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For Artists: How To Navigate Music Law

Two people sit in front of a computer in a recording studio

Young artists on our Future Proof programme uncover music law and business with Burges Salmon

The music sector is an increasingly digitised industry. The ways in which you can release music whilst protecting your intellectual property are constantly changing – it can all be very confusing!

Through our Future Proof programme, we give young artists mentoring support and help them develop the skills they need to take their career to the next level. To help these artists understand how to navigate the ever-changing world of music rights and law we called in experts from Burges Salmon, our corporate sponsor and Official Legal Partner, who volunteered their expertise to break through the legal jargon and give their top tips.

Disrupting the traditional record label approach

For decades artists often relied on record labels to distribute their recorded music. But this traditional model has been disrupted by a shift towards digital marketplaces such as Bandcamp and distribution tools which have helped empower a new generation of independent and self-releasing artists.

This shift creates lots of positive opportunities and gives more control to artists, however nowhere near the same level of financial income that an artist would receive from releasing music. Along with digital marketplaces, new technology companies, like TikTok, are encouraging this new wave of music creators to take matters into their own hands and self-release.

But a drawback to self-releasing is a lack of legal support and advice that is understood by record labels traditionally (although cynically not always in the interest of the artists). It’s really important that emerging artists understand the importance of music law and how crucial it will be in their artistic development.

Top Tips from Burges Salmon

So, if you’re an artist looking to self-release your music, what do you need to know? Legal experts Burges Salmon gave these top tips to artists on our Future Proof mentorship programme.

Know who owns the rights to a song

Copyright is an intellectual property (IP) right which protects the author (or owner) of original works. It protects musicians by allowing them and their business partners to control what happens to the songs and recordings they create.

Although the ‘author’ of a work is generally the first copyright owner, the person or organisation who pays for the studio time may own the copyright to the recording. Ownership of the copyright should be laid out clearly in a recording contract or record deal.

When does copyright run out?

If sound recordings are released they are protected for 70 years after the end of the year of publication.

Other copyrights can last for the lifetime of the owner plus 70 years after their death. Duration may also depend on when the works were made.

If you don’t own it, someone might come knocking…

You’ll need a licence from the copyright owner to make a recording of a cover, or sampling another work in your own track. You might be in breach of copyright if you don’t have a licence to do so.

YouTube checks with copyright owners through an algorithm and can detect covers.

Get smart before agreeing to publish music

There are lots to consider when entering into agreements to publish your music. Have conversations up front and be clear on any agreements.

Make use of collecting societies; PRS, MCPS, and PPL.

Subscribe to services that give advice

You can subscribe to Musicians Union to get free legal advice as well as cover for instruments and public liability insurance.

What’s next for our Future Proof artists?

The experts from Burges Salmon have inspired the emerging creatives on our artist mentorship programme Future Proof to think about rights when recording their music.


“I loved how at the end of the session when we spoke about doing studio recordings with them, they all immediately thought about who would own their rights! This has definitely planted a seed that will make them all much more business savvy artists.”

Richard Hugo, Senior Associate at Burges Salmon