Music Rights: Insights and Implications

You’ve just composed a fresh track, gone from a working title to giving it a name, shared it with your friends, and you’re already looking forward to your next creation. In all of the excitement that you bring into creating music, there will be a tendency to have skipped out on one very important step for your freshly weaved track; owning it – both onstage and off it.

Music, in its purest form, stems from a spontaneous creative process and an artist’s manner of expression – open to adaptation, interpretation, participation, and enjoyment. Before the Industrial Revolution, there wasn’t a fixed definition of who has what rights, and what roles the artists had in music creation or performance, but times are different now.

Technology altered the way music is created, distributed, and consumed, and it was then that roles and rights of music were defined, and assigned economic value. Not so much to put narrow definitions and quantitative values to music, but for music to be recognised. This has allowed musicians to commit to music as a job or a hobby that now pays bills.


TYPE OF MUSIC RIGHTS:

Let’s talk about the music rights in today’s modern age, and how they related to the workflow of creating, manufacturing, and then distributing music. 

COMPOSITION RIGHTS

A song’s first word or hymn could transpire from a scribble of a lyric on a napkin, or a sharp strum of a guitar. It progresses with a tune, sometimes lyrics, and then the addition of more instruments. There’s your underlying score, there’s your Music Work, and here are your author’s rights that come with.

MASTER RIGHTS

Going with the example of the song you’ve just written, let’s imagine your sister filling in with the lyrics to that song. The two of you perform it one evening at the local bar, and in one lucky twist of fate, a record company representative shows up in time for your show. He hears the two of you perform, and tells you he’d like to record a copy of your song.

Now, your song is going to be fixed into a physical copy; say vinyl or cassette tape, or a Sound Recording; digital formats of your song. Before that though, the record company will need a Mechanical License from the song’s composition rights owners, i.e. you for the underlying score, and your sister for the lyrics.

It’s worth noting that composition rights are essentially inherent rights, so by granting a Mechanical License to the record company, you acknowledge that the record company is using your song, limited to the license clauses, terms and conditions.

Let’s go one step further; after successful sales of your original single, a singer from another corner of the world loves your song so much that she goes on to record an acoustic cover. This creates another Sound Recording, wherein she is the performer, and she will need a Mechanical License to fix the second version of your Music Work. And since your original Music Work now has multiple Sound Recordings, your record company own the song’s Master Rights.

PERFORMER RIGHTS

To simplify this using the examples of the two Sound Recordings, the performer lists look like these:

Original Song Recording:

  • Main Artist: You, the guitar player
  • Secondary Artist: Your sister, the singer

Acoustic Song Recording:

  • Main Artist: The cover singer 
  • Secondary Artist: The cover singer’s friend, the guitar player

Master Rights are often discussed and negotiated together with Performer Rights since there is a direct relationship between each Sound Recording and the list of performers who participated in that recording. You’ll find more about Performers’ Rights here.


To Recap

We’ve thrown you a couple of terms, so let us clarify what these are again:

Music Work
Your song in its purest form, whether a lyric in your notes, or a phone recorded partial of your guitar.

Sound Recording
Your song, but now recorded. This could be in a physical form, from your CDs and vinyl, to cassette tapes, or in digital form, an mp3.

This is what each of the characters and entities mentioned in the narrative above now owns:

Your sister and you
As performers of your own song, you own both the Composition Rights inherent in the original Sound Recording, and the Performers’ Rights in that copy.

Record company
Since the record company funded the fixing of your Music Work into a physical copy and Sound Recording, distributed them worldwide with marketing and promotion efforts to raise your profile and boost your song, they own the Master Rights to that copy.

The people behind the acoustic cover
Since they were the only performers in the acoustic version of the original Sound Recording, they only own full Performers’ Rights of their copy. If the cover artist recorded the acoustic cover in a small studio that they own themselves, without going through a record company, they own the Master Rights of that acoustic copy as well.


The rights that we’ve discussed above are universally recognised and are used as benchmarks and guidelines when navigating through the complicated world of music rights. Not all countries, however, have rectified or recognised all three types of rights and drafted laws to uphold them in its territories.

If you’re an aspiring musician chasing a career towards stardom and royalties, check out the following links for further tips and insights into the legal aspects of music.

Composers: http://www.cisac.org/Our-Members/Members-Directory

Performers: http://www.scapr.org/membership#associate_members


MUSIC RIGHTS: WITH BANDLAB

Music rights are drawn and conceptualised based on the workflow processes we’ve described above, but with technology giving us new possibilities each day, new ways of creating and sharing music are increasingly available.

In BandLab, we pride ourselves on the spontaneity that encourages creation and collaboration. A creation is composed and performed at the same time, while collaborators are invited to adapt, revise, and improvise any way they know how.

Instead of traditionally having one Music Work springing up many Sound Recordings, and then linking them to their respective performers, BandLab’s workflow is essentially flipped. Each Revision of a track with added track layers or collaborators becomes a Music Work in its own right, linking to the composers and performers who have a contributor. Each Revision then has the potential to become one Sound Recording.

As a user of BandLab, knowing how music rights function in the rest of the world will come in handy. In the event that you, along with your collaborators, would like to commercialise any of your Music Work, a basic understanding of these rights can generate healthy conversations.

 

NOTE: This post is for general information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. It is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified lawyer in your own jurisdiction and should not be relied upon as such. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer directly.

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