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Nigerian Music: Understanding the Value of Copyright & Music Licensing


The legal aspects of music in the Nigerian music industry can feel overwhelming to independent musicians. Musicians typically rely on live shows and venue gigs to earn their income.

Still, many have discovered new and innovative ways of making their mark as a musician in the industry in more recent years without performing.

Within the Nigerian music industry, music licensing has become one of those opportunities for independent artists to have more control over their original works. In addition, music streaming and digital downloads have risen in popularity across the online world.

Understanding the value of copyrights in music licensing is one of the essential pieces to developing a solid career in music. There are many aspects regarding copyrights and music licensing that Nigerian music artists need to know.


Whenever a musician creates a piece of music, there are two music copyrights created. The first copyright is the authorship or musical composition of the song, consisting of the melody and lyrics. The second is what is commonly referred to as the “master recording” or, more simply, the recorded music track.

The owner of the copyright, or the musician, has exclusive rights to their work. Understanding your copyright protection is vital to making sure that no one uses your music unlawfully. As long as you are the sole owner and creator, you are the only one that can give rights to allow authorized parties to reproduce, distribute, or publicly perform or display that music.


When you, the musician and owner of the work, allow other parties to use your recordings, this is known as music licensing. Anyone who wants to utilize your music has to sign a written agreement and legal contract that you grant permission with any limitations set forth by you, and you will be paid.

You can transfer rights exclusively, meaning the third party is the only one allowed to use your original music. They can also be transferred non-exclusive, meaning that you can re-use the same musical track for licensing with other parties. You can also allow reproduction, performances, publishings, modifications, or broadcasts of your musical compositions.

Licensing agreements consist of:

  • the licensee (whoever is being granted use of the music);
  • the licensor (you, the musician/owner or author of the composition);
  • the performance or broadcast intended (how the music will be used, and if it will be modified or edited in any way);
  • the term (length of the license)
  • the royalties (fees paid, either upfront or partial payouts before and after broadcast/performance);
  • the performing rights (exclusive/non-exclusive rights or single use)

When musicians grant permissions for music licensing, they will receive 100% of their royalties, as long as they are the sole owner and creator of the music composition. To ensure that you receive all of your fees, you can opt to pay a studio upfront to record, or you can record entirely on your own with an in-home studio.


The music licensing agreement must be specific to the particular type of license or license being granted. Therefore, multiple types of licenses may be necessary. The most common music licenses that you can permit are:

  1. Synchronization License – Also known as the ‘sync’ license, it is one of the more common forms of music streaming and digital musical recordings. The original music is typically used with some form of video. For example, creatives and producers will license your music for commercials, online advertisements, or films.
  1. Master Recording License – The master license is typically paired with the sync license. The party can use a recorded version of the music without allowing them to re-record that music. Instead, they will use the original recorded version of the song without any modifications.
  2. Mechanical License – The mechanical license is used with songs that have already been written and covered by you, the musician. You will most likely have to pay royalties to perform and re-record the music yourself. It ensures that the original author of the musical composition receives their due royalties. Understand that if you decide to record covers of songs, you also need permission and licensing to do so.
  3. Public Performance License – public performances are precisely what they say they allow. The other party is granted the ability to broadcast your music either by performing it in public, online or on the radio. A great example of a public performance license is a theater troupe acquiring a license to perform music in a show live on stage.
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If you create music that you’d like to have licensed, there are some different ways to go about it. Many licensing companies like Marmoset take care of many of the licensing agreements and fees for you, which can alleviate some of the burdens of doing it yourself.

When you go through a licensing company, you will have to pay some sort of membership fee or upfront cost to allow your music to be featured in their vast music library. The benefits of this option give you the ability to network and develop relationships with music producers and other creatives.

You can also submit and distribute your music directly to filmmakers or music supervisors and pitch it to them. While this can take some more time and effort, you can still effectively establish a relationship and develop your own network for creatives to utilize you for future music licensing agreements.


You can develop an outstanding career in the Nigerian music industry as an independent artist by licensing your music. In addition, you have the added benefit of making money and giving yourself more legitimacy. Even though it can seem like a lot of work and contracts can get confusing, you can always reach out to a music lawyer or get help with the legal aspects surrounding the licensing of your music.

Still, it is an excellent idea if you ever feel overwhelmed or unsure about your rights as a musician to seek assistance so that you are prepared and confident when entering an agreement. Music licensing can help pave the way for a solid career and gain more exposure as a true music artist.

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