Do Beat Makers Get Royalties?

Do Beat Makers Get Royalties? 

If you’ve ever wondered about who gets paid royalties for music, you’re not alone. The role of beat makers in the song making process raises questions about royalties and how beat makers are paid. It’s a complicated subject that even many people familiar with the industry struggle to completely understand. And it’s something that continues to evolve as the music industry continues to change.

Do beat makers get royalties? The short answer is that it depends. Beat makers can get royalties, but how much they get, how they are paid, and even if they are paid depends on a multitude of factors.

Beat makers play an essential role in the creation of many of our most popular songs, and whether they are paid royalties is an interesting question. So let’s take a look at the very complex world of royalties in the music industry.

What A Beat Maker Does

So the obvious answer to this is that a beat maker makes beats for songs. But it’s important to understand what a beat maker does, and what their role is with other people working on a song, to understand whether they can get royalties and how they get paid. Making a song is usually a collaborative effort, and there can sometimes be some overlap and sharing of roles in the creative process.

A beat maker takes the essential elements needed to create the beat of a song and puts them together in a way that forms the foundation of the song. This could be something as simple as a drum beat, or it may contain more layers than that, including a bass line, or even some sort of melodic components.

Two important concepts in music are repetition and variation. Although these sound like conflicting ideas, when they are applied in the right ways, they can complement each other very nicely and provide the basis for a song. Repetition gives music the structure that makes it recognizable, while variation makes it more interesting to listen to. Beat makers are able to provide that structure through a lot of repetition but also mix in enough variations so that it sounds interesting and gets people’s attention. Hiring someone to create beats for a song is most commonly done in the genres of hip hop and EDM (electronic dance music).

Beat Making vs. Producing

One significant differentiation to make when it comes to job descriptions and royalties is the difference between a beat maker and a producer. In some cases, both of these functions could be performed by the same person, but the two have different roles to play in the making of music. The beat makers lay the groundwork that the rest of the song will stand on.  The producers put all of the pieces together to make a cohesive finished product, including the beat, any additional layers of instrumentation, and vocals. Both of these jobs are necessary components in the creation of an original song, but they are very different pieces to the puzzle.

How A Beat Maker Gets Paid

There’s no simple, straightforward answer to how a beat maker gets paid and if they will be paid royalties. It depends on a variety of factors, including 

  • how much of a role the beat plays in a song
  • whether the beat maker is only providing the beat or making other contributions to the finished product
  • whether the beat maker sells the beat outright or grants an exclusive or non-exclusive license to the beat
  • and whether they are working with a huge record label and established artist or a small independent label and a relatively unknown artist. 

In many cases, a beat maker will be entitled to royalties, but a deal should be in place at the start of a project to avoid disputes down the road if a song becomes lucrative.  A debate about the role that people played in the creation of the song gets more intense when money is in the mix.

Determining what percentage of the royalties each person who worked on a song is entitled to can be a tricky business. Even deciding who gets the songwriting credit can become complicated if you have more than one songwriter. Perhaps one person wrote the music, and one wrote the lyrics. Perhaps one person wrote the music, and two people wrote the lyrics. Perhaps two or more people collaborated on both the music and lyrics. Did all these people contribute equally? Does one deserve more of the royalties than the others?

And then when you throw beat makers and producers into the mix, it can become even more complicated. This is why it is crucial for people to get agreements in writing detailing how they are splitting the royalties as soon as a song is completed.

The amount of money that a beat maker can make also varies greatly. Whether it’s the upfront fee that they charge for the beat itself, or the percentage of the royalties they receive after the song starts making money, these numbers can range from almost nothing to upwards of six figures. 

Beat makers generally have two options when it comes to how they make money from their beats. They can sell the beat, or they can license it. And whether they sell or license can play an important role in determining if they will receive royalties or not.

Selling A Beat

Selling a beat outright will allow a beat maker to make money in the forefront but will typically exclude them from any future royalties. Some beat makers who are trying to get their careers started will even offer beats for free or at meager prices as a way to get their name out there. It’s a way to make a little bit of money while still growing their career. By selling the beat, the beat maker gives up their rights to use the beat or sell it to anyone else.

However, selling a beat will not automatically exclude a beat maker from receiving any royalties. It may be possible to obtain public performance royalties by registering the beat with a performance rights organization such as the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI). See the section below for more information on the different types of royalties.

Licensing A Beat

Another option that a beat maker has is an exclusive or non-exclusive license agreement. Most of these deals are non-exclusive and allow an artist to use the beat, but the beat maker typically retains the rights to the beat and can still either use it themselves or license it to other artists. 

There are usually limitations on how the artist can use the beat. For example, they may only be able to use it a certain number of times or for a certain length of time. An exclusive agreement is less common.  It can make it easier for a beat maker to negotiate a better deal, as this gives the artist exclusive rights to the beat.

But each situation is unique.  The outcome will depend on what the beat maker is looking for, what the artist wants, and how they ultimately decide to balance those needs. There is no exact formula when it comes to royalty payments, and it very much depends on the specific situation and what all the parties involved are looking to accomplish from the transaction.

Intellectual Property Rights 

According to Cornell Law School, intellectual property is “any product of the human intellect that the law protects from unauthorized use by others.”

Four main areas are covered under intellectual property law. They are copyright, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets. When talking about music, we are mainly dealing with copyright laws.

When a piece of music is created, it is automatically copyrighted. If you created it, it is your creation, and you own it. However, it can still be advantageous to register it with the United States Copyright Office. There are fees for doing this, but this will put your piece of work on the public record and entitle you to a certificate of registration, which can be very useful if you ever need to go to court over a copyright issue. A list of the copyright fees can be found here

Copyright Laws

Copyright laws also vary from country to country, but the United States has copyright agreements with many other countries, which typically honor each other’s copyright laws. However, these agreements are not in place between all countries. Copyright infringement is generally considered a civil crime and settled in civil court. 

While copyright protection does not last forever, it does last throughout the copyright holder’s entire lifetime and for an additional 70 years after his or her death. At that time, the protected work will become public domain, and it can be used without permission. That is why a lot of older songs are easier for people to use in television shows, movies, and other forms of media.

One common misconception about copyrights is the idea of a “poor man’s copyright.” This consists of sending a copy of your work to yourself as proof of copyright. If you do this, you will still have the automatic copyright that is afforded to everyone upon completion of their work. Still, it will not grant you any of the additional rights that come with registering your work with the United States Copyright Office. That is the only way to guarantee that your copyright is officially registered.

Types of Copyrights 

  • Master rights. This refers to the master sound recording that is used for reproduction and distribution. Each master recording will have an International Sound Recording Code (ISRC). This code is used to track the consumption of the music by keeping track of the amount of radio play and sales. This is a newer addition to the copyright laws.  When copyright laws were first enacted, there were no sound recordings, and the only thing that could be copyrighted was the music itself.
  • Publishing (or composition) rights. This refers to the composition, including the music and lyrics. One composition can be the basis for multiple recordings. For example, when an artist covers the song of another artist, they will need to obtain the rights to use the music, but then will create their own master recording.  

In some cases, both of these copyrights can be held by the same person. An example of this would be when artists write and record their songs. But many times the song is a collaborative effort, and the master rights may belong to one person while the publishing, or composition, rights may belong to someone else.

Rights Granted By Copyright Laws

Having the copyright to a piece of music allows the copyright holder the following rights:

  • Reproducing and making copies of the original music
  • Preparing derivative works based on the original music
  • Distributing copyrighted work to the public
  • Performing copyrighted work publicly
  • Playing copyrighted work publicly
  • Displaying copyrighted work publicly

Interesting Fact: The first copyright law in the United States was enacted in 1790. It protected books, charts, and maps for fourteen years, and it could be renewed for an additional fourteen years. 

How Royalties Work 

So once a piece of music is copyrighted, the next question is how the royalties will be paid. In the simplest of terms, royalties are payments that go to the people who hold copyrights on pieces of music. It is a way to make sure that people are compensated for their intellectual property. But how that works, who has the copyrights of a song, and different types of royalties all make this a complex process. 

And it is a process that is continually changing and adapting to the changing music industry. It wasn’t that long ago that we all consumed our music in a physical format. Whether it was CD’s cassette tapes, eight tracks, or records, there was a physical piece of media that had to be purchased. But the advent of digital music forced the music industry to rethink a lot of things, including how music is distributed and how artists are compensated. Remember Napster? A lot of those issues are still being dealt with today as the technology continues to evolve.

How Royalties Are Paid

The process for actually paying the royalties can vary based on the situation. In some cases, royalties may be paid directly to the copyright holders. But in other situations, royalties may be paid to an intermediary, who distributes the money to the copyright holder and takes a cut of the money. Licensing companies, sync agencies, and performance rights organizations are all examples of companies that help to facilitate the payment of royalties. The actual percentage of the royalties that each party receives is also different in each situation.

Not that it needs to be more complicated, but the rules for paying royalties vary from country to country.

The Steps to Royalties

Although there can be many variations, the basic process, from the creation of the intellectual property to the payment of the royalties, looks something like this:

  • A piece of music is created and recorded. This can include a performing artist, songwriter, producer, and beat maker, although sometimes these roles can overlap or be shared during the collaboration process. 
  • The piece of music is copyrighted. There is a master copyright for the recording and a publishing (composition) copyright for the composition.
  • The music is distributed. This may involve the recording artist working with a record label and the songwriter working with a publisher. 
  • The music is consumed. This can happen in many ways, including radio play, CD sales, or download and streaming services.
  • Royalties are paid. This can also happen in many different ways, with influencing factors being how the music was distributed and consumed and how many parties are involved. 

Types of Royalties  

There are four main types of music royalties:

  • Mechanical royalties. These are paid for the reproduction and distribution of copyrighted music, which includes physical formats, such as CD’s, as well as digital downloads and streaming. 
  • Public performance royalties. These are paid when copyrighted music is performed or played in public. 
  • Synchronization Royalties. These are paid for the use of copyrighted music in visual media, such as television shows, commercials, and movies.  
  • Print music royalties. These are paid for the printed sheet music of copyrighted music.  

Interesting Fact: The term “exploiting a catalog” is often used to describe what music publishers do. Although this sounds like a negative, it is a positive thing.  When they “exploit” the catalog, it means that they are getting the money to the songwriters that deserve it.

Final Thoughts

The music industry is a fascinating business. It combines the creative and collaborative world of creating art with the more structured world of business and law. Sometimes these two worlds do not play nicely together. This leads to disputes about ownership and creative rights. But the music industry has come a long way in the way that artists are paid.  Expect further changes as the technology and the ways that we listen to music evolves.

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