What are the differences between song rights and master rights?
“Song” refers to rights in a song or musical composition itself – the music and the words (if any). These rights are generated in the writing of a song, before any recorded performance occurs. “Master” refers to the rights in the sound recording of the song or composition. The sound recording is what you hear on radio or streaming services – the recorded performance of the song by the artist. Because the writer isn’t always the owner of the sound recording (whether artist or label), these two rights ensure everyone is fairly compensated for their contribution.
Songwriters, composers, lyricists, and music publishers are typically the owners of the rights of a song or composition. When a songwriter, composer, or lyricist enters into an agreement with a music publisher, the music creator and the publisher usually share ownership of the songs. The publisher then works to maximize the earning power of the songs by placing them with recording artists, in movies and TV shows, in commercials, or videogames, or any other medium or situation where the songs can earn as much in royalties as possible.
In Canada, usually the maker of a sound recording initially owns the master rights. When an artist enters into a recording agreement with a record label, the recordings they produce together are usually owned by the record label. The label then works to maximize the earning power of the sound recording by selling as many copies of it as possible, and/or licensing or distributing it as widely as possible (including in other territories).
When artists working with a record label produce a new song, the original recording will have at least two owners (or sets of owners) – the owner(s) of the songs or compositions (the song rights) and the owner(s) of the sound recording (the master rights). For example, co-writers TOBi, Alex Goose, and Hannah Vasanth own the rights to their song “Family Matters” (there’s no publisher on the song), but RCA Records own the master rights to the recording of the song, as performed by TOBi on his album Elements Vol. 1.
Alternatively, if a song is written, performed, and also recorded by one person, without any publisher or record company, then that person gets copyright ownership to both the song (the song rights) and the sound recording of it (the master rights). For example, Julian Taylor both wrote and recorded his song “Wide Awake,” so he owns both the song rights and the master rights (though he owns the master rights through his self-owned record company, Howling Turtle).
Synchronization royalties generate income for copyright-protected music that’s paired or “synced” with visual media. Sync licenses grant the right to use songs or compositions in any visual media – films, television, commercials, videogames, online streaming, music videos, etc. Any use of copyright-protected music in a screen project will require a master license from the owner(s) of the sound recording in order to use that recording, and a sync (synchronization) license from the owner(s) of the song itself, for the use of that song, or even a portion of it. For example, you need both a master and sync license before using the latest track from Loud Luxury in a commercial video.
The song right (to the song or composition) is divided into two kinds of rights: performance and reproduction (or “mechanical”) rights.
Performance rights generate royalties when a song or musical composition that you wrote, or co-wrote, or publish, is played in public (on TV, radio, digital media, streaming media, in background music, live performance, in movies, etc.). SOCAN’s role is to collect and distribute the royalties you’ve rightfully earned when your song is played in public.
The reproduction (or “mechanical”) right, is the right to authorize the reproduction of your musical composition or song on various media, including streaming, downloads, CDs, vinyl records, cassettes, DVDs, etc. When copies of your music are made in these media, reproduction royalties are owed to you, and SOCAN ensures that you receive the royalties you’ve earned.
SOCAN can represent both your performance rights, and your reproduction rights – the latter, on almost every type of audio, audio-visual, digital, or physical media in existence. We negotiate licensing agreements on behalf of our members and clients for the use of their works, and ensure that they’re fairly compensated for their extraordinary talent. SOCAN is essential to receiving all the royalties you’ve earned when your music is performed or reproduced around the world.
For more information: https://iconcollective.edu/how-music-royalties-work/