Breaking Down Music Ownership + How To Guarantee You Own Your Work

Breaking Down Music Ownership
Breaking Down Music Ownership

It doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago that signing with a record label was the way for musicians to make it within the industry. Going along with this, many artists do not always realize then when signing a record deal, they typically hand over the rights for their recordings in exchange for only a small royalty of all sales.

Whoever owns the master recordings, or original recordings, of original songs is the one who controls where music is licensed and makes the most money from them. This understanding of rights ownership has created a big conflict in the world of music ownership.

Retaining your master recordings will ensure that you are the rightful owner and will be the sole proprietor of any fees associated with licensing. Now that many musicians understand holding their rights will generate revenue, there are options to still work with a record label to help with other aspects of your music, such as building your fanbase.

So, how can you be sure that you will own your music as an independent artist? There are some significant aspects of copyright law you should work to understand regarding collective works or collaborations.


There are some instances where people other than the artist alone can claim copyrights to a recording. If you, the musician, also did not write the song, then some rights go to the publisher as well.

Joint owners will co-own copyright and exercise the same rights for holding that master recording. If you want to own it entirely outright, there are a few things that you can do to guarantee the sole owner is you, the artist:

  • Pay to Record Your Music – working with a studio to utilize their sound systems and software is typical. Still, you must ensure that none of the engineers or those mixing your music, or the studio itself, will try and claim music ownership. They could do this if the music was recorded on studio property or with studio equipment and employees. One way to avoid having this battle for music ownership is to pay upfront to the studio or negotiate a fair price so that they know you are keeping your master rights.
  • Record and Mix Your Master – there are multiple options for artists today to record their music at home using their own sound systems and equipment. Though this would require a hefty investment of money and then some upkeep, the payoff would be knowing that you have complete music ownership of your work.
  • Return of Master Rights – If you don’t have the means to record and mix at home, but you can secure interest from a label for your original music, you can negotiate for a return, or reversion, of the master rights after a set timeframe. When you secure your rights this way, that master rights ownership of your music will revert to you after the designated period, which in some cases means that the label does earn the bulk of revenue accrued right in the beginning. However, you still end up with master recording rights to license and make new deals.
  • Money Sharing – one last thing you can do to guarantee you keep your rights is by executing negotiations. In this case, it would be to share the earnings with either a licensing representative, music label, or other production who might want to utilize your original work. You can use what is known as a “Master License Deal,” which gives them a certain percentage of the earnings but allows you to keep ultimate control of master recordings.


One of the crucial aspects of ensuring you fully own your master rights to original music is documentation. You need to have written agreements or contracts in place with anyone who might be involved with your songwriting and recording processes.  Those affected may include studios, sound engineers, producers, or other musicians.

The documents need to clearly state that you, the artist, own the master rights. It would also help to include language within that any others involved are contributing their rights to you. These contracts can be challenging to write without assistance from an experienced music lawyer, so it may benefit you to hire one to help with this process. A lawyer can assist with the complex language to help you understand music ownership and be sure to include what is most important to you to own your work.


Suppose you cannot establish deals with other publishers or labels where you can keep your rights to your original music. In that case, you may want to look into the more do-it-yourself method of recording and mixing alone, and streaming your music to be heard without a label. Many independent artists go this route. Doing everything on your own does require more learning and hard work on your part, but it can be worthwhile.

You will have to invest in your recording equipment and software and teach yourself how to mix master recordings that you can utilize. This aspect also requires you to do some more marketing to gain visibility instead of using a label to grow an audience. It may be helpful to submit your music to get it heard online and do some marketing.

Marketing might entail engaging fans via social media and creating destination and link management to monetize your music business. You will need to interact with fans frequently, keep your website updated with performances. Still, you encompass the overall arching focus that independent, artistic music ownership is now shaping the music industry.

Having success in the music business is not always about “making it big.” A music career that generates decent income relies on establishing stable sources, which for many musicians now includes keeping rights to their original work. Monetizing your creativity involves maintaining control of as much of your music that you can. The smartest in the music business understand that retaining rights will be the best way to maximize your earnings, even if it means you are the one managing your career.