4 Key MLC Terms You Need to Know

The music industry is a complex landscape where creativity and business intersect to create the music that shapes our experiences. Yet, alongside this creative field is terminology that can be difficult to comprehend. Whether you're an MLC Member, a publisher or simply curious about the mechanics behind the melodies, understanding industry-related terminologies is crucial. Here are 4 key terms you should know:  


  1. What is a musical work?

A musical work, also sometimes referred to as a composition or song, encompasses the creative elements that make up a piece of music. It includes the musical components such as melody, harmony, rhythm and any accompanying lyrics.


In the context of copyright and legal terms, a musical work differs from a sound recording. While a musical work embodies the musical composition itself, a sound recording captures a specific performance or rendition of that composition. This differentiation is important in various aspects of the music industry, including licensing, royalties and legal rights.  


  1. What is a sound recording?

A sound recording, oftentimes also known as a track, is the result of capturing a sequence of musical notes, spoken words or any other audible sound. In the music industry, a sound recording is typically the audio representation of a musical work. It captures the unique qualities of a performance, including the instrumental and vocal nuances, as well as the overall production elements. The recording may incorporate a musical work, but it's important to understand that a sound recording and a musical work are not one and the same. A single musical work can be incorporated into multiple sound recordings—each representing a different interpretation or rendition of that work. 


  1. What are unmatched royalties?

The MLC uses the term “unmatched royalties” to refer to royalties for musical works where The MLC has not yet matched the data for a particular sound recording use (reported by DSPs) to a musical work in The MLC’s musical works database. This can happen for various reasons, including missing or incomplete data, variations in song titles or discrepancies in the data reported.  

The MLC uses the term “historical unmatched royalties” to refer to unmatched royalties that relate to uses of musical works prior to January 1, 2021. Click here for more information. 

  1. What are unclaimed royalties? 

The MLC uses the term “unclaimed royalties” to refer to royalties that have been matched to a musical work in The MLC’s s database, but where less than 100% of the ownership shares for that matched musical work have been claimed by a Member of The MLC. 

For example, if only 80% of a matched musical work has been claimed, the remaining 20% is unclaimed, and The MLC refers to royalties associated with that unclaimed share as unclaimed royalties. 

Unclaimed royalties highlight the importance of accurate and up-to-date ownership information within the music industry. Music rights organizations strive to connect rightsholders with their rightful earnings, ensuring that everyone involved in the creation of a musical work receives their share of the generated royalties. 


Familiarizing yourself with these four terms is helpful to better understand The MLC and the broader industry landscape. For more helpful industry terms, click here.