The 2 Types of Music Copyrights: Composition vs. Master.

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The difference between the composition and the master is a common music industry knowledge at this point, but in case you’ve missed it, don’t worry — we’ve got you covered. If you want to take a deep dive into the topic of music copyright law, check out our recent blog post on music copyrights, but in short, music copyright is split into two distinct parts: the master recording and the underlying composition.

  1. The composition is a musical work (harmony, melody, etc.) that may or may not include accompanying lyrics. Think of sheet music and words in a notebook.
  2. The sound recording (AKA Master) is a particular expression of the underlying composition, produced and recorded by the recording artist(s). Think of music you stream on Spotify (or wherever you get your soundtracks)

Accordingly, there are two separate sets of copyrights that come with every song: the composition rights and the master recording rights. In the most basic scenario, these two sets belong to the same person — if, for example, you’ve both written and recorded a song from scratch.

However, that’s not always the case: think of cover versions, for instance. If you decide to record a Beatles cover, you will only get the master recording copyright — the composition rights will still belong to whoever owns the Beatles catalog these days. And that is still a simple example — imagine a song featuring twelve songwriters, two lyricists, a hand-full of samples, and a re-sung Smooth Criminal line. The structure of music rights can get incredibly complex — and quick.

At the same time, making (and monetizing) a successful composition requires a very different skill set compared to the one on the master. We’ve covered the recording pipeline in detail over at our Mechanics of Recording (and Distribution) — so head on there if you want to find out more about it. Today, however, we will focus solely on composition rights owned by songwriters and worked by their publishers.

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