Knowing the difference between master recordings vs compositions is not very widespread. You have probably heard the term “composition” and “master recording” before but you may not know what they mean. Composers write music, while record companies own and release the master recordings of that music.

A composer is free to publish their compositions and create derivative works, while the original copyright holder retains ownership of the master recording. Though this may seem straightforward on paper, it can become confusing in practice. How do you know who owns what with all of these different people involved in both the composition and master recording process?

Read on to learn about the differences between composition rights and master recordings so that you can use this knowledge in your day-to-day life.

What is a composition?


A composer writes and owns the musical composition. A composition can be sheet music, lyrics, melodies, or demo recordings. This means that they are free to publish their compositions and even create derivative works without having to pay royalties to anybody but themselves. That is why you will often see a copyright or “©” symbol followed by the name of the composer at the beginning of a piece of music.

What is a master recording?

A master recording is the official original sound recording of a song that was created by a record company or independent artist. Record companies are the ones who invest in studio time, hire musicians, and create a professional product. If you purchase a digital album, CD, or stream someone’s music, you have purchased the master recording.

Who owns the copyright of the composition?

If an artist is signed, the composer owns the copyright of the composition, but not the master recording. The composer is free to publish their compositions and create derivative works. Composition rights include the exclusive right to permit or prevent other people from making copies of their music. If an artist releases their music independently, they retain 100% ownership of the composition and master recordings if no one else helped them compose the song.

Who owns the copyright of the master recording?

The owner of the copyright to a master recording is the record company who releases it. This means that when you buy an album or stream music, you buy the right to listen to the recordings but not make copies of them.


Owning master recordings vs compositions are two different things. A composition is a song or piece of music that has been written, recorded, and published. A master recording is a recording of the composition, which is often sold as a CD or digitally through streaming platforms. Oftentimes, a songwriter will write a song, record it, and sell the master recording to a record label. The copyright of the song always belongs to the songwriter and the copyright of the master recording belongs to the record label.

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