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Singing (Copyrights) in the Shower

Piers Henwood
1 min read

When you’re singing in the shower, did you know you’re illustrating a key principle of copyright in music?

An artist can invent a melody in her head and have it travel to millions of brains around the world. But how does copyright work, allowing music to earn money?  

There are TWO separate copyrights in music:

Master rights pertain to a specific sound recording.
Publishing rights pertain to the “song” or composition, separate from any recording. In its most basic form a melody and lyric.

Why is there a difference?

This might take a moment to get used to – a specific recording of a song and the “song” are not the same thing. This principle will be easily illustrated by singing in the shower.

Picture yourself listening to the original recording of “Dancing in the Dark” on the Bruce Springsteen album Born in the USA. You're listening to a specific sound recording that was released in 1984 by his record label, Columbia Records.

Now picture singing “Dancing in the Dark” in the shower. You're singing the “song” but you’re not singing the recording made in 1984. That would be impossible. You're singing a concept Springsteen wrote in his head, which can exist in the ether separate from any recording.

So by definition there are two separate copyrights in music. When singing in the shower you’re “using” the Publishing copyright (the song) in isolation. When streaming the famous original recording, you’re using the Master copyright and the Publishing copyright together.

Self-funded artists and/or record labels typically control the Master copyright. Songwriters and/or music publishers typically control the Publishing copyright. If you’re a self-funded indie artist who both writes and records your own music, you control both copyrights.

The Master copyright is monetized when recordings are sold, streamed, or licensed for sync (cases where music is used in film, TV, or advertising).

The Publishing copyright is monetized in the same instances, as well as when a song is broadcast publicly (such as on the radio).

There are other nuances but those are the key foundations. If you’re a musician who doesn’t understand copyright in music, you’re like a small business owner who doesn’t understand your revenue. You don't need to be an expert, but you should understand the basics.

PS - Yes I love singing in the shower. Is there anything better?!