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Don’t Get It Twisted: Musical Composition vs Sound Recording

Don’t Get It Twisted: Musical Composition vs Sound RecordingWe’ve said it before, Performance Rights is one of the most consistently growing fields of revenue in the global music industry. According to the IFPI Global Music Report, in 2017, revenue from public performance generated 2.4 billion, accounting for 14% of the recording industry’s global revenue – up 7% from 2015. Despite the importance (and reliability) of this revenue source, there’s still more to learn as labels and artists take steps to maximizing their bottom line.

One question we receive frequently is “What is the difference between a musical composition vs sound recording?” This question is sometimes phrased as:

  • “What is the difference between publishing and master rights royalties?” or
  • “How do I collect my songwriting payments and sound recording payments?”

To answer these questions, one must first understand the difference between a sound recording and a musical composition, the basic building blocks of performance rights royalties and the entire music industry for that matter. The Orchard collects royalties for the sound recording copyright owner while major publishing agencies such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC administer royalties for songwriters and composers. In this multi-part series, The Performance Rights Services team here at The Orchard will lay out the crucial components that differentiates musical compositions from sound recordings. Later, we’ll discuss the many organizations that collect and distribute royalties for songwriters, artists, and rights holders; mapping out where you should go to get paid for your music, and how The Orchard can help!

For now, it’s time to get to the basics:

The creative process is dynamic, complex, and often involves numerous players especially when it comes to music. In simple terms, we can group musical components into two pieces: a musical composition and a sound recording. When a lyricist, composer, or songwriter creates a musical work, consisting of the melody and or lyrics, this is referred to as the musical composition. When this composition is performed, recorded, mixed, and mastered, the resulting creation is referred to as the “master” or sound recording. Confusingly, many songs and recordings are created simultaneously, leading to the common belief that the musical composition and sound recording are one copyright. Though these creations can be done at the same time, legally they are treated differently. The composition generally belongs to the author of the songs lyrics and melody while an artist’s interpretation of this composition, and subsequent recording of it is referred to as the master or sound recording.

Commonly, a composition will have multiple sound recording versions; these are considered re-records, edits, remixes, and covers. Sound recordings can be thought of as a musician’s rendition of the original composition. One example of a musical work that has many different sound recordings is the song “Happy Together,” made famous by The Turtles. Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon will always be recognized as the musical composers, however, the many re-recordings of “Happy Together,” such as versions by Simple Plan or Filter are each their own unique master sound recording. For more on re-records, see “Breaking Down…Performance Rights.”

Below is a visual to demonstrate the key differences between a musical composition and a sound recording in terms of rights owners, usage, and performance rights collection societies who administer and distribute various royalties.

Don’t Get It Twisted: Musical Composition vs Sound Recording

Now that we have that cleared up, the team will be back later this year for more basic steps that you can take to maximize your sound recording royalties. Stay tuned for part 2!

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