An Introduction to the Music Industry – Part 1

The music industry can be a mysterious place. It’s important to what what each area of the industry does and how you can earn a living.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is based around Copyright. Copyright is present in all forms of intellectual property, from film to music to journalism. Although the specifics can vary from country to country,  usually the creator owns all the rights. Unless the creator is employed to create something, in which, the employing company would own the rights. In each creative industry, especially the music industry, there are many rights that can be owned by different parties (the artist, songwriter, record label etc.).

There are several rights involved in a singular release (single, E.P., Album). Here is an explanation to what they grant the rights to and who would own these rights:

  • Song Rights: Covers Musical Composition, Lyrics, Performance rights and Publishing Rights (mechanical rights, print rights, synchronisation rights).

Often owned by the artist or the band. These rights can often be split amongst band music partners, i.e. Elton John (composer) and Bernie Taupin (lyricist), or have joint owners amongst a band, i.e. John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

  • Recording Rights: Covers Recorded Rights, Mastering Rights and Music Videos.

Often owned by whoever pays for these services, i.e. the record label.

  • Artistic Rights: Covers Artwork and Photography.

Often owned by the artist or photographer who creates/takes these.

Making Money and Licensing in the Music Industry

If you own all the rights on a song (excluding artistic rights), you can control:

  • Re-production = re-recording your music.
  • Distribution = distributing your music to stores and streaming platforms.
  • Public Performance = your music being played publicly.
  • Adaption
  • Communication/Broadcasting = your music being played on radio
  • Synchronisation = your music being in film, TV, video games, advertisements and other forms of visual media.

As the rights holder, you make money by Licensing these. Licensing means giving permission to others to use your property, and so as an artist, songwriter, record label etc. you can sell licenses (permission) for the above actions to other artists and industry members.

NOTE: Copyright does not last forever i.e. in the UK copyright for recording rights last 70 years, becoming public domain afterwards. However, owners of these rights have found ways to renew these rights. For instance, as the recording rights for specific songs have started to run out, record labels have begun re-releasing music to renew the recording rights (which will last for another 70 years in the UK).


People often get Trademark and Copyright mixed up, however unlike Copyright (which is automatically in place), to trademark something registration is required.

There is no copyright in the name of an artist or band, however artists and bands can register their names for trademark (requesting which sector you are protected, i.e. Oasis – Band, Oasis – drink and Oasis – clothes retailer). Artists who trademark their name in entertainment can license their name to fashion, perfume, beer etc. For artists that reach a certain level of ‘success’, a lot of money can be made from trademark licensing.

Artists and Bands may look to have the following trademarked:

  • Names
  • Logos
  • Slogans

NOTE: Certain words cannot be trademarked, for example: swear words, key religious figures, city names.

Part 2 covers how to make money from live performances and from an engaged fanbase.