and copyrighted—and these copyrights are, in turn, serviced by licensing representatives.
A friendly, outgoing demeanor is an important trait because licensing representatives spend a lot of time talking and meeting with people, discussing music, and making small talk.
Licensing representatives deal with four kinds of licenses: the mechanical license, which grants the right to record and distribute a song; the public performance license, which grants the right to play a song in a public space; the synchronization license, which grants the right to use a song in a visual media format such as film; and the master license, which grants the right to use a specific recording of a song. Different organizations control different rights, and grant licenses accordingly. Major performance rights organizations (PROs) such as BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC trade in performance licenses, while record companies control master rights, and music publishers usually control both mechanical and synchronization rights.
This means that licensing representatives do quite different jobs depending on what kind of company they're employed by. Representatives at PROs work in large teams that almost resemble call centers, pitching access to their company's entire catalog to businesses including amusement parks, nightclubs, and radio stations. On the other hand, representatives at record companies, music publishers, music libraries, or copyright administration companies tend to work with creatives who are looking for a certain kind of song or instrumental track to use in a television, film, advertising, or online project. These representatives pitch and field offers for specific artists or tracks in their catalog and, if the pitch is successful, negotiate a fee for the license.
At a Glance
Although general knowledge of licensing laws, contract laws, and the music business is vital to the job, there's no specific education program or degree that qualifies one to jump into a career in licensing. Rather, most licensing representatives begin their careers as interns or assistants in the licensing department of a publishing company, or at an independent copyright administration company. With time and experience, they may advance to the role of representative, and then move up to become the director of the department or company. Licensing representatives might also explore different sides of the industry—working for a PRO is quite different from working for a publisher, for example. Licensing representatives with Hollywood connections are well positioned to become music supervisors.
Licensing representatives are employed by music publishing companies, record labels, music libraries, PROs, and independent licensing companies such as the Harry Fox Agency. Aspiring licensing representatives should seek internships and entry-level positions at any of these businesses.
- Music licensing
- Contract law
- Written and verbal communication
- Deep knowledge of music
A friendly, personable demeanor is an important trait for licensing representatives, who spend a large amount of time meeting with people, discussing music and negotiating licensing fees. Licensing representatives should also seek to cultivate good business sense, a great memory for names and faces, and a clear and straightforward verbal communication style.
Licensing representatives usually work during normal business hours in an office setting. At night and on weekends, they're likely to attend music business networking events such as private concerts.