The Role Of Performers’ Unions In Sync Licensing

performers' unionIf you thought that record labels and music publishers were the only parties you need to contact to license music rights: think again! You also need to license the rights of non-featured artists – session musicians and backing singers – which are licensed by performers’ unions.

For more on featured and non-featured artists you can read this post on the difference between songs and recordings, otherwise here’s a quick recap:

Featured vs. Non-Featured Artists

Featured artists

  • Typically exclusively signed to record label
  • Record label grants sync rights in master sound recording
  • These sync rights include recorded performance of featured artist

Non-featured artists

  • Not exclusively signed to record label
  • Record label grants sync rights in master sound recording
  • These sync rights do not include recorded performance of non-featured 
artists unless their rights have been bought out
  • The situation varies by market

In some markets, for example the UK and USA, when non-featured artists are engaged to perform on a studio session recording, they grant rights to the record label under a template agreement between their union and the trade body to which the featured artist’s record label belongs.

Usually the template agreement grants rights to exploit the recording for commercial sale to the public but it does not include sync rights that have to be licensed separately from the performers’ union. Any secondary or sync usage, such as for commercials or branded online video, requires additional fees for each non-featured artist.

What does this mean for marketers?

The challenge is to:

  • Establish who controls the sync rights in the recorded performance of non-featured artists in the specific sound recording you wish to use
  • Non-featured artists can be both session musicians and backing singers, each of which may be represented by different performers unions
  • Approach those parties with a clear summary of the required usage
  • Secure their quote, which is usually a fixed rate per non-featured artist

This can be a complex task for which smart marketers seek external expert support. Record labels often don’t have information on non-featured artists, yet it is the responsibility of the brand (or agency) to ensure all rights have been correctly licensed.

If you would like to discuss any of the above and how to license music rights for your next brand campaign, contact me here. Alternatively leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you a.s.a.p.

My book – Music Rights Without Fights – provides a comprehensively guide to buying music rights for brand marketers and agencies, and is available from Amazon.