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Beat Licensing Guide 101

Beat Licensig Guide 101: What You Need To Know About Licensing Beats Online
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When you think of the music industry, the first thing that probably comes to mind isn’t the money involved in making and selling records. You want to think about the song, lyrics, or feel, but many other aspects of the business help determine if a piece will be successful or not.

 

Whether you’re a music producer or artist, you’ve probably heard of beat licensing online. But what exactly is it, and how does it work? And, more importantly, how can you ensure you’re on the right side of the law when it comes to using and licensing beats?

 

Any time you happen across a fantastic new beat from an up-and-coming artist on TikTok or pick up an old record from the 70s at a thrift store and rediscover an incredible sound you want to capture, you must think about licensing. There are some legal steps you need to navigate to ensure your next banger won’t be automatically taken down the moment you release it.

In This Article You Will Learn:

  • What beat licensing is 
  • What the difference is between non-exclusive and exclusive licenses
  • What royalties are and the different types of royalties
  • Who owns the copyright when you put music out 

What Is Beat Licensing ?

Beat licensing refers to purchasing the rights to use a beat for a particular project. This can be done for one-time or multiple uses, and it can be used for personal or commercial purposes.

 

Purchasing an instrumental does not guarantee that you will be able to use it in your project without paying additional fees for clearance of samples or sounds used in addition to the instrumental itself. Many times, the beat you are purchasing can get inspiration or use partial samples of other songs, making it even more confusing as to what is legal or not.

 

When you buy a beat online, you typically purchase a license that allows you to use the beat in your own music. This license will come with specific terms and conditions, such as how the beat can be used (e.g., for non-commercial or commercial purposes), how many copies of the song can be sold, and whether the beat can be modified or altered.

 

 

It’s important to carefully read and understand the terms of the beat licensing agreement before using a beat in your music. Failing to do so could result in legal issues down the line. The first step for buying beats online is to figure out what exclusivity you’ll need over that recording.  

Non Exclusive vs exclusive Beat Licensing

In the world of beat licensing, there are two main types of licenses that you can purchase: non-exclusive and exclusive.

 

A non-exclusive beat license allows you to use the beat in your music, but the beat will still be available for other artists to purchase and use as well. This means that there could potentially be multiple songs using the same beat. Non-exclusive licenses are generally less expensive than exclusive licenses, but they do not provide as much protection or exclusivity.

 

You have to be careful with non-exclusive licenses because, typically, the original creator retains copyright ownership and dictates how their sounds can and cannot be used. If you violate this agreement, your music won’t last long.

 

For example, many non-exclusive rights have a streaming limitation before you have to make a second purchase. Say you want to use a beat from The Roots, and it maxes out at 20,000 streaming plays. Once you hit 20,001, you’d better upload a new license to YouTube or Spotify, or it will vanish.

 

On the other hand, an exclusive beat license means you are the only artist allowed to use the beat. The beat will not be available for purchase by any other artists, and you will have complete ownership and control over the beat. This means you can stream, sell, distribute, or whatever else to that beat as many times as you want.

 

The result is that exclusive licenses are generally more expensive than non-exclusive licenses, but they offer a higher level of protection for your music because no one else uses that sound. The only caveat here is to check if the beat you are licensing was ever allowed to be non-exclusively secured. That’s the difference between having a one-of-a-kind sound and endless versions of Baby Got Back like we have today. No matter what, someone is getting paid!

 

 

What About royalties ?

In the United States, songwriters and publishers are paid royalties when their songs are performed in public or broadcast. The royalty rate is usually a percentage of the amount you earn from your song.

 

If you sell a song to someone who wants to use it in a commercial, for example, royalties will be paid based on how much money they make from using that recording in their ad campaign. 

 

In some cases, there may also be additional fees for things like performing rights organizations (PROs), which give members access to databases with information about how much money each artist earns in royalties throughout the year.

 

What does this mean for licensing beats online? The terms of a beat licensing agreement will typically specify how royalties will be paid and to whom. Some beat licensing agreements may require the artist to pay a percentage of their earnings from the sale or streaming of the song to the beat maker, while others may have a flat fee for the use of the beat.

 

There are several different types of royalties, including:

 

  • Mechanical Royalties: any time the beat you license is played physically or digitally through reproduction or distribution. Think iTunes, Spotify, digital sales, vinyl, etc.
  • Performance Royalties: whenever you perform the song in public, on the radio, or live stream your unique take on a beat.
  • Master Royalties: this is money paid to the owner (i.e., master) of the song and can include the writer, artist, or record label.
  • Publishing Royalties: money paid to the songwriter or publisher whenever it is sold, streamed, or performed.

 

It’s also worth noting that there are other types of royalties that may be relevant to beat licensing, such as synchronization royalties (paid for the use of a song in a film, TV show, or video game) and streaming royalties (paid by streaming services for the use of a song). The terms of the beat licensing agreement will specify how and when these royalties will be paid.

 

The reason this gets so confusing is that everyone wants a piece of the pie. Go take a look at some of the most popular songs of any year, and you’ll likely see an army of producers, songwriters, record executives, and more before the actual artist listed on the credits. That is because they are all making something off the rights to those songs.

 

Independent artists and those with a bit more business savvy only have 1-3 people listed, so they maintain full ownership of their work. 

 

Love her or hate her, Taylor Swift is a fantastic example of this. The whole reason she went back and re-recorded her previous music was to get full ownership of it again and work out an agreement for royalties with Spotify and other streaming services (most likely inspired by the lessons of Prince).

 

 

At the end of the day, you want to acknowledge the owner and protect yourself over the new music you have created.

Who owns the copyright ?

In general, the person who creates a work (such as a beat) owns the copyright to that work. This means that the beat maker (also known as the producer) is the initial owner of the copyright to a beat that they create.

 

However, the ownership of the copyright to a beat can be transferred to another person or entity through a process called an assignment. For example, if a beat maker sells the rights to a beat to an artist, the artist becomes the copyright owner of that beat.

 

Keep in mind that the music industry is all about copyrights. Whoever controls the copyright of a song or beat is the one that will make the most money, so there is a lot of incentive to be the one in charge.

 

 

In general, two copyrights are created whenever a song is written. The first is the sound recording (the master) for the work, and the other is the underlying composition (the song). That is why so many rap artists only work with trusted producers, so they get a say over the future of their work in a partnership.

are samples different?

Sampling is slightly different because it is still relatively new to the music industry. The general rule of thumb is you need permission from the original artist and copyright holder before sampling anything in your music. This is taking a short snippet of a pre-existing work and including it in your own song. 

 

The whole industry of how does beat licensing work revolves around samples. Most modern artists sample a track as the underlying sound in their new song, so this has become significantly more important.


The hard part of sampling is that it doesn’t have to involve the entire song. When you license a beat, you typically take a pre-recorded beat package and introduce it into your current or new work. With sampling, this can be something as simple as a guitar riff like the intro to Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana or a recognizable lyrical pattern like Juicy by the Notorious BIG. 

 

Licensing a beat is more about capturing a groove and fully developed sound in your new creation. It is spitting lyrics over something formed by another creator. That is why popular producers like Timbaland, The Neptunes, and even Kanye when he first started, are so easy to recognize in the world. They have distinctive characteristics that set them apart from the rest. 

 

If you ever want to go into a deep dive into how this world exists musically and the history of sampling. You can read a pretty in-depth article from the US copyright office here. Otherwise, let’s get back into sticking with beats. 

should i be licensing beats online?

Yes! Using beats captured by other artists is a fantastic way to break into the music industry and grow a following. When you offer a unique take on a previously known beat, you are breathing new life into an audience that already exists. You can also purchase new beats from artists no one knows and create something original that breaks barriers.

 

The best way to go about this is:

 

  • Discover the beats you want to purchase by looking around at popular boards, websites, and online tracks via Spotify.
  • Check out the pricing the artist or creator offers for non-exclusive or exclusive rights to their beats.
  • Read the terms! This way, you know how to use those beats with your music and in what way.
  • Privately write your song over those beats to ensure you like how your end creation sounds.
  • If everything works out well, purchase the beats and release your music.

 

 

Be sure to keep a record of everything related to that purchase in case you get a DMCA takedown request so you can prove you have the right to release your songs.

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Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of how beat licensing works. This is important, so you make sure that when buying beats online, or using someone else’s music as part of your own creation, you do not run into any legal issues. There are many pitfalls to avoid when it comes to licensing music, but if done correctly, there are also many benefits!

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Releasing Songs With Uncleared Samples

Sample Clearance: Should You Release Songs With Uncleared Samples ?
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If you decided to click on this article, then it is extremely likely that you are a fan of old-school hip-hop and/or have been told you shouldn’t release songs that have uncleared samples in them. However, if you are an artist than this is a concern you may have had before 

This mythical hip-hop topic is one that you will get different opinions on, depending on who you ask. I am not here to tell you what to do when it comes to this aspect of releasing music, only to provide with you insight so you can make an informed decision for yourself.

In This Article You Will Learn:

  • What is the true meaning behind sampling
  • What are some of the risks when it comes to using uncleared samples
  • Why you should not worry about rapping over sampled music 
  • Which songs that contained uncleared samples helped catapult Artists’ career

Should You Release Songs That Have
Uncleared Samples in Them?

There are plenty of reasons why you might be contemplating the release of a song that has unclear samples in it. Maybe the sample is integral to the music, maybe
it’s your favorite song on the album and you don’t want to cut it, or perhaps
you think it will be too expensive to clear. 😥

 

While all these are valid reasons for not clearing a sample of a boom-bap beat,
one question needs to be asked before making such a decision: Is there anything
more important than being true to yourself?

 

Your music is what matters. You’ll have to navigate the complex world of digital
rights management and giving credit where it is due, but at the end of the day,
the risk of releasing music with uncleared samples may be worth the price
you’ll pay. 

 

Let’s get into this topic so you can decide the best option for your unique sound. 

What is the True Meaning Behind Music Sampling?

Sampling is a way to use existing music to make something new. You can create a song by sampling another song and then adding your own spin to it. This means you’re taking someone else’s work and adding your ideas to it. Everyone from Eminem’s My Name Is to Kendrick Lamar’s Money Trees has used samples in their music

 

Sampling can also create songs that sound like the original, but with some variations to it. For example, many hip-hop artists will rap over beats that have sample in them from different genres and time periods. This makes their raps sound true to the essence of hip-hop (and often gives them credibility), even though it was recorded years later.

 

This is a frequent method modern artists like Benny The Butcher, Westside Gunn Nas, J.Cole, Kendrick Lamar and more use to get started. Having underground boom-bap type beats is almost like a rite of passage that you are honoring one of the modern world’s most prolific times of music.

What are Underground Boom Bap Type Beats?

Underground Boom-Bap type beats are hip-hop beats with a sound reminiscent of the early 90’s when hip-hop music was still underground. These types of beats are perfect for artists (whether introspective or hardcore) who are lyricists at the heart of it and value keeping hip-hop in its original form.  

 

These songs are often times sampled-based and come with a risk when releasing it so in a perfect world you would seek to get permission from the original artist who created the song first to avoid potentially being sued. (Most artists don’t do this 😮)

 

Boom bap itself is a subgenre of hip hop that originated in the 1980s and is characterized by its use of hard-hitting break drums and sampling from old records. Boom-bap beats typically have a raw, unpolished sound and often feature samples from funk, soul, and jazz records however, there is no genre of music that is safe from being sampled when it comes to these types of beats,even scores from older movies aren’t exempt. 🎥

 

 

The more underground boom-bap beats refer to soundscapes made by independent or lesser-known artists, as opposed to those made by mainstream producers. These beats often have a more experimental and underground sound and are made outside the mainstream hip-hop industry. You’d be amazed at how many famous songs come from older samples. (That never had sample clearance at the time of the release)

What are the Risks of Using Uncleared Samples?

If you are serious about releasing music, the risks of using uncleared samples should not be underestimated. The consequences of copyright infringement can be severe, and in some cases, they can financially ruin you. 

 

You could be sued for copyright infringement. This means that someone else owns the rights to the sample and is able to sue you for using it without their
permission or payment of royalties—and even if there was no intention on your
part to infringe on someone else’s copyrights, it does not matter!

 

If a court decides that what you did was “too similar” (even if it
wasn’t), you will be liable for damages and legal fees incurred by both parties
during litigation.

 

Sometimes these lawsuits are settled out of court, but even so, attorneys’ fees can run into hundreds or thousands of dollars per case depending on how many songs were involved. You’ll end up having to destroy physical copies and delete any digital
releases you’ve put up on Spotify, TikTok, or YouTube.

 

However, it is highly unlikely you will be sued if you are an artist that is not mainstream…….yet. As an upcoming artist, if you are being sued for an uncleared sample, chances are you have a song that has blown up. If this happens to be the case, you will be able to jumpstart your career off this song even after legal matters are settled. 

 

So is the risk worth the reward?  💰 📈

How Can Rapping Over Sampled Music Can Boost your Career?

It’s a common misconception that rapping over sampled music will hurt your career. In fact, if you want to boost your career, it can be one of the best ways to do it. Rapping over sampled music can potentially boost a rapper’s career in several ways. 

 

Using samples can help a rapper stand out and create a unique sound that sets them apart from other artists.

 

Sampling can also add depth and texture to a rapper’s music, making it more exciting and appealing to listeners. 

 

Additionally, rapping over sampled music can be a way to pay homage to the original artist and their work, which can be seen as a sign of respect and can help a rapper gain credibility and recognition within the hip-hop community.

 

 

Finally, using samples can be a way for a rapper to connect with listeners familiar with the original song, which can help build a loyal and dedicated fan base.

Which Songs Had Uncleared Sampled That Boosted Rapper's Careers?

There have been many songs that have used uncleared samples and boosted the careers of music artists. 

 

One well-known example is Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang, which used an uncleared sample of Chic’s Good Times and helped to launch the careers of the Sugarhill Gang and the entire hip-hop genre. 

 

Additionally, U Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer used an uncleared sample of Rick James’ Super Freak and helped to make Hammer one of the biggest names in hip hop at the time.

 

Kanye West wouldn’t exist without his sample of Chaka Khan on Through the Wire. Even though he lost the rights to that song, it was all he needed to start one of the most explosive rap careers of all time.

 

The reason? Chaka Khan didn’t like her song Through the Fire being sampled by another artist. It wasn’t Kanye West himself. It was the way Through the Wire sped up her vocals, making her sound nothing like her fans would recognize. She felt emotionally connected to Kanye for the trauma he was healing from after the car accident that inspired the song. So initially, she wanted to help, but when an original artist is distorted, misrepresented, or in some way not recognized for their work, it tends to end in disputes. 

 

 

Kanye made a rational choice as a risk-taker. Give up some of the rights to the song to leverage the publicity it was bringing from major rap labels who wanted to sign him or fight with one of the music industry’s godmothers. He chose to roll the dice, and the result is his debut album – The College Dropout, earning him Grammy nominations and a coveted spot in the top 500 albums of all time. 

Others Rappers Who Have Sampled Music That Were Rewarded in The Long Run

It isn’t just Kanye. Plenty of other artists take the risk of using other people’s work to build a career. Sometimes with permission, but most of the time with a shout-out. Recognition has a lot to do with sampling. Check out this list!

  • C.R.E.A.M. by Wu-Tang Clan using As Long as I’ve Got You by the Charmells
  • N.Y. State of Mind by Nas using Mind Rain by Joe Chambers
  • Johnny P’s Caddy by Benny The Butcher & J.Cole using Theme From The Planets by Dexter Wansel
  • 327 by Westide Gunn using Feelings  by Kit Andree
  • Shook Ones by Mobb Deep using  Kitty With The Bent Frame by Quincy Jones
  • 4:44 by Jay-Z using Late Nights & Heartbreak by Hanna Williams and The Affirmations

 

The list goes on and on. The common theme between all of these tracks is that they are the highest streaming songs for each artist’s catalog. However, when you utilize underground boom bap type beats, you often avoid these issues because they are so little known that no one wants to claim them.

 

Also, there is the flipside argument. Many songs being reused and sampled now are reigniting careers of the past. Artists who have been far from the spotlight of fame are seeing new fans because modern artists are sampling their work.

 

Need an example? Lauren Hill certainly didn’t suffer when Drake sampled Ex-Factor on Nice for What❗

Is Using Uncleared Samples In Your Music Worth The Risk ?

It’s a risky business, and you will have to weigh your options carefully. If you are a new artist, it’s probably not worth taking the risk. It’s one thing when your following is small, but if you plan on growing into a more prominent artist and want to avoid costly lawsuits for uncleared samples, then it would be best for you not to use uncleared samples at all until after any potential copyright infringement issues have been resolved.

 

The established artists may be able to shrug off any lawsuits that come their way with relative ease due to their large fan base or because they can afford them (or both). If this sounds like something that could work well with your situation as an artist—and if so—then, by all means, go ahead and use uncleared samples in your songs.

 

No matter your decision, stay respectful. Many artists are thrilled their work is being used by others if they are acknowledged and shown respect. 

 

 

It’s the whole idea that a rising tide raises all boats. If you hit success using underground boom bap type beats in your new hit on TikTok, odds are, the original artist will get just as much of a boost. Your best bet is to collaborate, acknowledge, and innovate so listeners cannot help but share your new sound.