The Ultimate Music Industry Terms Glossary (Updated)

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Written by Ramsey Brown.

The music business is very much a complex industry unique to its own. Just like any other industry, there are specific expectations of how it’s members should conduct themselves, operate professionally, and communicate with others.

If you are uninvolved or new to the business, you may find some of the dialogue and interactions among music professionals a bit foreign. Navigating through conversation can definitely get complicated with so many specialized terms and jargons attached to the music business specifically. 

However, if you are at all interested in becoming an musician or making a career out of music — you will need a basic knowledge of some common terms and phrases that are often thrown around. 

Understanding the proper terminology is essential if you are hoping to be taken seriously as a musician or music professional. Enhancing your music business vocabulary can save you from embarrassment and confusion when networking or negotiating. But most importantly, it can prevent you from getting taken advantage of or getting into a bad deal or contract later down the road. 

To ensure you don’t run into any of these problems, we’ve put together the Ultimate Music Industry Terms Glossary. This guide will dive deep into the music business lingo, detailing the meaning and significance of each term or phrase. 

Ultimate List of Music Industry Terms

There are many different words you will hear used among musicians, artists, producers, and other industry figures. If you want to be on the same page and not get caught off guard, take note of the following music industry terms that every independent artist or musician should know:

360 Deal

A 360 deal is a contract that entitles the record label to receive a percentage of earnings from everything generated as a band or artist. It may also be referred to as a ‘multiple rights deal’. 

Administration Deal

An administration deal or ‘admin deal’ is a music publishing administration agreement that traditionally allows a songwriter/creator to retain full ownership of their composition.

Advances

Advances are a monetary loan given to artists (most commonly from record labels) to fund their career or to be used as early income while creating or promoting an EP or album. Artists must pay advances back, typically through song royalties.

Album Cycle

An album cycle is the complete period of an album from the start of the first recording and ends at the time of its marketing and distribution.

A&R Department

A&R Department (short for Artists & Repertoire) are the division of a record label that is responsible for talent scouting and the artistic and commercial development of the recording artist. It also acts as a liaison between the artist and the record label.

Back Catalog

A musical performer's back catalog is the music which they recorded and released in the past rather than their latest recordings

Black Box

Black Box refers to unclaimed royalties for which a publisher or writer has earned but cannot be traced by a collection society for one reason or another. 

Blanket Licenses

A blanket license grants an outside entity access to a rightsholder’s entire catalog. They can be issued by a Performing Rights Organization (PRO) or a mechanical rights society.

Business Manager

A business manager is someone who represents recording artists and musicians with the advertising, marketing, business and financial end of things. He or she will manage and handle contract negotiations, counsel the artist on how to invest their income wisely and also recover unpaid fees and royalties. 

Commercially Satisfactory

A commercially satisfactory record is one that has been determined to have the potential to sell a fair and realistic amount of records when released. 

Compilation Album

A compilation album is a general term used to refer to a music release made of up of songs that were not initially intended to be viewed as a single work.

Comps

Short for ‘complimentary’, comps refers to a free ticket(s) to a show or concert, typically given by the artist or venue.

Controlled Composition Clause

The controlled composition clause determines the royalties paid out when the recording artist co-writes a composition. This clause limits the amount a label has to pay where the artist is also the songwriter. 

Co-Publishing Agreement

A co-publishing agreement refers to the agreement between two separate publishers where both own a portion of the music.

Copyright

A copyright is a guarantee under the law for ownership of a specific body of work. The owner has full rights and authority over the product and cannot be infringed upon while active. 

Copyright Act

The Copyright Act is a U.S. law that deals with the illegal acquisition or reproduction of another party's intellectual property. (See Copyright Law)

Copyright Royalty Brand

Known as the CRB, the Copyright Royalty Brand is a panel of three judges appointed by the Librarian of Congress. They are in charge of determining the compulsory rates under the Copyright Act. 

Cover Song

A cover song is a remake of an original song. The new performance or recording is recreated by someone other than the original artist.

Cross-Collateralization

Cross-collateralization is the financial recoupment of advances from various sources. This is included in most contracts to reduce the potential risks a record label may face. 

DAW

Short for Digital Audio Workstation, DAW is a software program used to record, edit, and produce music.

Delivery

The delivery refers to the specifications in an artist's contract before they may be able to submit masters to their respective record label. 

Demo Deal

A demo deal is an agreement between an artist and the record label. In exchange for the demo recordings, the label agrees to advance the costs out to the artist upfront.

Derivative Work

Derivative work refers to any time a song has been covered by another artist and changed in any way (lyrics, beat, timing, etc.). As a result, the new artist must get permission from the owner before performing.

Direct to Fan

Direct to fan (D2F) is a creative business model that allows artists to eliminate the need for a middle man by delivering music directly to fans.

Distribution Agreement

A distribution agreement is an agreement between independent artists to allow distributors to distribute their music for sale.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is an act that Congress passed in 1998. It increased the consequences for copyright infringement of material on the internet. 

EP

An EP, or extended play is a musical recording that contains more tracks than a single but fewer than an album or LP record.

EPK

Electronic press kit, also known as ‘EPK’ is the computerized version of an artist's publicity materials such as pictures, biographies, contact info, etc. 

Freemium

The term freemium refers to a limited amount of free material on a subscription-based platform, with additional access costing an extra fee.

Gold Album

A gold album is a single or unit that has sold over 500,000 copies and is certified by the RIAA.

Harry Fox Agency (HFA)

The Harry Fox Agency is an administrator of mechanical licenses to various parties.

Independent Artist

An independent artist or unsigned artist is a musician or musical group not under contract with a record label.

Joint Work

Joint work is the combined work from multiple authors on a single song. The contributions are considered inseparable, with each member having equal ownership of the product. 

Key Man Clause

A key man clause is part of a contract that allows a party to terminate the contract if the ‘key man’ (i.e., a particular member of note) is no longer part of the other party's group.

Label Deal

A label deal is a formed agreement between two or more individual labels in order to bring on multiple individual music artists. 

Lead Sheet

A lead sheet is a written piece of paper that contains the music and lyrics to a song.

Licensee

The licensee is the person recipient of the granted rights of the licensor. 

Licensor

The licensor is the person able to grant rights to the licensee.

Masters

The masters refer to the original fixed recording item from which all copies are subsequently made.

Master Use License

The master use license allows for the use of copyrighted sound in a new project. It is important to note that one must acquire this license for every song separately from one another.

Mechanical License

A mechanical license is a license that grants the user reproduction and distribution rights to copyrighted music. 

Mechanical Royalties

Mechanical Royalties are royalties paid to the owner whenever their song is played or purchased.

Merchandising Rights

Merchandising rights are rights given to a secondary party that allow them to create and distribute merchandise with the name and likeness of the artist. This can include toys, movies, or images.

Mixed Folio

A mixed folio is a printed book with sheet music from several different songwriters.

Most Favored Nations Clause (MFN)

Known as the MFN, the Most Favored Nations Clause is a specific clause in a music industry contract that specifies one party giving equal or better terms to the other party compared to anyone else. 

Music Supervisor

A music supervisor works alongside tv and movie producers to determine what music should be included in a movie's soundtrack. They are used to negotiate licenses with music labels for the song's inclusion. 

Net Artist Rate

The Net Artist Rate refers to the total royalties paid after all other owed royalties to the producers are settled.

Net Publisher's Share

The Net Publisher's Share is the total gross income credited to the publisher after paid royalties. 

Net Receipts

Net receipts are earned royalties by a record label. They are solely attributed to the Masters after the label has paid all expenses out.

Performance Rider

A performance rider specifies an artist's requirements when performing at a venue.

Performing Rights Organization (PRO)

Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) collect royalties on behalf of songwriters and music publishers when a song is publicly broadcasted or performed.

Personal Manager

A personal manager is a music industry worker that operates on behalf of an artist or songwriter.

Phonorecords

Phonorecords are material objects used to embody sound.

Platinum Album

A platinum album is an album that has sold over 1 million copies and is certified by the RIAA.

Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney is used to give one party temporarily uncontested rights in place of another party. 

PPD

PPD stands for Published Price to Dealers, and is the wholesale unit price used when establishing royalty shares. 

Print License

A print license is an agreement between the copyright owner and the user of the copyright. This license allows the user to display, print, or alter the agreed music from the owner. 

Producer 

A producer, or record producer assists an artist with their recording project, bringing their vision to fruition and guiding their sound along the way.

Producer Agreement

A producer agreement is generally fostered between a producer and an artist, where they are usually entitled to a 50% portion of a label's receipts.

Promoter

The promoter works with the publicists and other marketers to help promote an artist. 

Proration

Proration is the process by which royalties for a record are divided amongst the various producers, artists, and other members between the various songs and who is owed what. 

Publisher

A publisher is someone used to license and copyright music and songs for songwriters. Generally, they are responsible for securing the royalties when a song is played. 

Publishing Agreement

A publishing agreement is a deal signed between a songwriter and a publisher to present their music to a large body of people and potentially be signed by a record label. 

Record Label

A record label is a company that promotes, manufactures, and distributes music that a musician records. They work to sell the artist's brand and will usually work with a number of different artists at one time.

Recoupment

A recoupment is the process of an artist applying their royalties towards an earlier advancement.

Reserves

Reserves are a specific amount of royalties that are withheld by the record label in the instance of retailer returns. 

RIAA

RIAA is an acronym that stands for Recording Industry Association of America. It is a trade association that represents the major music distributors and record labels within the U.S.

Royalty Base Price

The royalty base price is the wholesale price of an album prior to all packaging and distribution fees.

Samples

Samples are pre-recorded sound recordings that are protected from copyright infringement. These sample recordings are then incorporated into an entirely new sound recording with an entirely separate copyright owner. In order to use samples, both the owner of the music composition as well as the sound recording must be legally licensed out. 

Score

A score is an interchangeable and synonymous term with sheet music’. A score can refer to several different avenues of musical expression. For example, a score can refer to written music for a play or musical, or it can refer to music specifically written to accompany a film and is entirely original. 

Sheet Music

Sheet music refers to music that is printed and used by musical composers. This music is generally adorned with lyrics, notes, chords, and other types of annotations in order to communicate the various musical details of the song, such as rhythm, pitch, or tempo.

Single

A single is a type of release, typically a song recording of fewer tracks than an LP record or an album

SoundExchange

SoundExchange is an organization that collects and distributes digital performance royalties on behalf of over 155,000 artists and record labels. They administer direct agreements on behalf of the rights owners and licensees. 

SoundScan

SoundScan is a company that tracks and publishes information and data from U.S. and Canadian sales of music and music videos. Billboard uses this information in order to create weekly album charts for U.S. music sales.

Statutory Mechanical Rates

Statutory mechanical rates refer to the compulsory Mechanical Royalty rates given to the licensed owner of a song. Physical sales or downloads have a "statutory rate" of 9.1 cents per song if under five minutes, a rate of 1.75 cents per minute for songs over five minutes. Ringtone statutory rates are 24 cents per ringtone. 

Sub-Publishing Agreement

A sub-publishing agreement refers to an agreement offered from one publisher to another in order to license and play their content in a foreign market. Generally, this type of agreement is done as a way to help an artist or company reach an outside market demographic. 

Synchronization License

A synchronization license is an agreement between a music user and the owner of a copyrighted composition (song), that grants permission to release the song in a video format 

Target Audience

A target audience is a specific group of people at which a product or the marketing message of a product is aimed at. It’s important to understand who your most enthusiastic fans are so you can shape your marketing approach and strategies around them.

Tour Manager

Tour managers are individuals that are tasked with ensuring that a performer's tour schedule is properly managed and runs as closely on time as possible.

Tour Support

A tour support refers to the exceeded expenses paid by a record company while their performers are on tour. Tour supports, it should be noted, are paid upfront by the record company and are recouped later from the artist's royalties. 

UPC

The UPC or Universal Product Code is a barcode widely used to track record sales and streams. Similarly to an ISRC.

Venue

A venue is a place or space rented or designated for the express purpose of hosting a live performance. 

Work Made For Hire

A work made for hire generally only occurs when one person is made into a ghostwriter. Essentially, this is the process of paying someone else for all legal rights to their work. 


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