6 MUSIC BUSINESS TERMS YOU MUST KNOW

The music business is a complex world with its own set of rules and terms. Many players and rights are involved between the moment a song is composed, recorded and turned into a commercial success.

Here are six terms you should understand.

(1) Musical work

The musical work refers to the music, lyrics, melodies, arrangements and, more broadly speaking, the creative contribution of the author and composer.

(2) Author/Composer

The author and composer are the primary owners of a musical work: usually, they share the copyright 50/50. The composer owns the music; the author, the lyrics. Music and lyrics are hence each worth 50% of the work.

In the case of fully collaborative works (“joint authorship works”), the copyright can be evenly shared between the collaborators or according to an agreed upon percentage.

(3) Master recording

The master recording is the sound recording on which the musical work is fixed.

** The master recording is the container, the musical work the content.

Because a same musical work can be re-recorded many times over, keep in mind that for a single musical work, there can be as many master recordings as there are recordings.

(4) Sound Recording Maker

The sound recording maker (or “maker”) is the person who financed the master recording, such as by paying for the studio fees and musicians’ fees. Because they assumed full financial responsibility in the making of the recording, they own the rights in the recording (subject to the rights of a performer on their performances [see next point]).

** Since financial support = maker, it is possible that an artist who financially contributed to the sound recording could qualify as a co-maker. For example, an artist who paid all studio fees could be entitled to sound maker rights.

(5) Performer

The performer holds the exclusive rights to their performance in the sound recording. While the author and composer wrote the musical work, the performer performed it – obviously, author, composer and performer can be the same person! A performer can be a lead-vocalist, musician or backing singer.

Furthermore, since the master recording contains their performance, performers have a degree of control over how the master tape is exploited… unless they assign their rights to the maker or entrust them with a collecting society (such as ARTISTI).

(6) Neighbouring Rights

While authors and composers earn royalties for the use by others of their musical works (their copyright), sound recording makers and performers earn royalties, respectively, for the use by others of their master recordings and recorded performances: their neighbouring rights.

This means that when a song plays on the radio, royalties are paid, one one hand, to authors and composers for the use of the musical work, and on the other, to makers and performers for the use of the recording.


EXAMPLE – An indie band writes, finances and self-publishes its first two promotional excerpts. Let’s call them excerpts A and B. The excerpts are a success and they are signed to a label (though one does not necessarily lead to the other!)

On their debut album, the band and label opt not to use excerpt B. They re-record excerpt A for a better production quality. Enter excerpt X.

X is the same musical work as A, only it is on a different master recording.

A radio station plays two singles: B and X.

In the case of B:
– The band members are the authors/composers, makers and performers.

As for X:
– The author/composers are the band.
– The record label is the maker.
– The performers are the band.

[Photo credit: Éric Nopanen]

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