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Frequently Used Terms In The Music Business
Songwriting & Music Business Basics

ADVANCE – money paid [loaned] by a publisher to a writer [usually under contract] in anticipation of that songwriter’s song(s) earning future royalties; the songwriter is only required to pay back the advance from songwriting royalties.  Advances are recoupable from future earnings.

A & R [Artists & Repertory] – the department in a record company that selects and deals with new artists, songs, and records.

CATALOG – most commonly refers to the collection of songs owned by a publisher and/or songwriter.

COPYRIGHT – the exclusive right [granted by law for a limited period, until 70 years after the death of the last surviving author of the work] to make, dispose of, and otherwise control copies of literary, musical, dramatic, pictorial and other copyrightable works; these exclusive rights or “bundle of rights” are set forth in the 1976 Copyright Law, Section 106.

COPYRIGHT DEPOSIT REGISTRATION – to register a musical work under the 1976 Copyright Act:

  1. Send a request for an application to the Copyright Office, Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington, D.C. 20559-6000 or download the application from the Copyright Office at http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/forms. To order an application by telephone call (202) 707-9100.
  2. When an application is completed, send it back to the Copyright Office with:
    1. one copy of a manuscript, lead sheet, or tape if unpublished, or
    2. two copies of a manuscript (sheet music) or tape if published, and
    3. the appropriate registration fee, by money order, bank draft or check, made payable to Register of Copyrights.


CUE SHEET – a listing of the music used in a television program or motion picture by title, composer, publisher, timing and type of usage [e.g., background, feature, theme] usually prepared by the producer, or music supervisor of the program or film.

DIY (Do it Yourself) – in today’s independent marketplace, many songwriters and artists manage either all or certain aspects of their careers. 

HOOK – the “catchy” part of a song that makes people want to hear/sing it repeatedly; the hook can be lyrical or musical, is almost always the title of the song, and is usually repeated frequently throughout.

LEAD SHEET – a reproduction on paper of a newly written song. 

MECHANICAL ROYALTIES –  fees paid by a record company to the copyright owners for the right to manufacture and distribute CDs, records, tapes, and certain digital configurations containing a particular song. The current statutory rate is 9.1 cents per song, per unit manufactured and sold up to 5 minutes in duration.  Add 1.75 cents per min for songs over 5 minutes in length.  However, the rate is often negotiated to a “reduced rate” of the statutory mechanical rate.

ON HOLD – when an artist or producer decides to keep a song for consideration on a recording project and asks that the song not be actively pitched elsewhere, they ask to put it “on hold.”

PERFORMING RIGHTS ORGANIZATION (PRO) – SESAC, ASCAP and BMI are the three U.S. PROs that pay royalties to songwriters and music publishers based on performances of their songs through broadcasts and public performances.   A songwriter may affiliate with only one PRO.  There are more than 200 PROs throughout the world.

PITCH – to try to interest someone, such as an artist or producer, in a song or artist.

PRODUCER – the person who supervises the creation of an artist’s album project, usually through selecting songs, instruments, and musicians, as well as mixing and producing a high-quality, broadcast-ready product. They work for the artist and the label at the same time.

PUBLISHER – the person who works with songwriters.  By written contract, the publisher acquires songs or a catalog of songs with the most commercial potential (in their opinion) and works to get those songs recorded and used as often as possible, resulting in exposure to the public, thereby, generating income (royalties). Music publishers “pitch” songs to labels, music supervisors and other music users, then license the right to use the song and collect fees for the use.  The fees are split with the songwriter. 

RECOUPABLE – typically, when recording artists sign a recording contract or record a song (or album), the record company pays them an advance that must be paid back out of their royalties. This is a recoupable expense and is called recoupment.  Recoupable expenses usually include recording costs, promotional and marketing costs, tour costs, music video production costs, as well as other expenses.

ROYALTIES – income paid to songwriters, publishers, and others for the use of a song.  Royalties result mainly from two sources: performances [monies paid by a PRO based on the number of times a song receives a performance] and mechanicals [monies paid by a record company based on record sales].

SELF-PUBLISHED – many songwriters set up their own publishing company and act as the publisher to their works.

STAFF WRITER – a songwriter who is under contract to a publisher to write songs exclusively for that publisher.  You are a hired staff member.