An alphabetical guide to the vocabulary of music.
Whether you’re a newcomer or longtime pro, you know that the music industry has a language all of its own. Knowing the lingo is a smart starting point for making informed career decisions, so here we’ve put together a mini-dictionary of music terms for easy reference so that you can boost your knowledge or simply refresh your memory. Plus, many definitions feature links to more in depth information, expert interviews about the subject at hand, or sub-glossaries on specific music areas like streaming, recording, and distribution.
360 Deal: A contract between a record label and an artist where the record company receives a percentage of other income the artist generates, not just from their recorded music or live shows. A 360, which is so named because it relates to a full circle of artist revenue streams, often includes merch, touring, publishing, endorsements, and more on top of records and singles.
A&R: Short for Artists and Repertoire, it’s the department at a record label or music publisher responsible for discovering new talent and signing them to the company. A&R also works to guide the artist’s career while they’re signed. Read More: How Emerging Artists Can Stand Out with A&R Reps
Artist Manager: An executive responsible for fostering an artist or band’s career to be as successful as possible. The manager guides the artist’s professional decisions and serves as a representative and advisor for business deals. Learn more: What to Look for in a Manager
Advance: A pre-payment given to an artist by their record label or publisher either upon signing or specifically to pay for the recording process. Advances are usually recoupable, meaning the artist won’t receive any more money from the label or publisher until they’ve earned enough income from their music to cover the original advance amount.
Big Three: The music industry’s three largest record companies: Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group.
Blanket License: A license, often issued by a performing rights organization (PRO), that gives an entity permission to play any song in the rights holder’s catalog for a set period of time. Companies that use blanket licenses can include TV and radio stations, restaurants, social networks, and streaming services.
Digital Service Provider (DSP): A streaming platform (like Spotify!) or an online store that distributes digital audio to consumers.
EP: An abbreviation of “extended play,” an EP is a “mini-album” that is significantly shorter than a standard full-length album. EPs typically include three to six songs.
EPK: Short for “electronic press kit,” an EPK is a digital promotional package of assets that an artist or their publicist sends to journalists, radio DJs, record labels, booking agents, etc. to provide a summary of the artist’s career and latest work. The assets typically include a biography, promotional images, current singles and videos, social media links, and highlights of the artist’s streaming, sales, and radio statistics (see also: one sheet).
LP: Short for “long playing,” an LP historically referred to a 12-inch phonograph record. Now, it means any full-length album, roughly considered to be around 40 minutes or longer.
Merch: Short for merchandise, merch is any item featuring the artist’s likeness, logo, or other proprietary design meant to be sold to fans at concerts or online. Merch can be almost anything, but standard items include clothing, posters, stickers, buttons and physical recorded music like vinyl, cassettes or CDs. Read More: Fan Study, Merch Edition
Metaverse: A virtual world rendered to look like a three-dimensional space where users are digital avatars that can interact with each other and the environment. One example is Roblox, where users can enjoy Spotify Island.
NFT: Non-fungible token. An NFT is a unique digital collectible whose ownership is tracked via blockchain. Music NFTs can be one-of-a-kind or limited editions, and can include exclusive recordings or artwork.
One Sheet: A single-page document that highlights an artist’s new music and summarizes their bio, stats, and achievements. It’s given to media, promoters, or anyone else who can further the artist’s career in some way — for example, by hiring them for a gig, interviewing them, or playing their music.
Performance Rights Organization (PRO): An organization that ensures songwriters and other rights holders receive performance royalty income generated when their musical works are broadcast or played in public. PROs also issue licenses for musical works. In the United States, PROs include ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and GMR. Outside of the U.S., organizations that perform this function are known as Performing Rights Societies. Read More: ASCAP Q&A, BMI Q&A
Per Diem: Translating to “per day” in Latin, a per diem is a daily allowance given to an artist usually while on tour to cover basic needs like food.
Song Identifiers: There are five key codes that are part of any musical work’s essential metadata: the IPI identifies the songwriter or composer, the ISWC identifies the musical work, the ISRC identifies the specific recording, the IPN identifies the performers, and the ISNI links the other four codes together. Read More: How to Fine-Tune Your Song Metadata to get Paid
Split Sheet: A document that identifies who did what during songwriting, and what percentage of royalties each party is entitled to.