Music Rights: Synchronisation, Performing, Mechanical and Dubbing

music rightsThe term ‘music rights’ is often used as a blanket phrase when talking about music copyright. However, as anyone who follows this blog will know, there are different copyrights, controlled by different individuals or organisations. ‘Publishing rights’ and ‘master rights’ are the key distinction between songs and recordings, but these are further sub-divided into synchronisation, performing, mechanical and dubbing rights. And guess what, they aren’t all licensed by the same bodies!

Here I’m going to explain what you need to know about these fundamentally different copyrights:

Synchronisation Rights

As a marketer synchronisation or “sync” is the main right you need to understand. So, what is it?

It’s the act of dubbing music (song and/or recording) against moving images; putting audio to visual. 

As soon as you contemplate using music against a commercial or video, there’s a need to secure sync licences before you exploit that content.

Anomaly: Radio

Commercial catalogue music used in radio campaigns still has to be licensed even though there are no moving images. These licenses are typically brokered with the sync teams of record labels and music publishers although no actual “sync” takes place.

Performing rights

This isn’t about the engagement of artists for live performances, instead it’s about the public performance of songs and sound recordings.


  • Broadcast transmission (TV, Radio)
  • Online transmission (audio-visual or audio only)
  • Commercial premises (retail space, offices, pubs, clubs)
  • Audio playback (concert halls, music venues, sports arenas, pop-up venues)
  • Live performance (concert halls, music venues, sports arenas, pop-up 


  • Broadcast transmission (TV, Radio)
  • Online transmission (audio-visual or audio only)
  • Commercial premises (retail space, offices, pubs, clubs)
  • Audio playback (concert halls, music venues, sports arenas, pop-up venues)

Spot the key difference?

Yes, there is a public performance right in songs as performed live in concert halls, music venues, sports arena and pop-up venues. However, in a live performance, the audience isn’t hearing a recording (unless the performers use backing tracks) so the public performance right in recordings isn’t relevant.

Who Grants The Licences?

In the UK, performing rights are licensed by two key “collection societies” or “performing right organisations” (PRos) as they’re more commonly known:

  1. Performing Rights Society (“PRS” or “PRS for Music”):
who license songs (on behalf of composers, songwriters & music publishers)
  2. Phonographic Performance Ltd (“PPL”):
who license sound recordings (on behalf of performers and record labels)

Outside the UK, each market has its own equivalents of PRS for Music and PPL.

Mechanical / Reproduction Rights

If you create copies of songs or recordings to give away to consumers, you need licences in place from the rights owners, typically music publishers and record labels. These licences usually attract a per unit royalty in return for the grant of:

  • Mechanical licence: for songs
  • Reproduction / dubbing licence: for sound recordings

In both cases, prior permission is required from the rights owners.

In the 1990s, many brands created promotional “Premium CDs” which were licensed this way. In the early 2000s, many brands created promotional ringtones or downloads which were also licensed this way. Now, it’s far less common as consumers can access all the music they want via streaming services on an ad-funded or subscription basis. So, why would consumers want a free download unless it was completely exclusive content?

Marketers need to remember that:

Brands cannot freely distribute music on any format, whether Vinyl, CD or digital download unless they have the appropriate licences from the rights owners and have paid the necessary fees which are usually a royalty per unit.

Want to find out more? If you’re a marketer who wants to make sure that their next sync deal or other music licensing project goes off without a hitch, Music Rights Without Fights is my guidebook / manual to this complex world.

Alternatively if you would like support with music licensing either contact me directly or leave a comment below.