What do composers, songwriters, lyricists, and other originators of musical works do, and what are their roles in the music-revenue ecosystem?
For the purposes of this resource, the term “music creators” refers specifically to composers, songwriters, and lyricists (as defined below) and is used interchangeably with “writers” for clarity.
Though many players are often involved in bringing music to life, for the purposes of this resource, the term “music creators” refers specifically to composers, songwriters, and lyricists (as defined below) and is used interchangeably with “writers” for clarity.
It’s essential to note, however, that writing music down is not the only way these artists can create it. In Canada, the moment an original work is “fixed in any material form”—including a sound or audiovisual (AV) recording—it is automatically under copyright.1
- Composers are artists who create musical works—but not the words to accompany them.
- A portion of their earnings comes from upfront (or “front-end”) fees paid in exchange for original works.
- Other income includes royalties accrued through the performance, broadcast, downloading, and streaming of those works (often referred to as “back-end” revenue).
- The ratio of front-end to back-end earnings shifts significantly over the course of a composer’s career. Upfront fees usually account for the majority of an emerging composer’s income. But as their catalogue expands and their works are licensed for various uses, they are likely to begin earning more in royalties.
- In Canada, composers who create music for screen-based or AV media—including film, TV, mobile devices, video games, etc.—are represented by the Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC) and La Société professionnelle des auteurs et des compositeurs du Québec (SPACQ). Both of these associations are certified under the federal Status of the Artist Act, which authorizes them to negotiate agreements on behalf of all Canadian music creators—not just their own members.
- Composers who write music for live concerts (sometimes referred to as “art music” composers) are represented by the Canadian League of Composers (CLC) and SPACQ.
- Songwriters are artists who both compose the music and craft the lyrics for their works.
- A portion of their earnings may come from synchronization (or “sync”) fees, which are paid in exchange for the right to use existing works (either in whole or in part) in AV productions.
- Other income includes royalties accrued through the performance, broadcast, downloading, and streaming of their works.
- Sometimes, when a songwriter signs a deal with a publisher, they’ll receive an advance—but it usually needs to be repaid via the royalties earned by the songwriter.
- In Canada, songwriters are represented by the Songwriters Association of Canada (S.A.C.) and SPACQ.
A Word on Lyrics
Artists who craft the words to accompany musical works composed by others are called “lyricists” (or “librettists” in the case of operas and other longer vocal works), and they are also represented by the S.A.C. and SPACQ.
While lyricists customarily share a 50/50 split of all royalties with their composer collaborators, if the work is a commission, a higher percentage of the upfront fee is usually paid to the composer (e.g., the lyricist/librettist may receive 33% of the fee while the composer receives 66%).
Where Do Music Producers Fit In?
Not to be confused with production companies, music or record producers are usually individuals or small companies that make sound recordings of musical works, as singles or albums, for themselves, other artists, or labels. Their involvement in the creative process can vary significantly—from coaching performers (or performing themselves) to sampling existing recordings to composing beats.
In fact, the term “producer” is often used synonymously with “composer” and “songwriter” when discussing the music of particular genres (e.g., R&B and hip hop) and cultural groups (e.g., Indigenous music). This is primarily because, for these artists, the process of creation may not involve writing in the literal sense. Instead, it may include improvisation, the sampling of existing works, digital sound generation, etc. Depending on how producers contribute, their sources of income differ from project to project. But when they act as music creators, they share in the rights and royalties generated by their works.
Please note that the focus of this resource is on writers rather than performers. However, since many composers and songwriters also perform and record their own works, some details on the additional rights and royalties associated with performing and recording have been included.
If you’re looking for career information specific to Canadian music performers, please visit the following sites:
- Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM)
- La Guilde des musiciens et musiciennes du Québec (GMMQ)
- Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS)
- L’Association québécoise de l’industrie du disque, du spectacle et de la vidéo (ADISQ)
- Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA)
- Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance (IPAA)
- ADVANCE Music Canada (Canada’s Black music business collective)
- L’Alliance nationale de l’industrie musicale (ANIM)
- The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR)
- Canada’s Music Incubator (CMI)
- Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA)
- Canadian Actors’ Equity Association
- l’Union des artistes (UDA)
- Provincial and Territorial Industry Associations (Music Publishers Canada website)