What are the two halves of a song and how do songwriters and performers get paid for these two distinct copyrights? Let’s break it down.
The composition refers to the unique qualities that define a song, such as its lyrics, melody, and structure. This copyright (or ownership) belongs to the songwriter(s), and monetizing the composition of a song is precisely what music publishing is. There are two main types of royalties to be collected on this side -- performance and mechanical.
The sound recording represents one specific recording of that very composition, known as the master recording. A single composition can have many master recordings (e.g., live versions, radio edits, or covers), and these master recordings copyrights can be owned by a label, distributor, or artist.
The recording of a song is a separate copyright from the composition and has its own revenue streams: digital performance royalties and master recording revenues. In the U.S., digital performance royalties are collected by the non-profit organization SoundExchange and then paid to the recording’s performing artists as well as any additional rights holders. Master recording revenues are collected by your distributor and/or your label and then paid out to the appropriate rightsholders.