THUMP, VICE’s robust electronic music news site, has just posted a guide that covers the basics of music publishing. Here’s an excerpt of the post, which I found to be extremely helpful. This is perfect for those who need an explanation on what can be a very confusing side of the business. Be sure to click through at the bottom for the full guide.
So you’ve made a piece of music. A jam, if you will, or better yet—a few jams. Rad! These days, anyone with the drive and a hard drive can acquire the tools to produce, mix, and even master songs. If you’re an independent artist, it’s important that you know how to handle your business. THUMP’s Guide to Music Publishing is a brief intro to a small but important facet of the journey from aspiring producer to superstar.
Just as music production has become more accessible, the music business has become somewhat more complicated. In many ways, the laws that govern recorded music have struggled to keep up with the ways that music is distributed—especially online. Therefore, these guidelines aren’t always cut and dry. The music business is a business and its chief aim is to ensure all parties—songwriter, producer, label, DJ, manager, agent, publisher, etc—profit from every aspect of a song. From digital sales, streaming, live performances, music video, radio airplay, even straggling physical sales all leading up to Pitbull hitting you up for a sample, every component of your music can make you money… if you play it right.
What is music publishing?
To put it simply, publishing governs the rights and permissions to pieces of music on behalf of its songwriters. Copyright is an umbrella of laws and rights that protects intellectual property like a song. Copyright law as it applies to recorded music divides a song into parts, most commonly:
1. The composition: the song itself, including lyrics and instrumentation.
2. The master: the physical embodiment of the recording of that song, such as vinyl records, CDs, and MP3s (or other digital formats).
The label that paid for and distributed the music typically owns what is called the “master rights” to a recording. That’s why label permission is usually required when recordings are reproduced and distributed as when they’re used on compilations.
While a label can retain the rights to a recording, the composition is considered a separate entity. “Composition rights” are considered royalties due to the songwriter every time a master recording that embodies that song (the composition) is manufactured, sold, distributed, or performed publicly.
The best way to understand the difference between a composition and a master is to think of how a song is made. A particular songwriter or group of songwriters create a composition, but anybody who records a version of that song has created a new master…
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