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Artists Ahead Key Visual R B

Music Industry

Here is our starter for ten for becoming familiar with key industry terms.

Frequently Asked Questions

Copyright is a legal concept that gives creative people – and their business partners – control over the output of their creativity. Copyright protects many different kinds of creative work, including songs, recordings, artwork, photographs, films and the written word.

Music copyright usually refers to the separate and distinct copyrights that exist in songs and recordings. Technically a song is also two copyrights if it has lyrics – in that copyright protects musical compositions and lyrics separately. The music industry also creates and exploits various other kinds of copyright, like artistic works and films.

Assignment is when the ownership of a copyright is transferred from one entity to another. The rules around assignment are very flexible. A copyright can be assigned in its entirety on a global basis in perpetuity - or, alternatively, a percentage of a copyright or certain elements of a copyright can be assigned, and the assignment might only apply in certain countries and/or for a certain period of time. 

Any one copyright can be co-owned by multiple people or companies. This happens by default when multiple people collaborate on writing a song or (under UK law) multiple people organise a recording session. It is for the co-owners to decide how a copyright is being split in percentage terms. This is important because, if you own 30% of a copyright, you will earn 30% of any monies that copyright generates. Whatever is agreed regarding co-ownership should be documented in writing.

In the music industry 'author rights' usually refer to the copyright in songs, as opposed to recordings, also known as publishing rights or song rights.

Performer rights are enjoyed by all recording artists over any sound recordings on which they appear, including session musicians. These rights apply even if and especially when the artist does not own the copyright in the sound recording and regardless of any deal the artist may have signed with the copyright owner. The main performer rights are the right to approval (so a performer must give approval for their performance to be recorded and the recording to be subsequently exploited) and the right to equitable remuneration at industry standard rates from certain uses of recorded music, in particular when music is broadcast or played in public.

Publishing rights refer to the copyright that exists in musical compositions and lyrics. They are sometimes also called ‘song rights’ or ‘author rights’. These rights are created by songwriters, composers and lyricists, and are managed by companies and organisations in the music publishing sector, including music publishers and collecting societies.

Recording rights refer to the copyright that exists in sound recordings. They are sometimes also called ‘master rights’ or ‘phonographic rights’. These rights are created by recording artists, studio producers and their business partners, and are managed by companies and organisations in the record industry, including record labels and music distributors.

In copyright law, ‘musical work’ refers to a musical composition, so melody and rhythm combined. Technically any accompanying lyrics are a separate ‘literary work’ - although when people talk about musical works in the music industry they often mean the lyrics too. Day-to-day in the music industry we might refer to musical works simply as ‘songs’. Crucially, the musical work is distinct from any recording of that musical work.

Music publishing is the side of the music industry that is focused on managing and monetising songs (or ‘musical works’). Music publishers work with and support songwriters, lyricists and composers, looking for opportunities to generate income around their publishing rights (or ‘song rights’). It’s called music publishing because originally music publishers published books of sheet music, but today’s that’s a very small part of the business.

Music distribution is the side of the music industry that gets recorded music to market. That used to mean CDs and vinyl into record shops. Today it usually means tracks and albums onto digital music platforms. Some record labels handle music distribution themselves. Other labels and independent artists rely on standalone music distributors.

Music distribution refers to the management and administration of recording rights, and will also usually include getting tracks to market, which in the digital domain means delivering tracks to all the digital music services. Publishing administration refers to the management and administration of the separate song rights, ie issuing licences and collecting money every time a song is performed, played or streamed. With digital music services, a distributor usually delivers the track and provides a licence covering the recording rights, but not the song rights. This means any monies that flow back only cover the streaming of the recording. Additional royalties are due for the streaming of the song, which will be administered by a collecting society, music publisher or publishing administrator.

In certain scenarios - rather than individual artists, labels, songwriters and publishers issuing licences to users of music – the music industry employs the collective licensing system. That means that a collecting society issues a licence on behalf of large groups of artists and labels – or songwriters and publishers – and collects and distributes any royalties. The collecting societies also manage the music industry’s main rights databases. Collecting societies are also known as collective management organisations (CMOs), performing rights organisations (PROs) and music licensing companies.

When used in the music industry, DSP refers to digital music services. That would usually mean any kind of digital music service, including download stores, streaming services and social media platforms that utilise music.

The International Standard Musical Work Code – or ISWC – is the data standard used to uniquely identify every published musical work (or song). An ISWC is usually issued to any new musical work by a collecting society, usually the society of the songwriter. 

The International Sound Recording Code – or ISRC – is the data standard used to uniquely identify every sound recording. The ISRC is usually issued by whichever label first releases a recording – or possibly whichever music distributor first distributes a recording. Artists can issue their own ISRCs if they obtain a unique ‘registrant code’ from the organisation that manages the code in their home country, which is usually a collecting society or trade body. Artists Ahead can also issue an ISRC for an artist’s recordings.

The Interested Party Information number is the code used to uniquely identify every songwriter, composer, lyricist, music publisher and rights administrator. IPIs are then linked to each ISWC in the collecting society databases, telling us who wrote any one song, who controls the copyright in any one song, and who administrates the rights in any one song. IPIs are issued to writers, publishers and administrators by their collecting societies.

The International Performer Number is the code used to uniquely identify every performer who appears on a sound recording. As each recording is released, the IPNs of all the performers who appear on the recording should be linked to the track’s ISRC in the collecting society databases. Performers are issued an IPN by their collecting society.

The PRS Tunecode is the unique code that the UK collecting society PRS allocates to every song, so that each individual song can be uniquely identified within the PRS ecosystem. The Tunecode should then be connected to an ISWC, which is the code used to identify songs on a global basis.

Artists often do deals with record labels which means that the label controls the copyright in the artist’s recordings. The label then monetises the recordings and shares the money with artists subject to contract. However, there are certain scenarios where artists have a statutory right to payment at industry standard rates when their recordings are used, even if they are not the copyright owner, and regardless of any label deal they signed. This is called performer equitable remuneration. It mainly applies when recorded music is broadcast or played in public. Session musicians also share in Performer ER income. This revenue stream is managed by performer collecting societies.