Are Stems and Multitracks Sound Recordings?

And Why it Matters.

Here at CCS, we get a lot of questions about copyrights, and understandably so! And as if they aren’t confusing enough, there’s an important distinction between two types of works that often leaves church leaders scratching their heads. So today – let’s try to dive into the difference between a song and a sound recording…

Q: What is the difference between a song (or music) copyright and a sound recording of the song, and why does it matter?

A: There are eight different categories of works that can be copyrighted, and songs (or music) and sound recordings are two different types of works. How does that impact a worship leader? For example, when you want to make copies of a popular worship song, as recorded by a favorite artist or group for rehearsal purposes, you must get licensing or permission from two different owners or companies. This applies to legally creating a copy of a digital audio file, as well as get licensing for streaming the song as recorded by the artist.  

There are two copyrights resident within the digital audio file: 1) the song and 2) the sound recording of the song. There may be one, two, three or several owners of the song, depending on how many writers and/or co-publishers there are. The sound recording by the artist of the song is owned by the artist or record label.

In order to legally make copies of the digital audio file, which includes Multitracks and Stems (whether you burn them or post them online and allow downloads), you must obtain permission from the owners of the song(s) and the sound recording.

Q: Are Multitracks, Stems, and Accompaniment Tracks considered sound recordings?

A: Yes. Even if there is only music on a Multitrack, Stem or Accompaniment track, the music is one copyright, and the recording is a second copyright.

Q: Are there any blanket streaming licenses that cover the streaming of sound recordings?

A: Currently the only blanket license option that covers the streaming rights of digital sound recordings is through SoundExchange.

If you want to post the song on your website, you need a streaming performance license for the right to stream a song and a sound recording performance license for the recording. You can cover the song streaming license by getting CCS’s WORSHIPcast Streaming License if it is your performance of the song. But if you want to stream a third party’s recording of the song, you’ll need a separate license for it, either from the record label or SoundExchange.

There are three primary license types for use of sound recordings:

  1. Master mechanical – reproducing someone else’s original recording on your own audio product, whether a CD or audio digital format, like MP3.
  2. Master synchronization – syncing and reproducing a recording on your audiovisual product (DVD  format or digital audiovisual).
  3. Master digital recording streaming – performing or streaming a recording on your website (e.g., Internet radio or worship service), covering digital recording performance rights for both audio and audiovisual formats.

NOTE: The first two licenses deal with “reproduction and distribution” rights, and the third license covers Internet “performance” rights.  

Commercial sound recordings are often played during services. These recordings might be background music on animations or professional split tracks. In order to webcast these recordings, permission must be obtained from the owner of the sound recording, as well as the song owner. Currently, there is not a simple blanket license or mechanism for securing these licenses, but some record labels will issue licenses for webcasting their recording. This can be a complicated process, particularly with weekly activity. As a result, it is probably best for webcasting churches to avoid using commercial song recordings. They should also ensure that internet rights are included for split tracks they purchase.

About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS’s quest is to help churches and Christian ministries “do music right.”  CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches. Follow us onTwitterFacebookInstagram, andYoutube. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.