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What are recording artist royalties?

Royalties are a type of income earned through the licensing or sale of recorded music and the users, also known as licensees. These include, but are not limited to:

  • TV and other media companies
  • Advertising agencies
  • Film production companies
  • Theatre companies
  • Record labels
  • Museums and galleries
  • Theme parks, etc.

Income streams from these various uses are known as ‘secondary use fees’. One example of a secondary use fee would be a song synchronised into a TV advertisement, where a fee from the advertising agency would be collected and distributed to the relevant musician.

Musicians are entitled to receive royalties from these secondary use fees when their original recorded performance is covered by a recording agreement that stipulates this.

As per the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, the current term of copyright is 70 years for sound recordings released in 1963 or later. Recordings released prior to 1963 are now in the public domain and do not attract royalties.

How do musicians get paid royalties by the MU?

The MU has its own Royalties Department, which collects between £1.5 million to £2 million a year for musicians for the secondary and further use of recordings.

The royalties administered by the MU are different to income earned through PPL (including Equitable Remuneration for performers and rightsholder royalties for labels), and to publishing royalties from PRS for Music.

The MU does not distribute sales revenue, except in rare cases where a label is unable to distribute royalties directly to a session performer. There is no conflict in the royalties collected by the MU and those collected by other organisations or agencies.

You can find out what to expect from us in our MU Royalties Policy and Code of Conduct.

There are a number of other income sources that are not collected by the MU detailed below.

Which types of royalties in music are not collected by the MU?

PPL Performer Revenue

PPL collects Equitable Remuneration for performers when their recorded music is broadcast on radio or played in public spaces. This is a statutory right and is not determined by a recording agreement, nor can it be bought or sold.

For this reason, PPL revenue for performers is not the same as a ‘royalty’.

PPL Rightsholder Royalties

PPL also collect royalties for the owners of master recordings – typically a record company, but also self-releasing artists, or those who have bought a temporary license to release a recording.

PRS Royalties

PRS For Music collects royalties on music publishing where music is broadcast or used in public spaces. If you are a songwriter, lyricist, composer or publisher of your work or any other work, you will need to join PRS in the UK to earn this kind of royalty.

Sales and streaming royalties

Revenue from sales and streaming services is collected by the recording rightsholder (label or self-releasing artist).  At present, session musicians will not typically receive royalties from these sources, unless it is stipulated in their recording agreement. The MU is currently campaigning to have a fair portion of revenue from streaming services paid out to session and ‘non-featured’ performers.

How can I find out if I am owed music royalties?

It's not unusual for both recording royalties and streaming royalties to be paid at a later date. While some royalty payments occur monthly, the money doesn't always go straight to the artist. The total owed to the artist depends on specific agreements with distributors and/or record labels.

If you are concerned about being owed streaming royalties or master recording royalties, you should firstly contact the MU. From there we can advise you if you'll need to seek the help of PPL or PRS to collect your money.

Alternatively, if you are eligible, we can use income collected from several trade agreements to get your money to you. We recommend that you keep your PPL claims up to date, along with completing each session agreement form when you record music.

Member benefits and services

Contact the Musicians' Union today

The MU has a network of experienced teams available to help musicians in all areas of the industry. If you have any questions about our services, membership or how the MU could help you, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

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