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Music Industry Terms — Your Artist Glossary

  • 26 July 2021, Monday
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Music glossary iMusician

The music industry can be complicated. Trying to navigate your way through conversations with booking agents, publishing companies, record labels, and radio station representatives can be tricky, especially when they’re using industry terms you don’t fully understand. Some of these terms overlap and sound very similar (just wait until you find out about copyright), which can be confusing. When you’re discussing deals or signing contracts, it’s important to understand everything you’re agreeing to. To make sure everyone is on the same page, we’ve pulled together a glossary of essential music industry terms every independent artist or musician should know.

Music aggregators help artists and labels distribute their music digitally and globally by collecting, processing, and delivering all the essential information needed by digital streaming and download platforms: sound files, artwork, metadata, and more. Aggregators also collect royalties from streams and downloads and pay them to the relevant copyright holders.

An album is a collection of tracks issued together on CD, vinyl, cassette, or as a release via a streaming site. Apple Music classifies an album as any release of more than seven tracks, or a release that is over 30-minutes long. This definition can differ depending on which platform you are referring to.

Rather than writing music themselves, a music arranger takes a piece of music and arranges it based on the needs of the performers, producer, conductor, or composer.

An Artist ID is a unique identifier for an artist's page on the different major music platforms (unfortunately, each service has its own Artist ID). Here’s how to find an Artist ID on Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer.


If you access Spotify via your browser, you will find your Artist ID via your artist page URL. You will see an alphanumeric code after the part of the URL — this is your artist ID. If you’re using the app, copy the artist URI — by clicking the three dots next to the artist name — and the code that follows spotify:artist: is the artist ID.

Apple Music

Apple Music works in a similar way. Via the web browser, the Artist ID is found after the artist name, at the end of the URL. Within the app, you just have to copy the artist link. This will generate the same URL found in the web browser. The Artist ID is the alphanumerical characters found in the link.


Copy the URL taken from the artist page and you’ll see the artist ID hidden inside. Simply delete the question mark (?) and everything after it. You will then be left with a shorter URL. The numerical code that follows artist/ is the artist ID.

Often referred to as A&R, Artists and Repertoire is the team within a label that is responsible for scouting talent and helping to develop the artists. They act as the liaison that communicates between the artists and the record label or publisher they work for.

If you’re an iMusician member and you need advice or help with any of our services, our ArLaR team will be on hand to help. They offer expert customer support for independent artists and labels in six languages. Any questions? Get in touch.

Artwork is a visual representation of your music that must be included with every release. Traditionally, artwork was designed to attract fans when buying records, cassettes, and CDs. Nowadays, it’s a small image shown on streaming platforms and digital stores. Everything you need to know about album artwork can be found via our resources.

A barcode is a unique code given to a release like a single, EP, or album. Barcodes are not added to individual tracks.

If you’ve ever bought a CD or vinyl and gone looking for the lyrics, contributing musicians, or artist notes, you’re likely to find it all in the booklet. It comes as part of the physical release. Digital releases often include a digital equivalent, usually available as a PDF.

MP3s and WAVs are digital information. That information can be dense or sparse, high-quality or low-quality. WAVs can store more information than MP3s. Bit rate is the term used to describe how much data is being transferred into the audio. The higher bit rate generally means it’s going to have better audio quality. You could have an amazing-sounding recording, but if you played it at a low bit rate, it would still sound bad. Streaming platforms require a certain bit rate for submitted tracks.

When a collection of songs or compositions is cataloged, it is compiled into a music catalog. Artists can sell their music catalogs if they want. The owner is whoever owns the copyrights to the cataloged tracks. A catalog number is an ID number given to a music release by a record label. Labels often add their own identifier to catalog numbers to make them unique. If iMusician released an album, we could give it the catalog number IMD-OO1-LP. Catalog numbers are defined by the label, there are no rules that govern what a catalog number should consist of.

A composer creates music without lyrics. Anyone who contributes to the writing of music or a melody of a song is considered a composer.

Digital music platforms usually ask for the performer, featured artists, and remixer credentials when submitting music, but is also mandatory to include the names of any composers and lyricists that are involved in the music you create. Naming every single contributor — producers, musicians, mastering engineers — isn’t always necessary, but some digital music providers now ask for these details so that the appropriate people can get credit and proper attribution for their work. Remember: always use the legal name of any contributors so that they can collect their share of the royalties from collection societies.

A cover song is a remake of a track. The performance or recording recreates a song written by another artist or band. If the lyrics, melody, and basic arrangement of the song are not changed, this is considered to be a cover version. If any of these elements are edited, cut, or modified, the track will be categorized as either a remix or edit.

A cue sheet keeps track of all the music used in a TV program or film. It breaks down the finer details such as the title, composer, publisher, running time, how the music was used, and much more. If a track is featured and comprises many composers/writers, all the relevant parties should also be listed on the cue so that payments are correctly paid out.

A music curator is similar to a DJ in some ways. Music curators need a passion and knowledge for music that covers a range of styles and genres. Curators understand how to set a tone or vibe with music. Curators put together playlists and select tracks for brands, advertisements, and retail spaces. It’s not just about understanding music, it’s all about creating an experience or atmosphere.

Digital distribution is the delivery of any digital content. This could be anything from audio, to video games, or images to software. In the music industry, the majority of digital distribution is submitting music to streaming platforms and digital stores. iMusician is a digital music distributor, but we also offer a range of other services, too. From online mastering, music promo tools, YouTube monetization, and more.

This is the date you set for your content to be released to the world. If you’re releasing a new single, we recommend scheduling your release at least 4 weeks in advance. This will give you time to put together a solid promotional plan to help maximize your track’s exposure. You can find out more about putting together a promotion plan here.

An EP is a music release that is somewhere between a single and an album. EP stands for extended play. Streaming platforms have different EP classifications. Spotify, for example, will label your release an EP if it is under 30-minutes long and has between 4-6 tracks.

There are two barcodes you need to know about when releasing music: the European Article Number (EAN) and the Universal Product Code (UPC). You can easily tell each apart as a UPC is made up of 12 digits, whilst an EAN contains 13. The UPC is used only in the US and Canada, while the EAN is used everywhere else globally. Both codes are used to uniquely identify products globally.

This is a term to describe when someone has bought the rights to a composition or song from the copyright holder. Let’s say you’re a hip hop producer and you sell beats online. If you give an artist exclusive rights to one of your beats, the artist now owns that beat. You will no longer have any rights to any royalty revenue.

If your music content or lyrics contain explicit or discriminatory language, references to sex, violence, or physical and mental abuse, your music will be considered to contain explicit content. If you are submitting explicit tracks to iMusician, please make sure to mark the tracks or your entire release as explicit. Some music platforms may hide your release in their stores if the content is not marked accordingly.

If you invite someone to collaborate with you on a song, they are likely to ask for a feature credit. This means their name would accompany yours on the tracklist i.e. SZA feat. Travis Scott. It can also be stylized as ft. or featuring. A feature means that the other artist plays a significant role in either the production or performance of a song.

This is a code that uniquely and permanently identifies a recorded track. It’s a very important aspect of determining the correct rights holders to recordings. Having an international standard means the process can easily identify who owns the rights for recordings when used across different formats, distribution channels, or products. An ISRC will have 12 alphanumeric characters after the four-character prefix ‘ISRC’. The ISRC also collects all stream and download information for a song, including any data and analytics. If a song is released twice — on a single and album, for example — that song needs the same ISRC on both releases to be counted as one track by digital service providers.

The ISWC does a very similar job to the ISRC, but instead of identifying recordings, the ISWC identifies compositions. One composition can be related to several ISRC numbers if there are multiple recordings of that particular song.

This 9-digit number uniquely identifies a songwriter, author, or publisher. IPI numbers are sometimes referred to as CAE (Composer, Author and Publisher) numbers. The CAE database was replaced by the IPI database in 2001. The IPI system is used to identify the right holders across multiple formats: music, literature, art, etc. It also identifies the correct recipient for earnings across performance, reproduction, and broadcasting.

If you write the words to accompany a song, you’re a lyricist. Simple. There can be multiple lyricists on a track.

Mechanical royalties are earned each time a musical composition is reproduced physically or digitally. This could be on a physical format (CD, cassette, or vinyl), or a digital format (stream or download). The name originates from the music industry’s past. If a label wanted to put out music, it had to mechanically reproduce it by printing it onto vinyl.

A medley is a song that uses multiple different songs or parts of songs and plays them all together in a row, one after the other. A medley usually contains three or more tracks.

You know those hoodies, t-shirts, records, tote bags, and posters you sell after your gigs... That’s all merchandise. People sometimes call it “merch”, too.

Metadata is fundamental to digital music. Music metadata is the information that belongs to a song file: artist name, writer, producer, track title, release date, genre, etc. If any of this information is incorrect or missing, it can cause problems when it comes to royalties and compensation. If you want to get credited and paid for your work, you have to come correct with your metadata.

Music monetization is another way for musicians to make money in the digital landscape. Traditionally, musicians made money from physical sales and performance and songwriting royalties. In today’s industry, much has changed. Artists can now make money from social media, film & TV, advertisements, videos, merch, and more. This is all monetization.

Author is often used as an alternative to lyricist, but it can sometimes refer to the composer, arranger, or publisher.

Music clearance needs to be obtained by anyone that wants to use a piece of music within an audio or visual project. There are two main types of rights you will need to obtain in this situation: the songwriter’s rights to the song, and the rights to the recording. A copyright or sync license will take care of the songwriter’s rights; a master license will cover the recording rights. Record companies usually sell master licenses, and music publishing companies often sell licenses for copyright or sync rights.

Music can set the tone for television, films, and video games. A music supervisor helps to bring together that emotional connection. It’s their job to understand what is needed from the music; find the right soundtrack; negotiate with artists and composers to license the music; and then finally, make sure all royalties are distributed fairly.

This is a term that can cause some confusion. Neighboring rights are public performance royalties owed to the sound recording copyright holder. Every song has two basic types of copyrights: one for composition and one for recording. The composition copyright pays money to the publisher and songwriter, while the sound recording copyright pays out to the record label and artist that recorded the song.

Whenever a release was first made available to the public is the original release date. This could refer to either a physical or digital release.

The money you make from your music is known as a payout. You could receive a payout from streaming revenue, YouTube monetization, radio plays, and much more.

Simply put, performing rights allow you to perform music in public. If a song is performed live in a public space, such as a concert or nightclub, it will fall under copyright law and money will be owed to the composer, lyricist, and publisher. Television and radio broadcasts of live performances also fall under this category.

So, you know those performing rights we just mentioned, the Performing Rights Organizations collect all the income owed to the songwriters and music publishers when their song is publicly broadcast. You can call them PRO for short.

If you want to get a message out to the press, you’re going to need a press release. If you’re making a big announcement about a new album, tour, or collaboration, a press release can really help. It’s a simple document that gives the reader everything they need to know about your announcement. Include all the vital info, as well as any important links. Make sure to tell the story behind your announcement, that way, journalists are more likely to write about it.

From a legal standpoint, public domain work is a piece of content where no intellectual property rights exist. These kinds of pieces can be used by the public without any restrictions. In terms of music, this means you could use or recreate a song without any permission from the owner or creator. You also wouldn’t need to compensate them. The rules do vary, but copyright laws usually protect musical composition for around 50-70 years after the author's death.

This term ties in with the press release description above. It’s all about managing the public’s perception of you. Music PR creates a promotional campaign strategy to build hype amongst the public, media, and record labels. The campaign can promote anything you like: new music, tours, or merchandise.

A music publisher or publishing company makes sure that songwriters and composers receive money when their compositions are used commercially. You have to actively seek out a publisher you want to work with — they do not work in the same way as copyright collection societies. Think of your relationship with your publisher as a collaboration. They will collect publishing rights royalties on your behalf and work on other opportunities to generate income from your music: TV & film syncs, ad placements, etc.

You’ve probably seen them all over the place, but what is a QR code, and what can you use them for? QR code stands for quick response code. If you use your phone camera with a QR code, you can be directly linked to website URLs, app downloads, login verification pages, and much more.

A remix takes components from a track and alters them. This could mean changing anything from the tempo, genre, or instrumentation. A remixer (the producer behind the remix) can add, remove, and change any element of the song. Official remixes are given the go-ahead by the copyright owners.

Royalties are payments made to owners of intellectual property, such as music. Royalties often deal with payments for the right to use copyrights, patents, and trademarks. If someone streams your music, you earn royalties from that stream.

Singles are the oldest format in recorded music. Thanks to the growing popularity of streaming and playlists, singles once again dominate the musical landscape. As with EPs, the rules that constitute a single vary on different platforms. If your release is under 30-minutes long and 3 tracks or less, with each track under 10-minutes long, Apple Music will consider it a single.

In case you were wondering, URI stands for Uniform Resource Indicator. A URI is used to quickly launch a resource — in this example, Spotify. If you click a link that has a Spotify URI included, you'll be taken straight to the Spotify app without having to go to the web page first. Very handy indeed.

A songwriter is someone who helps to create a song that has a melody and lyrics. If you want to know how a songwriter differs from a composer, find out earlier in this guide.

The most popular way to listen to music in the modern world is streaming. In technical terms, streaming works by sending digital information from a server to a music player. The information in this context is a song. Music streaming’s success is based on the ability to stream a whole world of music from one device instantly.

Sync or synchronization is a process where songs are licensed to be used alongside visuals. For example — films, adverts, TV series, trailers, or video games. Sync deals are usually arranged between the client and the music publisher. Music supervisors are most likely to be involved as well.

If you find your music being used online without your permission, you can ask for it to be taken down by issuing a takedown request. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), copyright holders can demand the removal of any content that is posted without their permission.

This is revenue generated from your music being used on YouTube. It doesn’t matter who uploads the video containing your music, you’ll still make money. To make sure you receive the money you deserve, you’re going to need a YouTube Content ID. This is an essential part to monetizing your music on YouTube. YouTube monetization can be a great earner for artists and bands. iMusician can help you setup YouTube Content IDs and get your music monetized on YouTube easily — take a look.

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