Master Royalties vs Publishing Royalties

There has been a massive decline in the sales of records over the years due to the massive increase in music streaming. Regardless, songwriters, artists, producers, and as many as hold ownership to a song or songs can still maximize earnings. A perfect way to maximize your earnings from your music today is by taking advantage of Royalties. As basic as it is, many are losing so much money they ought to claim regularly due to ignorance on the subject of royalties. In this article, we will discuss in details master royalties vs publishing royalties.

Royalties are payments that go to copyright holders for the right to use their intellectual property. Meaning, you are the sole owner of the music or part of the music, and you can license the use of your music at a price. In this case, the copyright holder can be the artist, record label, songwriter, or the publisher as many as own copyright to different parts of the original music. Either experienced or new to the music business, you need to know about music royalties

Different entities can own every part of the music. As a songwriter, you should own a copyright to your lyrics while your record label can own the master recording copyright. This is what you leverage to claim royalties. In classifying royalties based on rights, there are two major categories. You can either own a master right to a song or a publishing right. Based on these rights, you can either earn master royalties or publishing royalties. 

With a lack of proper information, It is easy to mix these two up. Hence this article will help you distinguish between these two major classifications of royalties; Master Royalties and Publishing Royalties.

  • Master Royalties 
  • Publishing Royalties
  • Comparing Master Royalties vs Publishing Royalties

What are Master Royalties? 

Master rights are the rights you get when you turn a composition into a sound recording. These parties often own it; recording artists, record labels, and other parties, especially those that financed the recording. They are responsible for ‘music making’ or ‘recording’. It is as a result of a master right on a song that anyone can claim master royalties.

Master Royalties are only obtainable because of master rights. The master right gives you a legitimate claim to a master recording. A master recording is an original sound or song used for reproduction and distribution. To simplify, because you own a right to a master recording of a composition, you will get pay before anyone can publicly use the recording. 

Master Royalties are also called Master-Generated Royalties or Recording Royalties. You earn master royalties by owning the copyright to an expression of a composition. There are diverse ways to earn master royalties. Generally, they are earnings from music, download, streaming, and physical purchase of a master recording. In other words, the streaming platforms and music stores pay a form of compensation (royalty) to record artists and record labels on the sales and stream of copyrighted records of songs.

As a recording artist, producer, or studio manager, you can take optimum advantage of Master royalties. For instance, Record labels as recording owners earn royalties from the use of music in movies. You can refer to such royalties as synchronization royalties because of the need for both master licenses and sync licenses. They also earn from Mechanical and Performance royalties. However, a recording artist does not have to share ownership and royalties with the music producer once you have paid him for his music production service unless there is an agreement between the two parties that states otherwise.

Publishing Royalties

You earn this by owning the copyright to the actual music composition. Two parties often own this right; the songwriter and the publisher. However, there can be many contributors to the composition, in which case they will all share ownership of the composition. The songwriter’s right includes the right to; notes, melodies, chords, rhythms, lyrics, and any other elements of the original music. As a result of this, a song can have different contributors to the lyrics formation, chord composition, rhythm, and so on, all of whom can claim composer rights.

How Publishing Royalties Work

Music composition or songwriting is often the first stage in music production, and as a result, the first claim of ownership to any song is from the songwriter(s). As a result of possible complexities in claiming royalties, songwriters often employ the service of Publishers, and this brings publishers to the table as far as publishing royalties are concerned. The publisher represents the songwriter and every element of the composition.

With the involvement of Publishing companies or publishers, the license right to the song is shared. The publisher will also have an agreed degree of ownership of the music. Therefore, royalties earnings are often 50/50 with the publishing company or the publisher. For clarity, a publishing company is responsible for issuing a license for using any music they represent and ensuring copyright holders receive payment for using their music. The payment (royalty) is then split between the publisher and the songwriter they represent.

As a performing artist, you can only earn publishing royalties if you are also a songwriter. As a songwriter, you stand to earn a lot from royalties. For instance, even record labels get to pay mechanical royalties to songwriters every time they make CDs of their music. 

To claim publishing royalties as a songwriter, you can join a PRO (performance rights organization) like ASCAP as just a songwriter to claim public performance royalties. However, in this case, you will share the royalties shared equally with the publisher. Nevertheless, a songwriter can register as both a songwriter and a publisher, in which case he earns 100%  of the royalties. Being your publisher as a songwriter, moreover, can be very cumbersome. To avoid complexities, it is advisable to join as a songwriter and employ the service of a publisher.

Master Royalties Vs.Publishing Royalties

The distinction between master royalties and publishing royalties is crystal from what they mean, who earns them, and how you earn them. However, with an understanding of what they both imply, we can further place them side by side to make a more precise comparison and learn the difference.

What They Mean

The first thing to note is that they are both royalties. This may not seem important, but it is. The two basic groups here are the; songwriter/publisher group and the recording artist/record label/producer group. As those with master rights earn royalties, those with publishing rights earn. Every music record involves all the parties; hence, whichever category you stand, you can earn royalties as others earn. The juicy part is you can belong to more than one and earn as two entities. However, in assessing the differences between master royalties and publishing royalties, we must also mention the similarities.

Who Earns them

Furthermore, there are four significant forms of royalties that you can earn from a song. They include; mechanical royalty, public performance royalty, sync royalty, and print music royalty. With master rights on a song, you can earn each of these royalties as well as with publishing rights. The distinction here is, print music royalty is often exclusive to publishing rights and, as a result, excludes recording artists and recording studios and labels. Print music royalties are not very common as they are earned from copyrighted music transcribed to print music (sheet music) for distribution. Usually, only the songwriter earns this as it does not involve any form of recording.

How You Can Earn Them

Master royalties are earnings received due to owning a master right on the recording of an original song. It relates to the recording and production process of the song and can only be earned by parties involved in this process. Publishing Royalties, on the other hand, are earnings made as a result of owning a publisher’s right to a song. Publisher rights are often owned by the party involved in the composition of the song and the party representing the composer(s). To this extent, a particular kind of right to a song earns you a specific kind of royalty. In other words, either one is defined by the right the beneficiary holds to the song. 

Also, master royalties differ from publishing royalties based on beneficiaries. The parties that can earn master royalties are; Recording studios, Recording artists, Record labels, and producers. From music stores and or music streaming platforms, the order is the music distributor gives recording royalties to the artist’s record label, who then distributes royalties to the recording artist. However, An artist who does not belong to a record label gets recording royalties directly from the distributor. In the case of publishing royalties, the parties involved are often the songwriter and the publisher. The order is, the publisher gets the publishing royalties and then distributes half to the songwriter. 

Their Dependency on Each Other

In addition, master royalties and publishing royalties are both Interdependent and independent. Every song recording is made according to composition, and every composition needs the input of parties responsible for song recording. As a result, every song that attracts master royalties also attracts publishing royalties and vice versa. Moreover, you earn them independently. Every party with a copyright on a song from composition to recording can earn royalties as applied to them. However, it appears publishing royalties are more constant no matter the case as Every song exists as a result of songwriting. Still, not all written songs are recorded, yet they can be copyrighted and attract publishing royalties.


the right you have to a song determines the kind of royalties you stand to attract. It is not ideal for a publisher to seek to earn master royalties unless he is also the music producer. Neither is it ideal for a record label manager to claim publisher royalties unless he owns part of the lyrics. Understanding the two helps avoid errors and mix-ups and helps you know your rights to either of the royalties and your limits to them. To this extent, this article compared and contrasted master royalties vs publishing royalties. Moreover, bear in mind that you can earn both master and publishing royalties if you own the rights.