Home News Music Business Corner: Roles in the music business (Part II)

Music Business Corner: Roles in the music business (Part II)


Most musicians are composers, producers, authors, arrangers, and publishers who ignorantly give away their rights to studio technicians.

By Sakhele Mzalazala. Edited by Andile Nkosi

In the previous post titled Roles in the music business (Part I) we established that it is important for one to understand the roles of individuals who contribute a music piece. We defined the Composer, Author, Arranger, Publisher, Producer and Executive Producer.

In this post we revisit these with the intention to show the blurry lines in practice as well as provide the tools to get you started the right way in South Africa.

Beatmakers/Composers – In the urban genres of Hip-Hop and Dance (Yanos, House, Gqom etc.) beatmakers are popular. This is a person who creates the backtrack music in a song. If you do this, then you are a composer.

It may happen that you can’t play an instrument but you know how you want your rhythm and melody to sound like, so you sing it and someone in the studio plays or programs exactly the sound you want. You (the person who conceptualized what the beat should sound like) are the composer not the person that played (normally called a session musician). So be careful not to give away your composition rights to session musicians.

Renowned composers, Nqubeko Mbatha and Ntokozo Mbambo

Author – An Author is the one who writes words or lyrics in a song. This includes the Verses, Hooks, Bridges, Ad Libs, and Choruses. Even if you only wrote “Hey-Ho-Hey” in a song you are the co-author. The same applies to adding “Otlwa, Chesa, Yebo and Awu Jesu Wami” in a song. If it can be written down in words, then it is a lyric and the person that came up with it is an author.

Arranger – When we talking copyright, an arranger is a person who takes an old song (Public domain/Traditional song) and rearranges it. Technically speaking, there is no arranger in a newly composed song. We mostly find arrangers in the Gospel genre and they’re using old songs (public domain) in a new arrangement. In a separate post, we will delve into Public Domain songs in detail.

IMPORTANT: If you are going to change someone else’s composition, you are going ti need permission to release the song to the public.

Publisher – The publisher is the owner of the work that has been reduced into a lyric or composition. Once you have authored/composed a song it is owned by you. If anyone wants to use it, that person will have to formally ask for permission from the owner of the work i.e. the Publisher.

As a publisher you can dictate the terms of use of your works. You can ask for an upfront payment, you can ask to be part of the project your works are being used in, and you deserve a piece of the revenue share coming from the use of your works.

Whenever a publisher’s work is used to generate revenue, it is called “exploitation of works”. This includes the use of music composition in radio broadcasts, jingles, advertisements, film, television and more. Because most owners of works do not have access to entities that can exploit their works for revenue, they assign their rights to Publishing Companies who will do this on their behalf for a percentage of the revenue split.

Publishing companies register as companies with Department of Trade and Industry, then they sign Songwriters (Composers and/or Authors) for a percentage from usage of their works. Their duty is to exploit (find jobs for your music) through administering, negotiating and licensing your music to interested parties. Publishers sign with CAPASSO and SAMRO and they benefit from Mechanical and Performance royalties.

In brief, you are the original Publisher of your works. For any Publishing company to become your Publisher, you have to assign your rights to them through a publishing agreement or deed of assignment. It is vital for you to research the publishing company before doing this in order to avoid assigning your works to someone who will not be able to exploit your works for revenue.

Songwriter – This is a generic term for a Composer, Author and Arranger. As a Composer, Author, Arranger and Publisher you will make money from the usage of your works by various users such as Radio (airplay), Television (mood music in programs), Adverts, and Music Videos. Other money making platforms include Digital downloads, Ringtones, Public performances, and Jukeboxes.

Songwriters usually sign a publishing contract or a writer’s agreement or Deed of Assignment (DOA) with a Publishing company. All South African songwriters should sign up with the South African Music Rights Organization (SAMRO) for performance royalties’ collection. This is because when television and radio exploit your works, they do not pay you directly but pay the collection agency (in this case SAMRO) who will then pay you. As a songwriter you will have to sign with CAPASSO as well. In another post, we will discuss the role of collection agencies SAMRO, CAPASSO, SAMPRA etc. in detail.

Most musicians are composers, producers, authors, arrangers, and publishers who ignorantly give away their rights to studio technicians. So, take time and look at the work you do and ensure your name appears in the correct columns when completing any notification forms.

Sakhele Mzalazala is a Creative Industry Entrepreneur, Author, Consultant, Publisher and Businessman. He writes for GospelBuzz in his own capacity. Contact him directly via WhatsApp: +27 74 300 0686 or Email: sakhele@gmail.com