Deconstructing Licenses: Mechanicals for Recording Songs

Posted on October 13, 2011

FAQ: “Now that I have this license, what does it allow me to do and what can’t I do?” In other words, how do I decipher legalese verbiage to understand what I am authorized to do with the licensor’s musical work? There are many different types of copyright licenses, but the most common is the mechanical license, which grants the rights to mechanically reproduce a copyrighted song on an audio recording like a CD. 


So, let’s break it down first with what you can do:

●     Reproduce, manufacture and distribute your performance of the specified musical composition on physical audio recording for configurations like CD, cassette tape, LP, etc.

●     Distribute specific number of units of the recording, as detailed in the license; if your license is for 1000 units, you can distribute that many units over the period of the term specified in the agreement;

●     Make an arrangement for your performance on the recording (without change to lyrics, basic melody or fundamental character);

●     Sell your recording (if you give it away, you still need a license);

●     Most licenses have a one-time flat fee structure for custom recordings, like church choir  or artist CDs or rehearsal copies, which must be paid prior to license issuance; e.g., $91.00 for 1000 units.


The license does not include the rights to:

●     Use and reproduce a sound recording of the song created and owned by someone else. This is a separate copyright from the musical composition;

●     Make digital audio files like an MP3 or AAC (not a physical product). There is a separate DPD (digital phonorecord delivery) license to make and distribute digital audio recordings;

●     Publicly perform or play the song; e.g., perform the song in a concert;

●     Synchronize the song with an audiovisual product;

●     Make print copies of the lyrics and/or music;

●     Use the song title as the title of your recording, unless specifically requested and granted in the license.

●     Stream or download the song on the Internet;

●     Make a derivative; e.g., translation, add or change lyrics, basic melody or fundamental character of song.

These all require separate licensing for the specific uses and rights outlined. For more information on how to obtain mechanical licenses visit www.copyrightsolver.com/burn.


A few key points:

●     A song may have co-owners, and you’ll need licenses from each owner. Your license shows what percentage of the song is being licensed; if it’s not 100%, you also need licenses from co-publishers.

●     The license is unique for a particular performance of the song as specified on the license by 1) your recording title/artist 2) percentage of ownership controlled by the licensor 3) your recording’s product number 4) number of units manufactured 5) release date. If you exceed the stated number of units, you must request another license, and you can not reproduce the song on a different recording or format at a later date.

●     The current statutory rate is $.091 per song per unit, but some publishers/administrators charge minimums or licensing fees; e.g., if there’s a 250 minimum then you’ll pay $22.75 even if you only make 50 copies, or there may be an extra $15 charged just for processing the license.

●     The $.091 rate is based on a song recording time of 5:00 minutes or less; if 5:01 minutes or higher it’s based on $.0175 per minute. For example, if your recording of the song is 8:09 (round up to 9 minutes), the rate is $.1575 per unit. 

●     License may require inclusion of song title/author/copyright notice printed with product.


Susan Fontaine Godwin is an educator and long-time member of the worship community with 26 years of experience in the Christian music industry, church copyright administration and copyright management. She is the President/Founder of Christian Copyright Solutions, whose mission it is to help Christian organizations be fully copyright compliant through administration, consultation and education. For more free information on copyright compliance and the church, visit www.copyrightcommunity.



Tags: ,