The Basics of Music Royalties

  1. What are royalties?
  2. Do I have to copyright my song before I can start receiving royalties?
  3. Why should I pay money and register my song with the copyright office?
  4. How many different ways can my song (intellectual property) be used?
  5. What is the Right of Public Performance?
  6. What is the Right of Reproduction
  7. What is the Right of Distribution?
  8. What is the Right of Derivatives?
  9. What is the Right of Public Display?
  10. What is the Right of Digital Transmission?
  11. What is the difference between a Composition and the Master Recording?
  12. What is the difference between a Songwriter and a Performing Artist? 
  13. What is the difference between a Label and a Publisher?

1. What are royalties?

Payments for the right to use intellectual property like: patents, trademarks, and (in this case) copyrights.

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2. Do I have to copyright my song before I can start receiving royalties?

No… well, kinda. Your song is legally copyrighted the second it becomes tangible. Meaning, as soon as you write it down or record it on your phone, it’s copyrighted! Yay! 😃

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3. Why should I pay money and register my song with the copyright office?🤔

Proof and protection. If there is ever a dispute it can be difficult to prove that you wrote the song with just an iPhone recording, even with screenshots and dates.  With a copyright, the government has non-disputable proof that you are the owner. Case closed. 👩‍⚖️

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4. How many different ways can my song (intellectual property) be used?

You can grant people the right to use your music in 6 different ways: (6 Exclusive Copyrights)

  1. Right of Public Performance (ONLY: composition/songwriter/publisher)
  2. Right of Reproduction
  3. Right of Distribution
  4. Right of Derivatives.
  5. Right of Public Display 
  6. Right of Digital Transmission (ONLY: master recording/performing artist/label)


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5. What is the Right of Public Performance (ONLY: composition/songwriter/publisher)?

This protects you when your song is performed to the public. Any time your song is played in public, be it over the radio or live or online, it is a public performance. Again, you’ll make the most money here by licensing your right to others. Radio stations and venues pay you, through a PRO, to be able to play your songs.

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6. What is the Right of Reproduction?

This covers you when you or someone else makes copies of your song. You can make them or you can license others to make them. This is a core right that you get when you create a song.

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7. What is the Right of Distribution?

This is your right to distribute all those songs to the public. With this right you can send digital files of your music to digital stores all across the country and physically deliver copies of it to fans at live shows and in stores. The Reproduction and Distribution rights have been the bread and butter of the recording industry. Labels pay you for every time they make a copy of your song to sell.

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8. What is the Right of Derivatives?

This helps you to create new works based on your song. This could be a new arrangement or even a theatrical performance that combines your music with dance. Of course, you can create your own derivative works, but the real money here is from licensing to others. Other musicians can pay to get permission to sample your music or create their own arrangements or variations or other creative use. It is a derivative after all.

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9. What is the Right of Public Display?

This is not as relevant in music as it is in other art forms since it’s difficult to visually display sound.  However, you can utilize this right to display your song lyrics to the public via a YouTube video, on your website, or even a t-shirt. Many musicians are not as concerned with this right and, as a result, there are plenty of lyric sites floating around on the internet that pay no licenses to the songwriters whose lyrics they display.

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10. What is the Right of Digital Transmission?

(ONLY: master recording/performing artist/label) – This allows you to perform the sound recording to the public. Sound recording owners get paid when their recordings are streamed and played on internet services like Spotify and Pandora. Not much, but its a start.

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11. What’s the difference between the composition and the master recording?

Composition – The lyrics and melody; the idea of the song; the structure and notes of the song. 
Master Recording – A specific recording of a composition. Also referred to as just the “Master”. So, songs are single compositions that can be recorded/sung/performed by anybody to create many different master recordings.^ Back to Top ^

12. What’s the difference between a songwriter and a performing artist?

Songwriter – Someone who composes the song; writes the lyrics or melodies (composition). Songwriters are represented by Publishers. 
Performing Artist – Someone who records/sings/performs the song (composition), and creates a master recording. Sometimes referred to as the “Recording Artist”, or just the “Artist”. Artists are represented by Record Labels.

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13. What’s the difference between a label and a publisher?

Record Label –  Exploits the rights for the master recording of a song (gets people to use and pay for) and deals with performing artist/master recording royalties. “I own the masters to your songs!”💽👹
Publisher – Exploits the rights for the composition and deals with songwriter/composition royalties. “I own the publishing to your songs!”🎼👹

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