Before you decide to perform a song cover or play other people’s music at an event, it’s crucial to understand music licensing in Canada and the necessary permissions required for using copyrighted music.

Music Licensing and Copyright

In its simplest terms, music licensing is the licensed use of copyrighted music. When a musician registers the copyright for their creative work,  that work becomes their intellectual property. By law, copyright permits anyone to use an artist’s work with the written permission of the original owner.

While copyright protects an artist’s creative work, licensing ensures music is being legally used by an individual or event. Licensing is an agreement between the owner and user to use a song with a specific purpose and timeframe. The agreements include what you can do with the music and financial compensation, including royalties. A license is typically required when broadcasting or publicly displaying music on radio, commercials, events, TV, film, video games, and streaming services.

Licensing music is a necessary process because not securing the rights to a song is a liability to yourself and/or your organization.

A guitar on stage with a drum set and drummer in the back for a performance about to take place.

Obtaining a Music License in Canada

To obtain a music license in Canada, the process and
specific requirements may vary depending on the
type of license you need and the organization
responsible for administering it.

The following are rights management organizations that offer music licenses for various uses:

1. Master License

A master license grants permission to reproduce sound recordings, but not for re-recorded versions of the song. For a master license, it is common for the licensor (the rights holder) to negotiate terms and conditions with the entity seeking to use the sound, including any fees or royalties associated with the use of the sound recording. Obtaining a master license allows a sound recording to be reproduced for radio stations, music supply services, non & semi-interactive webcasting, and DJs.

To obtain a master license, contact CONNECT or SOPROQ

2. Public Performance of Sound Recording

A license for the public performance of sound recordings grants the right to play or broadcast recorded music in a public setting, including radio stations, CBC, television music services, satellite radio, background music services, and non & semi-interactive webcasting. In Canada, the organization responsible for administering this license is Re:Sound. Re:Sound represents the rights of performers and sound recording owners and collects royalties for the public performance or broadcast of sound recordings.

To obtain a Public Performance of Sound Recordings license, contact Re:Sound.

3. Mechanical License

A mechanical license permits the reproduction and distribution of musical works. This license is typically required when an artist covers a song and wants to release it or if the music will be used in radio broadcasting, within apps, online services (downloads, streaming, webcasting), background music services, and physical copies (CDs, LPs, etc.).

To obtain a mechanical license, contact CMRRA or SOCAN.

4. Performance of Music Works

A license for the public performance of musical work grants the right to publicly perform a musical work, such as live music events, sports events, retail establishments, and any establishment playing live or recorded music. In Canada, the organization responsible for administering licenses for public performances is SOCAN.

To obtain a public performance licence, contact SOCAN.

5. Reproduction/Performance of Musical Works

A license for the reproduction and performance of music videos grants the right for the reproduction of music videos on television, music videos displayed at public events and venues (video Djs), services providing music videos to be used by subscribers and third-party venues (video pool), roadshows, and exhibitions.

To obtain a licence, contact CONNECT or SOPROQ.

6. Synchronization License

A synchronization license grants the inclusion of musical work in film, television, commercials, and video games. This license allows music to be synced with a visual component. To obtain this license, the individual rights holder (record label or independent artist) and music publisher must be contacted directly as each licensed song is negotiated between the user and music publisher. Within negotiation, factors such as fees, duration, and intended distribution are considered.

Other areas that require negotiation between a music user and publisher are on-demand services, download services, and physical sales.

To get in contact with industry experts, visit our music directory
of music publishers and licensing associations.


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