“Every time a sound recording gets played, someone gets paid. That someone should be you!”
John Kellogg, Berklee College of Music, Kellogg Law Firm
This couldn’t be truer. If you don’t collect these pennies, then they stay in the hands of the streaming services–and it’s only fair. If these companies whom play your music don’t know how or who to pay, they won’t!
Types of Copyrights for Musicians
For all purposes in this article, the phrase “sound recording” refers to your music, track, song, podcast, anything that has been recorded and you plan to solicit. A sound recording copyright is broken into two parts; the composition and the recorded works. Master Rights and Publishing Rights. The Master Rights belong to the sound recording owner(s), record labels, recording studio, or any other party that may have financially invested interest in the recording itself.
There are four types of royalties you as a Recording Artist, Composer, Songwriter, Publishers, or those invested in copy written material are entitled to; they are Performance Royalties, Mechanical Royalties, Synchronization (Sync) Royalties, and Print/Sheet Music Royalties. These royalties are generated in many forms. As John Kellogg quoted, “every time the music is played.” In the U.S., there are several organizations that collect on the sound recording owner’s behalf.
These are royalties generated when your sound recording is played in public. This includes the venues, businesses, (terrestrial) radio stations, streaming services, TV, and any other type of licensing deal you may have entered when signing up for your distributor. Read my article on The Distributor for a little deeper explanation of what the distributor collects, but for now it’s important to know that your distributor doesn’t collect all of your performance royalties. They are mainly collected by Performance Rights Organizations, (PRO’s) like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC in the U.S.
Performance royalties are somewhat of a confusing split. The performance royalty is split into two categories, the Songwriter and the Publisher. Each songwriter, composer, or artist usually have a different/their own publishing company. Publishing and Songwriter are split 50/50, 50% to the songwriter side, and 50% to the publishing side. There are often multiple songwriters and composers. The songwriter portion, 50% is then divided up amongst the writers, composers, producers, engineers, etc. The publishing side is also divided between the sound recording owner’s publishing companies.
Mechanical royalties are generated from the reproduction of a sound recording. This includes physically, digitally, for downloads, and when streaming services make reproductions of your song for playlists. It is important to note that most distributors nor any PRO collect mechanical royalties. That task is left to a few agencies that collect mechanical royalties.
Sync royalties are generated when a sound recording is synchronized with visual media. Usually, a sync royalty comes about by a sync licensing. These royalties can come from film and TV placements (depending upon the licensing agreement), commercials, and anytime someone uses your sound recording to a video.
Print/Sheet Music Royalties
Print royalties are the least common. These royalties are generated when a sound recording has been printed and sold as sheet music.
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About the Editor:
Chris Canada is a U.S. Army Veteran, Studio Owner, Live Sound Engineer, Music Industry Enthusiast. He studied Interdisciplinary Music Studies and Production at Berklee College of Music.