Introducing Audio AI
Auto-tagging and similarity-based searches at your fingertips. Learn more
Owning Your Master Recording: All You Need to Know

Owning Your Master Recording: All You Need to Know

Masters in music and sound recordings are essential elements of the music industry. Owning your master recording is an important part of the music business, as it gives you the right to control how your music is used and distributed.

This blog post will explain all the key aspects of owning your master recording, from the legal considerations to the different types of licenses available. We will also discuss the benefits of owning your master recording and guide how to make the most of it.

What Is a Master Recording?

A master recording is an original version of a song or piece of music. It is typically created in a recording studio, with all of the instruments and vocals combined into one master mix. This master mix serves as the definitive version of the song, which is then used to create all subsequent copies, mixes, and reproductions of that content. A master recording is protected by music copyright law, which grants exclusive rights to the artist or label that owns it.

When it comes to the music industry, owning a master recording can be incredibly beneficial. Not only does it give an artist or label exclusive rights to their music, but it also allows them to make money from their recordings without having to go through a record label. It also allows them to control how their music is used in advertising, film, and other types of media.

To own a master recording, artists must obtain a master use license agreement from the artist or label that owns it. This type of agreement grants the artist or label exclusive rights to use the master recording for specific purposes, such as creating copies for distribution, releasing it as part of an album, or for use in live performances. As part of the agreement, the artist or label must also provide proper credits and payments to the creator of the original recording, such as paying mechanical royalties.

At its core, owning a master recording gives an artist or label the freedom to control how their music is used and how they can benefit from it financially. It also offers peace of mind that the music will remain theirs and not be used without their consent. For these reasons, many artists like Kanye West are advocating and choosing to take ownership of their master recordings.

What Is a Master Use License Agreement?

A master use license agreement, or master rights, is an important legal document in the music industry. It outlines the conditions under which an artist or record label can use a master recording – that is, the finished product of a song or album. This type of agreement is usually between a record label and an artist or producer who owns the master recordings of the music. It defines how the rights to the music can be used, such as sample licensing, synchronization rights, and other uses.

The agreement sets out terms such as the length of time it can be used, payment arrangements, and other important details regarding the usage of the music copyright. It also outlines who owns the master use license and how royalties are paid to the artist or producers when their recordings are used by third parties.

The master use license agreement is essential to ensure that all parties involved in the production of a song or album are fully protected from any potential legal issues that may arise from its usage. It is also an important tool for protecting the interests of both artists and record labels in the music industry, allowing for more efficient management of the copyrights associated with their recordings.

Take note not to confuse this with publishing rights.

The Difference Between Publishing and Master Rights

Publishing rights refer to the rights associated with a composition or the underlying song itself. This includes the melody, lyrics, and musical arrangement. In contrast, master rights refer to the rights associated with a recording of that composition, such as sound recording, production, and audio engineering. When you create a song, you automatically own both the publishing and master rights unless you choose to assign those rights to someone else.

In the music industry, record labels commonly secure master use licenses from artists so that they can use the artist's master recordings for different purposes. This includes licensing to radio stations, TV shows, films, streaming services, and more. With a master use license, record labels are allowed to monetize their artists' master recordings while paying the artists royalties when their works are used commercially.

On the other hand, publishing rights are usually not subject to a master use license; instead, they are often acquired through a publishing agreement. And while both publishing and master rights can generate print, mechanical, performance, and sync royalties, the amounts and distribution of those royalties can differ depending on the specific use and ownership of the song or recording.

Types of Master Use License Agreements

The type of master use license agreement you need depends on the purpose and scope of your project. In general, there are three types of master use license agreements: exclusive, non-exclusive, and compulsory.

Exclusive Master Use License Agreement

An exclusive master use license agreement is one in which an artist grants exclusive rights to a licensee, such as a record label, to use the master recording in their projects. Under an exclusive agreement, the licensee has the right to use the master recording for a specified period of time, and no other person or entity has access to it.

Non-Exclusive Master Use License Agreement

A non-exclusive master use license agreement is one in which an artist grants rights to a licensee, such as a radio station or online streaming service, to use the master recording for a specified period of time. The artist retains all rights to the master recording but may grant additional licenses to other parties.

Compulsory Master Use License Agreement

This agreement is one in which an artist is required by law to grant rights to a licensee, such as a radio station or streaming service, to use the master recording without any compensation. This type of agreement is often used when there is no existing agreement between an artist and the licensee. It is important to note that this type of agreement does not provide any form of copyright protection for the master recording.

When deciding which type of master use license agreement is right for your project, it is important to consider the scope of your project and how long you want to keep the license active. Knowing the details of each type of agreement and understanding the music copyright laws that govern them will help you make the best decision for your project.

Elements You Should Include in Your Master Use License Agreement

When it comes to owning your master recordings, the most important document you need is a master use license agreement. It typically includes the following elements: 

1. Music Copyright: The copyright to your master recording should be outlined in the agreement. This ensures that your music is protected and you maintain all legal rights to it.

2. Distribution Rights: It's essential that you outline who has the right to distribute your music. This could include both physical and digital copies of your recordings, such as streaming and downloads.

3. Licensing Rights: The licensing rights should also be outlined in the agreement. This determines who has the right to license your master recording for commercial purposes, such as television commercials, movie soundtracks, and video game soundtracks.

4. Credit & Royalties: The agreement should also include a section on credits and royalties. This ensures that you will get proper credit for your work and that you are paid any royalties due for the use of your recording, whether monthly, quarterly, or yearly.

5. Duration: You should also specify the length of time that the agreement is valid for. This ensures that the agreement doesn't go on indefinitely without your input or consent.

6. Termination: It's also important to specify how the agreement can be terminated and what happens if either party wishes to terminate it.

7. Signatures: Finally, both parties should sign and date the agreement for it to be legally binding. 

By including all of these elements in your master use license agreement, you can be sure that you are protecting your music copyright and getting fair compensation for its use. In this crucial step, ensure you add specific provisions that work logically with each other.

How Do You Get Started?

If you want to own your master recordings and take advantage of the potential income streams, the first step is understanding the legal issues in the music industry. This means understanding music copyright and the basics of a master use license agreement. You can then start researching different record labels, music publishers, and other music industry professionals who can help you with the process.

Suppose you don't have the experience or resources to manage the process yourself. In that case, you may want to consider hiring an attorney or an agent with experience in the music industry to handle things for you. Doing your homework; clearly understanding what's required is key to successfully owning your master recordings and collecting royalties.

Once you have everything in place, remember you still need to follow up on your royalty collection now that you're your own master. You'll need systems in place for a seamless experience. This is where we come in. Our Catalog Management, Royalty Accounting, and other systems will come in handy in your journey. Contact us for consultations.

Continue reading


Get great original music business articles every week.

Get Reprtoir news and in-depth articles on the music industry. No more than one per week. No spam.
No spam!
Reprtoir is committed to music businesses' digital transition.
We offer a 14-day free trial period (no credit card required). Become a customer to benefit from our data migration services and expert advice.
Reprtoir is committed to music businesses' digital transition.