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Home > Articles > Fall 2004: So You Want to Do a Recording... Obtaining a Mechanical License

Fall 2004: So You Want to Do a Recording... Obtaining a Mechanical License
Jeff Curran
1/27/2012

A commonly overlooked component of the recording process is obtaining permission to record the pieces that will appear on your recording. Whether you will be selling the CDs as a fund-raiser or simply giving them away as a way of promoting your bell choir, you must obtain a mechanical license for each piece you wish to record.

The first step is to actually determine who holds the copyright on a given piece. It is important to note here that the publisher and the copyright holder are not always the same company (more on that later). The copyright holder can usually be found on the copyright statement at the bottom of the first page of actual music. It usually looks something like this:

© 2004 Jeffers Handbell Supply, Inc. PO Box 1728 Irmo, SC 29063-1728 All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Copying or reproducing this publication in whole or in part is a criminal act.

This, of course, tells us that Jeffers Handbell Supply holds the copyright for this piece and gives the address where they may be reached. From here, a simple internet search can probably get you a phone number or even an email address where the copyright holder may be contacted for a mechanical license.

Seems simple, and most of the time, it is. Where you may run into trouble is when, as noted above, the copyright holder and the publisher are not the same company. This usually happens with more modern tunes, where the publisher must obtain a license from the original copyright holder in order to publish an arrangement of a copyrighted tune. These can be tricky for several reasons. Sometimes the company listed does not handle their own licensing; rather, this is handled by a larger company - Harry Fox, for example - that is not listed in the copyright statement. Also, many times the copyright holder will be an imprint of a much larger company, and here again, this may not be listed in the copyright statement. Finally, copyrights may be bought and sold, but usually only the original copyright holder is mentioned on the statement.

It sounds confusing, and truthfully, sometimes it is. However, with a little detective work, you should be able to reach who is needed to issue the proper mechanical license. It may take quite a few phone calls or emails, but don’t give up! A good place for information is the Music Publishers’ Association’s Publisher Directory at www.mpa.org. It is an excellent resource for publisher contact and other related information.

Once you have obtained the proper mechanical license, mechanical royalties will be due. As of January 1, 2004, mechanical royalties for songs less than five minutes of performance length are 8.5¢ per song per CD (or tape or video) manufactured. Songs that are longer than five minutes are 1.65¢ per minute per CD manufactured. Keep these costs in mind when you are setting your budget and when figuring the price you will charge (or the donation you will request) for the finished recording.

Good luck with your recording! And remember, if you have any copyright questions about a particular piece, contact the copyright holder and ask. As with most things, it is better to be safe than sorry!


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