What is the Difference Between Songwriters and Performers?

Find out how it could affect your royalties.

When it comes to earning and collecting royalties, there is a clear division between how the music industry defines songwriters and performers. While a songwriter is responsible for a piece’s underlying composition — its lyrics and/or melodies — a performer is the artist who actually plays it live or on a recording.  

Each party is entitled to separate royalty streams that are closely related to a song’s two unique copyrights. A performer can rack up royalties on the recording, and a songwriter can pad their pocket with the composition regardless of who the performer is. 

To give you a real world example of this, the Tom Petty hit “Free Fallin’” was co-written by ELO multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Lynne, and covered by John Mayer during a 2007 performance at LA’s Nokia Theatre. The recording of Mayer’s version earns him royalties via two main outlets: his live Where the Light Is LP and the more than 107 million views (and counting!) of the performance video. Petty and Lynne collect on its composition, as well as the compulsory mechanical license Mayer must pay for each copy sold of his recording. 

Please note that Songtrust does not collect on behalf of a performer unless they are also the songwriter. In other words, you cannot register cover songs with us.  


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