Understanding Music Publishing: Key Terms Explained

Discover the essential terminology in music publishing with this comprehensive glossary from Horus Music. Key concepts include royalties, intellectual property, the functions of collection societies, and more…

from Horus Music

People often see the world of music publishing as a difficult area to navigate within the music industry. Following the launch of our new service Horus Music Publishing, we want to make understanding music publishing simple. Having a solid foundation of the fundamentals of music publishing can really make a difference to you as an artist, songwriter or label. To help with your music publishing knowledge, we’ve created a glossary of key terms. Music publishers and the wider music industry regularly use these common words. Take a look at our simple and accessible glossary to help cement your publishing knowledge and kick-start your music publishing education.


This is a broad term that refers to all the administrative work involved in publishing compositions or composition catalogues. This includes registering compositions with collecting societies, collecting and paying out royalties, negotiating licenses, registering copyrights and any other processes pertaining to publishing the work.


If a publisher is only taking care of registering your songs with various collection societies, they will commonly be known as your Administrator.

If you sign up to Horus Music Publishing, we will become your administrator. We will take care of administering your compositions/catalogue and ensure you get paid properly. Our job is to make it easy for you to collect your composition royalties; you just need to focus on making music.


Your affiliation refers to your membership with a publishing organisation or society. Once you’re affiliated, the organisation is responsible for looking after several key areas for your works. This can include licensing, tracking and paying royalties.


An arrangement is a new interpretation of an original work. Typically, different instrumentation and vocals will be used to give the work a new feel. For an arrangement, the underlying compositional elements like lyrics and structure usually remain the same. Check out this example of an arrangement of Nirvana’s ‘Lithium’ by Bruce Lash here. The arranger will receive a songwriting credit for their arrangement, as well as the original songwriter(s).

CAE Number

A CAE number is a membership number assigned to songwriters and publishers when they join a publishing organisation or society. It’s your unique identification number, so it’s important to included it in any metadata relating to your composition. A CAE number is also commonly referred to as an IPI number. CAE/IPI numbers vary in length. If a publishing organisation requests an 11-digit number and yours is only 9 digits long, just add two zeros at the start of your number. For example, 123456789 would become 00123456789.


A catalogue is a body of work or compositions. If you’re a songwriter with several songs under your belt, these make up your catalogue. If you’re a publisher with control of multiple compositions, this is your catalogue.


A co-writer is anyone you collaborate with to write a song. This might be a friend or someone in the studio. You may also become co-writers with the writer of an original song you cover. It’s always important to have a written agreement with your co-writer(s) about the ownership of the song you’ve written together. Your Publisher or Administrator will need this when registering the song or obtaining a sync licence.

Collection Society

A collection society is an organisation that collects royalties on your behalf. There are three main types of collection societies. Performing rights organisations (PROs), mechanical rights organisations (MROs), and collective management organisation (CMOs). When you become a member of a collection society, you give them responsibility to manage your catalogue. This includes registering, licensing and generally protecting your work.

Collective Management Organisation (CMO)

Collective management organisation (CMOs) collect both performance and mechanical royalties.


Outside of the classical genre, you might think of yourself as more of a songwriter than a composer. However, a composer refers to anyone who writes music. Even if you only contribute a guitar riff, a bridge, or a chord progression to a track, you can consider yourself a composer (or co-composer).


Compositions are made up of copyrightable elements such as lyrics, melodies, harmonies and rhythms. Different versions of the same song can be considered one composition, such as “I Will Always Love You”, by Dolly Parton and Whitney Houston.


Copyright is the name given to a creator’s rights over their original work. By law, any creative work that is recorded in a tangible medium (such as on paper or on tape) is covered by copyright laws protecting the work and dictating how it can be used.


A cover is another artist’s performance of an original song. The cover song can be true to the original or reimagined somehow.

Digital Rights Management (DRM)

Digital rights management involves controlling how digital content is used on electronic devices. The purpose is to protect digital content from being misused. For example, if Netflix didn’t limit the number of users per profile, multiple users could view content from the same Netflix profile without paying the owners what they’re owed.

Digital Service Provider (DSP)

A digital service provider is an online platform that distributes music on mobile and computer devices for streaming, download, or both. The most popular DSPs include Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music and Tidal.

Independent Publishers

In the music industry there are “The Big 3” labels, (Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group). Independent Publishers are those operating outside of The Big 3 and all have the same goal. Getting you paid for your composition rights. An example of an independent publisher includes our new service, Horus Music Publishing.

Intellectual Property (IP)

Intellectual property is any form of creative concept or expression that holds commercial value. IP can be protected through copyrights, trademarks and patents. It is still considered intellectual property when it’s not protected.

Interactive/Non-Interactive Streaming

These are different types of streaming services. More common interactive streaming services – such as Spotify, Amazon Music, and Deezer – allow users to choose what they listen to. They also pay out both mechanical and performance royalties. Non-interactive streaming services (or streaming radio) such as Pandora don’t allow users to choose and only pay out performance royalties.

International Standard Recording Code (ISRC)

An ISRC is a 12-character unique identifier code assigned to each sound recording. If a song has an original, a remix and an acoustic version, each of these will be assigned individual ISRCs. The codes are normally given out by labels and distributors. For example, if you are a client with Horus Music, we provide you with ISRC’s as part of our distribution service if you do not already have your own. ISRCs are made up of a country code, registrant code, year of reference and designation code. They follow this format: UK AAA 24 00001

International Standard Work Code (ISWC)

Similarly, an ISWC is a unique identifier code assigned to unique musical compositions. If a song has different translations, and arrangements, each of these will have their own ISWC. These are allocated by your collection society when the composition is registered and follow this format: T-123456789-A.

IPI Number

An IPI number (or CAE) is a unique identifier given to a songwriter or publisher. They’re assigned when a songwriter or publisher joins a PRO. IPIs are especially important when publishing your music. Make sure to take note of these and include them in your metadata!


A license is a legal document giving someone permission to use a composition or a sample of it. The original rightsholder maintains ownership, but the licensee can use it as they wish. This is typically for a limited period of time.

Master Rights

The master rights refers to the rights to a recording of a composition. The master rights holder can determine how and where that recording can be used. When artists sign to record labels, they often sign away their master rights to the label. Most independent artists own their master rights or share them with collaborators. It’s important to hold on to your master rights where possible so you can maximise the royalties you earn.

Master Recording

The master recording is the official recording of a composition, sound or performance. All future copies are made from the “masters”. These can be on tape, disc, digital file or another medium.

Mechanical License

A mechanical license grants the licensee mechanical rights and permission to digitally or physically reproduce a composition. This can include digital downloads, interactive streams or on CD or Vinyl. At Horus Music, we hold mechanical licenses with all our clients and collect revenue on their behalf.

Mechanical Rights

Mechanical rights are obtained via mechanical licenses. Mechanical rights give the rightsholder permission to reproduce and distribute musical works in physical (CD and vinyl) or digital (streaming and downloading) formats.

Mechanical Rights Organisation (MRO)

MROs collect and payout mechanical royalties. Otherwise known as Mechanical Rights Organisations, MRO’s often administer mechanical licenses alongside collecting mechanical royalties. Examples of MRO’s include MCPS in the UK, Harry Fox Agency in the US and AMCOS in Australia.

Mechanical Royalties

The monies owed when a musical work is reproduced in physical or digital form are called mechanical royalties. Mechanical royalties are collected and paid out by music publishers.

Music Publishing

Music Publishing encompasses all administrative tasks related to promoting, licensing and protecting a composition. A music publisher is also responsible for collecting and paying royalties. Music publishing’s main aim is to ensure songwriters are paid appropriately for their works.

Neighbouring Rights

Neighbouring rights generate royalties from public performances or broadcasting of the master recording. This includes mediums such as cinema, businesses, satellite TV and internet radio. They relate to the composition rights but are paid to master recording owners such as labels and performing artists.

Performance Royalties

Performance royalties are earned whenever your song is performed in public. For example, this could be at the gym, at a festival, on the radio or at a gig. They’re paid by performing rights organisations (PROs) such as PRS in the UK or ASCAP in the US.

Performing Rights Organisations (PRO)

Performing rights organisations (PROs) collect performance royalties earned when a song is performed or broadcast in public. These are managed and paid by PROs such as PRS in the UK, BMI and ASCAP in the US and IPRS in India.

Public Performance

You might think of public performances as events where an artist is on stage performing to a live audience. A public performance can also include playing a song at a club, on the radio, digital streaming or in any public space such as a supermarket or doctor’s surgery.


A publisher is an individual or organisation working towards getting songwriters paid royalties for their compositions.

Publishing Administrator

A publishing administrator collects your publishing royalties on your behalf. They will take care of all administrative tasks involved. A publishing administrator can also be referred to as an administrator.

Publishing Agreement

When you sign up to a publishing company, as a songwriter, lyricist or composer you will sign a legal contract setting out the terms of your agreement with the publisher. This might include what percentage of your royalties (if any) the publishing company will take. It will also include details about advances if applicable.

Publishing Rights

These rights pertain to the composition of a song, namely the underlying lyrics, structure and melody. Typically, these rights are held by the songwriter. However, if a record label or producer has been involved in the writing process, they may hold a share of the publishing rights.


In music, a recording is a sequence of sounds captured in a recorded medium. This could be a CD or MP3 to be used for reproduction or broadcast.


In the music industry, royalties are payments made to rightsholders by music service providers and broadcasters or collection societies. Royalties are generated when musical works are streamed, downloaded, performed or reproduced. For a deeper look into music royalties, check out this article.


A songwriter is a person who writes part of a song or musical composition. This can be the lyrics, chorus, melody or another component.

Sound Recording

A sound recording is made when any part of a musical performance is captured on a Vinyl, CD, track for download, etc.


A split refers to the percentage of royalties each collaborating artist will receive. Typically, royalties are split 50/50 between a publisher and a songwriter. Alternatively, some splits are between labels and their artists, i.e., (80/20). Splits should always be documented in a written and signed agreement, for future reference.


If you’ve distributed music, you will also be owed publishing royalties. To claim yours, you can sign up to Horus Music Publishing as a songwriter or a publisher here.

Music publishing is complex, and we understand it can be overwhelming. If you have any questions related to publishing, you can contact us via email here.

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