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Know your music rights

Music (also includes stems, risers, hits and sound design in many cases) contains two copyrights: the sound recording and the composition itself (music and lyrics). Both of these aspects earn royalties across different rights segments. Here’s a summary of the most commonly exploited right types.

Mechanical Rights

Reproducing a song in a sound recording, digital or physical formats; this also includes different types of internet streaming.

  • Mechanical Royalties: Paid to the composition copyright holder for any recorded versions of the song. These are payable from the first copy sold. The current U.S. statutory rate per copy distributed is 9.1¢ for songs under five minutes long, 1.75¢ per minute or fraction thereof for songs five minutes or longer. Other territories outside the U.S. pay mechanical royalties in varying ways, for instance, on a percentage basis.

  • Master Royalties/Artist Royalties: Paid to the recording copyright holder, after recouping any recording expenses. Rates for parties involved vary depending on the recording contract in question, between an artist and label, composer and studio, etc.

Synchronization Rights

Combining or "syncing" a composition with visual images, as in film, video games, TV, or advertising.

  • Sync Royalties: Payable on both the composition and recording side, though there is no standard rate. Control of and rates for sync rights are often part of the main contract between composers and the production company or studio.

  • Microsync Royalties: Apply on video sharing platforms like YouTube. This can be a bit of a logistical minefield for music in media, especially video games. Content ID and similar services are primarily open to larger publishers or catalogs only for this reason.

Performance Rights

The right to publicly perform a song, including radio, TV, certain internet streaming, live performances, and background music played at various venues.

  • Performance Royalties: Due to the composition copyright holder. These are split into two halves: the writer’s share and the publisher’s share. While most other royalties are paid out to a publisher (who then pays out your portion), the writer’s share of performance royalties goes directly to the writer(s).

‍Neighboring Rights

Public performance rights on the recording side. The U.S. does not recognize neighboring rights for terrestrial radio or public venues but does for internet radio streaming on sites like Pandora or Sirius XM.

  • Neighboring Rights Royalties: Paid out to both performing artists and recording owners (usually a record label), similar to the writer/publisher split on the composition side.


A good resource is to check with your PRO (Performance Rights Organization) for updated information on rights, sync and more.

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