Music Rights Basics for Songwriters
Oct 16, 2023

Music Rights Basics for Songwriters

Fernando Catalán
Fernando Catalán

Music rights and data might not be the first thing you have in mind when working with your music and making it available to the public. However, understanding these fundamental aspects is essential to ensure you receive fair compensation for your creative work and that you get paid what is rightfully owed to you.

Music Rights 101

Music copyrights can be divided into two main categories: Moral Rights and Financial Rights. Moral rights pertain to the inherent rights of every author to be credited and respected for their work. These rights are non-transferable and perpetual. On the other hand, we have Financial Rights, which are licensable and can be sold. They encompass rights such as public performance and mechanical rights.

Evolution of Music Rights

There has been significant development in the field of music rights over the past 200 years. Initially, Graphical Rights (which included music scores and/or lyrics) were the sole means of sharing and trading music and rewarding the author. The availability of these music sheets paved the way for the next level of financial rights, known as Performing Rights, which involve the right to perform music in public. The introduction of piano rolls brought about a third type of financial rights, known as Mechanical Rights. Finally, with the advancement of music reproduction devices, a new category of music rights emerged, known as Neighboring Rights, which encompass the recording of music and the right to perform and broadcast it.

Images credits: Unsplash

Rights and Distribution

When it comes to distributing your music, numerous options are available to help you get your music out there. The key is to do thorough research to find a distributor that aligns with your specific needs. Distributors vary, offering services ranging from basic distribution to comprehensive packages that include promotion tools and royalty advances, as seen with services like Family in Music.

Review the Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) carefully, paying close attention to critical details such as costs and fees, the specific rights your distributor is licensing on your behalf, and the payment structure for royalties.

The Two Basic Components of Music: Work and Recording

It's crucial to understand that when distributing your music, you're distributing two distinct components: the song, as the conceptual work, and the recording. This results in two different types of rights: Song Rights (work) and Recording Rights.

  • Song Rights (Work):
    • Composers: Those who create the musical composition, including the melody, harmony, and structure.
    • Lyricists (or Authors): The individuals responsible for writing the lyrics or text of a song.
    • Arrangers: Professionals who may modify or adapt the composition for performance or recording.
    • Publishers: Entities responsible for managing and protecting the rights to the musical composition.
  • Recording Rights:
    • Artists: The performers who contribute their vocals or instrumental skills during the recording process.
    • Musicians: Session players or band members who provide musical accompaniment.
    • Producers: Professionals who oversee the technical and artistic aspects of the recording process.
    • Labels: Record companies that invest in, produce, distribute, and promote the recorded music.

When distributing your music to streaming services, you provide a package of tracks, artwork, and label copy, known as metadata. From a revenue perspective, distributors primarily focus on the recording side, but remember that the song is inherently linked to the recording, generating royalties you should receive.

From the song perspective, there are two types of royalties: Performing and Mechanical. Collecting mechanical royalties can be done through various methods, including some distributors. Alternately, consider working with a publisher or a Mechanical Rights Organization (MRO).

Performance-related distribution revenue always comes from Performance Rights Organizations (PROs). Joining a PRO when making your music commercially available ensures you receive these performance royalties.

Get the Family in Music’s Directory of Global Music Licensing and Copyright Organizations

Metadata Matters!

Last but not least, ensure you have comprehensive data connected to your release. This data ensures proper identification, linking the recording and song components, establishing the foundation for revenue generation for both your recording and your song. While not the sexiest part of releasing music, invest time in ensuring your label copy (metadata) is detailed. Your future self will undoubtedly thank you when the royalties start flowing in. 💸

For a more in-depth exploration of music rights, we highly recommend watching the video by industry expert Jani Jalonen, where he discusses copyright, distribution, and the intricacies of revenue generation. This exclusive content is available only on Family in Music.

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