The vocabulary of the music industry is riddled with technical and business jargon, which can be confusing for those new to the industry.
But if you’re hoping to be taken seriously as a musician, and make a business out of your music, you’ll need at least a basic understanding of the professional terminology.
This glossary will familiarise you with some of the most common music jargon that every performer should know.
A&R (Artist and Repertoire)
A&R (AKA Artist and Repertoire) is the department within a record company whose responsibility is to uncover and develop fresh talent. The A&R team invite new artists to join the label, and act as a point of contact for those already signed.
Once they’ve been signed, artists often receive a sum of money from the label known as an ‘advance’. The label then recoups this money by collecting the royalties generated by their artists — the artists themselves won’t receive any profits from their work until the advance is paid off.
Major record labels offer much larger advances than independent (indie) record labels, but the bigger the advance, the longer the musician has to wait before they receive their cut of the royalties.
Big Three Labels (Major Record Labels)
Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group make up what is known as the ‘Big Three’ major record labels. These are multinational companies who account for approximately eighty percent of the music market and represent almost all big-name musicians.
Most mainstream record labels are just secondary companies operating under the corporate umbrella of the ‘Big Three’, simply using a different name and branding.
Blanket licences are offered by performing rights organisations and allow the licencee to use any song from their music catalogues, in exchange for an annual fee.
Blanket licences are most commonly purchased by frequent music users, such as radio stations or shopping-centres who play background music, because it’s less time consuming than acquiring the licence for every song they wish to use individually.
Copyright is a legal right by which creators claim ownership of their original material, so that others cannot steal, or fraudulently profit from their lyrics or music.
Cover (Cover Song)
A cover (AKA cover song) is a version of a song performed by an artist other than the original.
A demo is a basic recording designed to showcase the quality and style of a musician’s work.
Demos are often sent to A&R representatives, booking agents or management companies who might be interested in working with the artist.
Digital distribution is the process by which music is sold and listened to online through streaming services or digital-download platforms, like Spotify and iTunes.
A door-split deal is financial arrangement between a venue and the performer, in which the musician doesn’t get paid a fixed fee to perform, but receives a percentage of the profit generated from ticket sales.
Door-split deals are commonly offered to less-experienced, independent artists, whereas established acts will receive a pre-negotiated performance fee.
EP (Extended Play)
An EP is a collection of three to five songs which is too short to be classified as a full studio album, but is longer than a single.
‘Getting signed’ is the process in which an artist makes a contract with a record company — this agreement is known as a record deal.
Once an artist has signed, the record label will support them by financing and undertaking the production, distribution and marketing of their music, in return for ownership and the right to profit from the finished product.
Indie (Independent) Label
‘Indies’ (AKA independent labels or independent record labels) are record labels that do not receive funding from, and are not affiliated to, any of the major record labels. They work on a more local scale, with far smaller budgets, than the multinational, major corporations.
Most artists begin their careers by getting signed to independent labels.
Manager (Music Manager/Artist Manager)
Music managers organise the careers of the musicians they represent. It’s their job to co-ordinate with promoters, venues, publicity agents, and record companies to make bookings and deals on behalf of the artist, and then ensure that these projects run smoothly.
The main function of a music manager is to progress the careers of their clients by finding artists opportunities for work and publicity.
Mastering is the final stage of editing a record, which ensures that the quality is consistent with industry standards. Mastering might involve several processes, such as reordering the songs, altering the volume of particular elements or adding fade ins and fade outs.
The finished product is known as the ‘master’, which is ready for radio-play and commercial distribution.
A mechanical licence is required every time a copy of a song is made either physically (CDs) or digitally. The mechanical licences are usually controlled by the music publisher or songwriter.
If an artist who does not write their own songs wishes to record a cover version, they will need to obtain the mechanical licence first, and these royalties go to the songwriter.
However, a mechanical licence does not give permission to use the song in a video — that requires a synchronization licence
Merchandise or merch refers to products — commonly t-shirts, hoodies and posters — featuring the musician’s branded artwork, which are often sold at gigs, or via the artist’s website.
Merch not only provides musicians with extra income, but distributing branded merchandise is also a promotional tactic to raise awareness of an act.
Music libraries are organisations which acquire the rights to large catalogues of music, and then sell the synchronisation licences to production companies who want to use the songs in their own projects.
A “One Sheet” is a single document that provides an informative summary of a release — specially details that are relevant to the labels and music distributors, who are responsible for selling the product.
It might contain information about the artist’s career so far, the style of music, release date, price, and anything else that could be used to help drive sales.
Performing Rights Licence
A Performing Rights Licence much be acquired in order for copyright music to be broadcast in public premises, including clubs, conventions, shops and restaurants.
Any establishment that wishes to play background music for their customers must first acquire a Performing Rights Licence (unless they are the creators of the music).
Many professional musicians are members of a PRO (Performing Rights Organisation). This enables them to track performances of their songs, collect the accumulated royalties, and transfer them to the appropriate party.
Promotion is the process by which an artist, or their representatives, raise public awareness of their work, in order to increase the sales of their music.
PRS (Performing Right Society)
PRS for Music is an organisation that acts on behalf of musicians or publishers to licence songs and issue performing rights licences.
It is also the responsibility of PRS to collect and redistribute the royalty earnings generated by copyright music as it is broadcast on radio, TV, cinema, advertising, internet-streaming platforms, or performed.
Publishing companies deal with the copyright associated with distributing music. They are responsible for ensuring that songwriters and composers receive proper payment when their compositions are used commercially.
Publishers manage the licences for their clients work, and collect the royalties generated from distributing these licences. Royalties are then passed on to the songwriter or composer — after the publishing company have deducted an administration fee.
A record deal is an agreement between a musician and their record label, which gives the record company the right to sell and distribute music produced by their signed artists.
In return, the artist will normally receive an advance to help produce their album, and then a percentage of the profit their music generates through royalties.
Record labels are organisations which make deals with musicians allowing the record label to sell the artist’s music, licences for their songs, merchandise and other related products.
In return, artists receive career support from the record label in the form of expert management, and financial backing to produce, market and distribute their work.
There are two types of record label: major and independent — the “Big Three” major labels dominate the majority of the market.
Royalties are the fees paid to the copyright owner of a song before it can be used by a third party are known as royalties.
A session is a recording period at a recording studio.
Session Musician/Session Singer
Session musicians or session singers are hired to provide backing vocals or music to the main act, but are not a part of the permanent ensemble, and do not typically receive any percentage of the profits generated by the finished recording.
A synchronisation (sync) licence is a licence granted by the copyright owner of a piece of music, in order for it to be placed in different types of media, such as cinema, television or advertising.
For example, production companies must purchase the ‘synchronisation licence’ of a song before they can legally place it in their film.
Windowing is a sales technique designed to increase the profits made on an album or single’s initial release.
Windowing, in the music industry, refers to new music being released exclusively on a particular channel: radio, digital download or physical record, before it’s made available across all platforms.
The most common type of windowing is when a new release is show-cased on radio, and sold as a physical product (CDs) before being made available for digital download.
This is because selling physical copies generates more profit than digital downloads, but customers are more likely to opt for the cheap convenience of a download.
Therefore, windowing seeks to maximise sales of CDs, and thus increase profits by staggering the availability of new material online.
In response to the decline in profits from record sales, labels now usually insist on a ‘360 Deal’, in which they receive a percentage of all the artist’s streams of income: merchandising, publishing, touring. Whereas, in the past the label took a cut from the profits from record sales only.