What You Should Know About Needle Drop Licenses

Do you need a needle drop license for the music your project is using?

Glamorous hand mixing record
Getty Images/StoeMax Oppenheim

A needle drop license is a somewhat outdated term in music, but the general principle still applies even in a non-vinyl medium. Essentially, a needle drop (also spelled needledrop) license allows the licensing party to use a part of a piece of music one time.

Needle Drop Licenses in the Day of Vinyl Records

The term is associated with the days of vinyl, when as the record spun on a turntable the arm dropped the needle to the outer edge of record to play music.

In the context of music licensing, the term needle drop poetically refers to when music is synchronized within another work such as a TV show, video or commercial. In essence, each time the "needle drops" on a record, a new license is needed. With a needle drop license, the user needs a new license each time the song or part of song is played, even if it is the same song or song snippet used within the same project.

For instance, if you are making a commercial and want to use ten seconds of song X to start the commercial and the same ten seconds of the song to play out the commercial, that would require two needle drop licenses.

Think of it as renting a piece of a piece of music to be played in a commercial or other production, rather than licensing the entire work. That would require a synchronization license.

How Does a Needle Drop License Differ from a Synchronization License?

A synchronization or "sync" license allows the license holder to sync music to a media output.

Often sync licenses are used for TV shows and movies but any kind of visual paired with sound requires a sync license.

When you hold a sync license, you are allowed to re-record that song for use in your project. If you want to use a specific version of the song by a specific artist, you also need to get a master recording license.

Typically, a sync license is obtained from a music publisher while the master recording license is obtained from the record label or owner of the master.

A sync license usually covers a specific period of time, and the license will stipulate in what manner the song can be used.

What Does a Needle Drop License Cost?

The cost of a needle drop license varies depending on the work being sampled, and the work in which it will be used.

Needle drop segments are slightly different than sampling, which is the term for reusing part of a song, such as a chorus, in a different way within another song. This practice is fairly common within rap and hip-hop music.

Find Your Next Job

Job Search by