A Master License is a license agreement that grants the rights to use a specific recording of a song in various types of media, such as films, TV shows, commercials, and video games. This license is granted by the rights holder of the recording, often a record label or sometimes the artist themselves if they own their masters.
When a piece of recorded music is used in conjunction with a visual or audiovisual work, two licenses are usually required – a Synchronization (or “Sync”) License for the composition (obtained from the songwriter or their publisher), and a Master License for the specific recording of that composition.
It’s important to note that a Master License does not grant the rights to use the underlying composition of the song; only the specific recording. If you wanted to use the song but create a new recording of it (for instance, with a cover version), you wouldn’t need a Master License, but you would still need a Sync License for the composition.
Master Licenses are a crucial aspect of the music licensing ecosystem, and they’ve grown in importance with the rise of media like streaming video and video games that frequently use pre-existing recordings.
For more comprehensive information, you can visit the Music Licensing page on Wikipedia.