What Music Teachers Need to Know about Mechanical Licensing

What Music Teachers Need to Know about Mechanical Licensing

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As a music teacher, you’re not only responsible for educating your students on the technical and artistic aspects of music, but you should also be familiar with the business and legal side of the industry

One important area to understand is mechanical licensing. This article will provide you with everything you need to know about mechanical licensing to help you navigate the music world and educate the next generation of musicians.

What is Mechanical Licensing?

Definition and Purpose

Mechanical licensing refers to the process of obtaining permission to reproduce, distribute, or sell copyrighted music in physical or digital formats, such as CDs, vinyl records, digital downloads, or streaming platforms. 

The purpose of mechanical licenses is to ensure that the copyright holders of the music receive proper compensation for the use of their work.

Compulsory vs. Negotiated Mechanical Licenses

There are two types of mechanical licenses: compulsory and negotiated

Compulsory licenses are governed by federal law, and allow anyone to use a copyrighted work without obtaining permission from the copyright holder, as long as they follow specific procedures and pay the required royalties. Negotiated licenses, on the other hand, are agreements made directly with the copyright holder, allowing for more flexible terms and conditions.

Why  Music Teachers Should Know About Mechanical Licensing

Legal Compliance

Understanding mechanical licensing is essential for music teachers to ensure they comply with copyright laws. Using copyrighted music without proper licensing can lead to legal penalties and damage your reputation as a professional music educator.

Protecting Students and Their Work

As a music teacher, you should be aware of mechanical licensing to help protect your students and their original compositions. By educating them on the importance of obtaining mechanical licenses, you can ensure that their work is protected and they receive the royalties they deserve.

Educating the Next Generation of Musicians

Incorporating mechanical licensing knowledge into your music lessons will help prepare your students for careers in the music industry. By understanding the legal aspects of music distribution, they will be better equipped to navigate the business side of their future careers.

How to Obtain a Mechanical License

Determine Rights Holders

The first step in obtaining a mechanical license is identifying the copyright holder of the musical work. This may be the composer, songwriter, or music publisher. Performing rights organizations, such as ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, can help you locate the rights holders.

Compulsory License Procedure

To obtain a compulsory mechanical license, you must notify the copyright holder of your intent to use their work, and pay the required royalties based on the statutory rate. The U.S. Copyright Office provides guidelines for obtaining compulsory licenses, which include sending a Notice of Intention (NOI) to the copyright holder before distributing the work.

Negotiated License Procedure 

Negotiated licenses involve reaching an agreement directly with the copyright holder. You can negotiate terms such as royalty rates, payment schedules, and the scope of usage. This option provides more flexibility but may require more effort to establish contact and negotiate terms with the rights holder.

Mechanical Royalties and Rates

Statutory Rates

The statutory mechanical royalty rate is set by the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) and is subject to periodic adjustment. As of September 2021, the rate is 9.1 cents per song for physical formats and digital downloads, and a varying rate for interactive streaming. It’s important to stay updated on the current rates, as they may change over time.

Royalty Calculations

Calculating mechanical royalties can be complex, especially for digital streaming platforms. Royalties are typically based on the number of streams or downloads and the applicable royalty rate. For interactive streaming, the rate is determined by a percentage of the service’s revenue, total content costs, or the number of subscribers.

Digital Music Distribution and Mechanical Licensing

Streaming Services

With the rise of digital streaming platforms, such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music, mechanical licensing has become increasingly important. These services require mechanical licenses for the distribution of copyrighted music and often have their own licensing agreements in place with music publishers and rights organizations.

Download Platforms

Digital download platforms, such as iTunes and Amazon MP3, also require mechanical licenses for the sale of copyrighted music. The royalty rates for downloads are typically the same as those for physical formats, but the specific terms may vary depending on the platform and agreement with the rights holder.

Teaching Materials and Mechanical Licensing

Sheet Music and Arrangements

As a music teacher, you may need to create or use sheet music and arrangements for your lessons. This requires obtaining a mechanical license for the copyrighted material, even if you’re only using it for educational purposes.

Recorded Music in Class

If you plan to use recorded music in your classroom, you may need a mechanical license, as well as a public performance license. Public performance licenses cover the right to play copyrighted music in a public setting, such as a school or music studio, and can be obtained through performing rights organizations.


Mechanical licensing is a crucial aspect of the music industry that music teachers must understand to ensure legal compliance, protect their students’ work, and educate the next generation of musicians. By staying informed about mechanical licensing procedures, royalty rates, and digital distribution platforms, you can equip yourself and your students with the knowledge necessary to navigate the business side of the music world.


What is the difference between a mechanical license and a public performance license?

A mechanical license covers the reproduction, distribution, or sale of copyrighted music, while a public performance license allows the copyrighted music to be played or performed in public settings.

Do I need a mechanical license to teach a song to my students?

Yes, if you plan to use sheet music, arrangements, or recorded music in your lessons, you’ll need a mechanical license for the copyrighted material. You may also need a public performance license if you play recorded music in your classroom.

How can I find the rights holder for a specific musical work?

Performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC can help you locate the rights holder for a particular musical work. You can also check the U.S. Copyright Office’s database or contact the music publisher directly.

Do I need a mechanical license if I only use a small portion of a copyrighted song in my lesson?

Using a small portion of a copyrighted song may fall under the doctrine of “fair use.” However, fair use is determined on a case-by-case basis, and it’s important to consult with a legal professional to ensure compliance with copyright laws.

Can I use copyrighted music in my online music lessons without a mechanical license?

No, using copyrighted music in online lessons also requires proper mechanical licensing. The same licensing requirements apply to both in-person and online music education.