Music Glossary A

Music Glossary A

Music Glossary A is a collection of music industry terms, words, and phrases, that begin with the letter “A”, from A capella to Azimuth.

Music Glossary A

Music Glossary Navigation

Music Glossary A Terms

A capella
Unaccompanied vocal performance with one or more vocalists. Literally “In the church style”.

À la carte
A music download site, or cell phone music service, that charges for music downloads or download collections (albums) via pre-payment or subscription.

A&R/Artists and Repertoire
Short for Artists and Repertoire. A&R is the person or department responsible for signing new acts to a record label. The name derives from a time when they used to also choose material from publishers for the artists on their label.

A&R used to be responsible for developing new artists and acting as the main point of contact for existing artists.

The A&R department links the recording artist and the record label. A&R departments often find songwriters and record producers for signed bands, schedule recording sessions, and handle any necessary contractual negotiations.

No longer exclusive to record labels, the modern music industry uses A&R titles within booking agencies, music marketing, and small indie labels, among others. A&R people source new talent, and then they help to develop the artists, working closely with them throughout their recording projects, together with managers, producers, songwriters, and other musicians.

AAA/Strophic/One-Part Song Form
AAA song form is one of the oldest sectional song forms. Originating in existing poems being set to music for performance in the royal courts of Europe.

The melody is repeated and with each repetition of the melody, different words are sung. This makes it an ideal song form for storytelling.

AAA songs are made up of several verses. A refrain is sometimes used at the end of each verse.

Advanced Audio Coding, a MPEG standard, is an audio coding standard for compression. MP4, an improvement in quality over MP3, achieves better sound at a similar bit rate. AAC also adds DRM to an audio track.

AAB/12-Bar Blues Song Form
This is the most common blues song form. In 12-Bar song form an AAB pattern is used in both lyrics and melody (this is often set out in a ‘question-question-answer’ format) made up of three 4-bar phrases.

AABA/American Popular/Ballad Song Form
AABA is a shorthand notation for a common song form where A is the main theme and B is the bridge theme. AABA means that the main theme A is played twice, followed by the bridge, B, before a restatement of the original theme A.

Sections are of the same length, often 8 bars each giving 32 bars in total.

AB/Verse-Chorus Song Form
AB format has been the songwriting format of choice for modern popular music since the 1960s. Common for use in love songs, pop, country, rap, and rock music. Unlike the AABA form or AAA, which both highlight the verse, the AB format puts emphasis entirely on the chorus.

The AB Song Form consists of two or three verses that alternate with a second musical section referred to as the chorus. The chorus usually contains the song’s main message and title.

ABC/Verse-Chorus-Bridge Song Form
ABC format is derived from AB Song Form. This form is essentially AB Song Form with the addition of a 3rd section type, a bridge section.

ABCD/Through-Composed Song Form
Mainly used in art-song tradition songs in classical music, when a song is “through-composed” it means that no musical ideas are repeated without variation. This form is highly uncommon in popular music.

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Absolute Pitch
Absolute Pitch is simply another name for Perfect Pitch, an ability of 1 in 10,000 people to tell the pitch of a note without using a reference note for comparison.

1. The damping of a sound wave when it passes through a medium or hits a surface.

2. The ability of a material or object to absorb sound energy.

Absorption Coefficient
A number that is determined from the amount of sound energy absorbed from an incoming sound wave, at a specified frequency, when it encounters a material or surface under known conditions.

An indication in Music notation to gradually increase the tempo. Often abbreviated to “accel”.

The rhythm of a piece of music is clarified by the use of accents. Accent signs in music notation indicate where notes should be emphasized, and how they should be emphasized.

This is an all-encompassing term for prefixing a Natural, Double Flat, Flat, Sharp, or Double Sharp to a note. The accidental is primarily used to indicate playing a note out with the current key. The effect of the use of an accidental applies to all subsequent notes of the same pitch within the same bar unless overridden by the use of another accidental.

For this reason, the sharp, flat, and natural symbols are sometimes called accidentals as they are used in notation to indicate the occurrence of an accidental.

Also called piano-accordion. Invented by Friedrich Buschmann of Berlin in 1822, the accordion is a portable reed organ. Metal reeds are used to produce sound using air supplied by the “squeeze box” (a hand-operated bellows).

There are two basic types of accordion.

1. Two sets of press buttons that play either individual notes or chords.

2. 1 set of press buttons, and a small piano keyboard.

Another name for a Lacquer disc.

1. The science behind sound.

2. The features of a room or hall shape the sound heard by a listener.

The term ‘Action’ is used to describe the height of the strings from the fretboard of a stringed instrument.

A term used to describe a circuit containing transistors, ICs (integrated circuits), tubes, and other devices that require power, and are able to amplify.

Active Sensing
Used by some MIDI devices to confirm that a MIDI device is connected and working correctly. This involves the sending device transmitting regular short messages to the receiving device. If active sensing messages stop being received, the receiving device will detect the error and switch off all notes.

AdLib is short-hand for Ad Libitum, which means “at-will”. Literally interpreted Ad Lib means “improvised”.

An AdLib song section is usually within the coda or outro. In modern pop music, the lead vocal is the only instrument that really performs an AdLib. Usually, this takes the form of backing vocals holding down the main vocal part while the lead voice adds ornamentation in the form of vocal licks on top of that backing. This is done to really crank up the intensity of the piece. It can be used very effectively in conjunction with a collision. In a live situation, a singer may choose to mention the location of the current gig or refer to the crowd, or some other customization of the lyrics.

Medium slow in tempo, approximately 66 – 76 bpm.

A synchronization format that is used to allow two ADAT multi-track recorders to play and record in sync.

Analog to Digital Converter is an electric circuit that converts an analog signal into a digital representation of that signal. The ADC will sample the analog signal at a defined sample rate. Each sample is a binary number that represents the amplitude of the sampled signal. The number of bits used to represent each sample dictates the sample resolution.

Additive Synthesis
Generation of waveforms by the combination of basic waveforms or samples.

Each constituent partial in a sound is represented by an oscillator of appropriate amplitude and frequency. The resulting outputs are then summed in order to achieve the finished sound.

Administration Agreement / Administration Deal / Collection Deal
Increasingly popular with songwriters, this type of Publishing Agreement leaves the songwriter, or other musical copyright owners, retaining the copyrights in their songs. Instead of transferring copyright to the publisher, this kind of agreement grants the Publisher exclusive Administration Rights for specific territories, or the world, for a limited time.

The Publisher is paid a relatively low fee (in the range of 5% to 20% of the collected income). They will pay the songwriter/owner the balance. Advances are not normally paid by a Publisher under an Administration Agreement, or when they are, they are usually relatively low. The only time advances are not low is when the Administration Deal is for a high-earning Catalog.

See publishing administration

Administration Rights
Administration rights are the right to control who uses/exploits a work, where and when they use/exploit it, and ultimately how they use/exploit the work, subject to compulsory licenses (Section 115 of the Copyright Act).

Additionally, administration rights are the right to determine any consideration regarding the use/exploitation of the song, subject to compulsory licenses, and the right to collect any income generated by the use/exploitation of the song.

Simple envelope generator with Attack, Sustain, Decay and Release parameters.

Automatic Double Tracking is the duplication of an audio track that is delayed by a few milliseconds to emphasize the sound or give the impression of more performers.

In essence, an advance is a loan.

Record labels make an advance to an artist, to be recouped from record sales. Depending on the record contract, the advance is for one or more albums.

Music publishers make advances to songwriters or copyright owners. A music publisher’s advance would be recouped from publishing royalties.

On entering a contract with a record label or publishing company, a lump sum is paid to the artist, as a loan, in advance of sales. The loan is given to enable the artist to record an album, tour, buy gear, pay living expenses, etc. For some, the advance will be significant (North of $500k).

Advances are recouped first before profit is made and any payment is made to the artist or songwriter. The costs associated with producing an album will easily consume the advance.

Estimates suggest that more than 90% of signed artists will fail to recoup their advances and become financially viable.

As mentioned, advances from record labels and music publishers are recoupable from royalties. Commonly, advances are non-returnable and are not a loan owed by the members of the band or songwriters themselves. This means that if the advance is not recouped from royalties, the artist or songwriter is not liable for the unrecouped balance.

In Merchandising Agreements, a condition of the advance is often that the artist is often required to repay the unrecouped balance.

Aeolian Mode
Commonly called the Natural Minor Scale, the Aeolian mode is the sixth mode of the major scale.

The Aeolian mode for the scale of C major is A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A.

American Federation of Musicians/AF of M
American Federation of Musicians, the American Musician’s Union.

Affiliate Marketing
Using a partner network to market a company or product such that a reward or compensation is offered to an affiliate for each customer referred to it, or for each sale that is made. Affiliates can include marketers, blogs, online shops, comparison sites, and internet communities.

After Fade Listen (AFL)
A facility that allows a Recording Engineer to monitor one of the channels on a Mixing Desk, at a point in the signal chain after the fader, independently of the main mix.

Generation of a control signal based on the pressure applied to the keys of a MIDI keyboard. Most instruments do not implement independent pressure sensing for all keys, but instead, detect the overall pressure using a common sensing strip running beneath the keys.

Aftertouch can be used to control parameters like vibrato depth or speed, filter thresholds, and more…

Agent / Booking Agent
Agents represent one party to another party, negotiating a relationship between the two. This is done in the interests of their client, based upon their client’s requirements.

There are various types of agents in the music business. Both artists and writers might use agents for a variety of goals. For example, a booking agent will talk to promoters and venue managers to get gigs, other kinds of agents will talk to production companies and independent filmmakers to secure music deals in film or television and others again will talk to advertising agencies or individual companies to arrange endorsements, sponsorships or other deals in advertising.

A digital aggregator supplies music from major labels, indie labels, and individual artists to download with a number of online retailers.

Agile Marketing
Marketers that adapt to the quick-changing attitudes and behavior in target markets. Changes can be in the environment, technology, competition, etc.

The Association of Independent Music is a UK-based trade body representing the interests of independent record labels.

The Association of Independent Music Publishers. Primary members include:

  • Independent music publishers
  • Publishers affiliated with record labels
  • Motion picture production companies
  • Television production companies

A recording made of a TV show or radio broadcast is likely to be used for quality control or for a demonstration.

In the U.S.A., performance licenses are bought from SoundExchange (for recordings) and ASCAP or BMI or SESAC (for live performance) by broadcasters. The licenses cover the right to play both recorded and live music.

Large commercial stations use BDS or Mediabase airplay monitoring to accurately report all the music they play to SoundExchange and ASCAP or BMI or SESAC. Smaller stations will report their plays manually.

In the U.K., broadcasters buy performance licenses from PPL (for recordings) and PRS (for live performance) for the right to play both recorded and live music. Large stations return lists of all the music they play to PPL and PRS. Otherwise, plays are estimate-based.

License money (minus a commission) is shared among the members of the society.

Album Cycle
“Album Cycle” refers to the period of time in between an artist’s albums.

The album cycle is commonly defined as the artist beginning of recording for an album. The later of either the end of the post-album release tour and album-related promo, or the start of recording for the artist’s next album, marks the end of the album cycle.

It is common practice to define the length of personal management contracts in the number of album cycles.

When sampling an analog signal, the sampling frequency must be at least twice that of the highest frequency component of the analog signal (Nyquist Frequency). If not, the sampling process is inaccurate because there are insufficient points to describe each cycle of the waveform. This results in the addition of enharmonic frequencies to the audible signal.

Process of setting up amplifier presets and positioning tape heads for optimum tape performance.

All-in Royalty
Paid by a record label, it is a royalty payment that includes any royalty amount that is due to the producers and mixers from the Artist Royalties.

Informal description of any music streaming service that gives unlimited access to songs on their catalogue.

Indication in Music notation to play quickly, and lively at a tempo of between 120 – 168 bpm.

Alternate Tuning
An Alternate tuning does not form a major chord when all strings are played open, although the open strings may form a chord.

Alternating Current (AC)
Alternating Current is an electricity supply that periodically reverses its direction of current flow. Mains electricity is an example of an AC electricity supply.

This is the highest adult male voice, also known as “Counter-tenor”. The range is 2 octaves from D below middle C to D an octave above.

The characteristic background noise and reverberation that is particular to a location.

American Popular Song Form
See AABA Song Form

Ampere (Amp)
The Ampere is the unit of measurement used for electric current.

An amplifier is a device or system that changes the amplitude of a signal. The ratio of the amplified signal to the original source signal is commonly referred to as Gain. There are acoustic amplifiers, such as the body of an acoustic guitar or a loudhailer, and electronic amplifiers. In electronics, the term amplifier is used to describe the characteristic behavior of a specific electronic component type, such as a valve, a transistor, or an operational amplifier (Op-amp), or specific circuits such as a Pre-amplifier or a Power Amplifier. In more common usage the term ‘amplifier’ refers to a dedicated piece of electronic equipment that allows the user to control the output volume of an audio signal.

In simple terms, this is the peak voltage, or representation of that voltage, of an electrical signal.

Amplitude Distortion
This is a non-linear gain variation as the signal level changes.

Amplitude Modulation (AM)
Amplitude Modulation is a type of modulation where the amplitude of the carrier wave is controlled.

There are two AM techniques: Classical Amplitude Modulation and Ring Amplitude Modulation (RM).

Classical AM adds the output of one oscillator to the amplitude input of a second oscillator. The amplitude of the first oscillator is determined by the addition of a modulation index to its amplitude input. In other words, provided the modulation index is not zero, the first oscillator modulates the amplitude of the second oscillator proportionally to the modulation index.

Ring AM applies the modulation directly to the amplitude of the second oscillator, without being added to an un-modulated carrier. If there is no modulation, there is no sound.

Analog Audio (Analogue Audio)
An Analog audio signal is a signal that represents audio as a continuously changing voltage.

Changes in the analog audio signal ultimately dictate the behavior of the speaker. A negative change in the voltage moves the speaker cone in one direction, while a positive change in voltage moves the speaker cone in the opposite direction.

The frequency of the audio signal corresponds directly with the frequency of voltage change in the analog signal. In plain terms, it is a measure of how often the signal change repeats each second. This is reasonably easy to see if the signal only contains one frequency at any one time.

For Example:

Take a low-frequency sine wave signal of 50Hz (Hertz) at a fixed volume with no d.c. offset. The audio signal, and therefore the speaker, will move back and forward between (oscillate) the positive and negative voltages that represent that volume 50 times every second. As you increase the frequency to 500Hz the signal and speaker will oscillate between the signal voltages 500 times every second.

The volume of the audio signal corresponds directly with the amplitude of the signal voltage. More accurately it corresponds with the change in voltage. This is also easy to see if we use a fixed frequency signal.

For Example:

Take a low volume signal at a fixed frequency of 50Hz (Hertz) with no d.c. offset. The audio signal, and therefore the speaker, will move back and forward between (oscillate) the positive and negative voltages that represent that volume 50 times every second. As you increase the volume of the signal the total voltage change of the signal also increases, as does the total movement of the speaker cone, but the time it takes to repeat the movement will stay the same.

Analog or Analogue
This is a continuous electrical signal whose amplitude varies with time Within the audio domain the amplitude of the electrical signal will vary in a way that has a direct relationship with the volume of the original acoustic sound wave it represents.

Analog to Digital Converter (ADC)
This is an electronic device that is used to convert analog audio signals into digital audio signals, or more generally to convert analog signals into digital signals.

Indicates a medium tempo of between 76 and 108 bpm

Anechoic Chamber

This is a room that is specially designed to produce no echo. This is due to acoustic design using material that completely absorbs sound energy.

Annual Statement of Account
An annual summary statement is provided to copyright holders. It is the last step in the compulsory mechanical licensing process.

It gives details of any activity relating to a work, or works, when licensed under the terms of compulsory mechanical licensing.

The statement includes distribution of the work, or works, as defined in the compulsory mechanical copyright law. Annual statements are audited and signed by a certified public accountant.

This is a type of filter used to limit the frequency range of an analog signal prior to input to an ADC so that the Nyquist Frequency is not compromised and an accurate sample is created.

The Association of Professional Recording Services is a UK-based trade association. APRS members include:

  • recording studios
  • mastering services
  • post-production houses
  • replication and duplication services
  • providers of education and training
  • freelance audio engineers
  • consultants
  • manufacturers
  • suppliers.

Indicates the use of a bow.

A component that allows a MIDI instrument to sequence around any notes currently being played. i.e. Arpeggio.

1)Harmony setting of an existing melody for voices or instruments.

2)Adaptation of a piece of music to make it suitable for a different set of performers than was originally envisioned at the time of writing.

There is no limit to the arrangements that can be made for any individual composition. For example, an a capella arrangement of Stand By Me, and a Drum n Bass arrangement of Stand By Me for drums, bass, synthesizers, and vocals are quite different yet they represent the same song.

The arrangement covers the key, voicings, rhythms, tempo, song structure, harmonization, melodic paraphrasing, instrumentation, or orchestration.

The arrangement also includes compositional techniques, including the introduction of new thematic elements for introductions, transitions, modulations, endings, and adaptions that reflect the specific characteristics of the instruments involved.

Arrangements can be copyrighted separately from the original compositions. Both the Arranger and the Composer will receive royalties relating to the use of that arrangement.

According to copyright law, musicians have the exclusive right to arrange their own compositions. As such, arrangers must be granted permission to arrange a copyrighted work, by the composer (or the copyright owner), for the purpose of distribution.

A person who arranges a song or piece of music.

The performer, or group of performers, of a song, or songs, in a studio or live venue. Bands are a type of artist.

Artist Manager
A person, or a company, responsible for developing an artist’s career.

Artist managers advise artists about all business decisions. They promote their artists in any way they can, using demo recordings, press and media, and networking. They will exploit the artist’s work, developing income streams.

Management deals allocate the manager somewhere in the range of 10% to 25% of the artist’s income with 15% to 20% being fairly typical.

Artist Agency Rider
On signing with a Talent Agent, the artist is normally asked to sign a number of different boilerplate-based agency agreements. The “artist agency rider” is the negotiation of the individual boilerplate agency agreements that can be avoided or, at least, minimized.

Artist Royalties
The part of royalties paid to the artist from the sale of records that feature the artist (not the same as Mechanical Royalties). Typically 12% – 18% of the wholesale price is paid by the retailer, occasionally as high as 20% for top artists.

The American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers is the oldest PRO in the USA. Owned and run by its members, it specializes in collecting performance royalties and providing advocacy and other services for music creators.

Aspect Ratio
This is the proportion of height to width.

Copyright can be assigned to a publisher, record label, a royalty collection society, or another 3rd party. Assignees can then act on behalf of the copyright owner to issue licenses and collect royalties according to the terms of the assignment. Certain rights may also be assigned to PROs like PRS, MCPS, ASCAP, or BMI.

At Receipts Publishing Agreement
“At Receipts” is a term typically used in Publishing Agreements. It means that the percentage of income retained by the Publisher controlling the Administration Rights does not include the percentage of income retained by their sub-publishers. This is the opposite of an At Source Publishing Agreement.

For example,

If the Publisher is entitled to retain 20% of the income from the exploitation of the song, and
the Publisher’s Sub-publisher is entitled to retain 10% of the income from the exploitation of the song in the Sub-publisher’s local territory.


Under an At Receipts Publishing Agreement, from monies collected by the Sub-publisher, the Sub-publisher would be entitled to 10% of the income, the Publisher would be entitled to 18% (20% of 90%) of the income, leaving the songwriter / co-publisher 72% of the income (80% of 90%).

At Source Publishing Agreement
“At Source” is a term typically used in Publishing Agreements. It means that the percentage of income retained by the Publisher controlling the Administration Rights also includes the percentage of income retained by their sub-publishers. This is the opposite of an At Receipts Publishing Agreement.

For example,

if the Publisher is entitled to retain 20% of the income from the exploitation of the song, and
the Publisher’s Sub-publisher is entitled to retain 10% of the income from the exploitation of the song in the Sub-publisher’s local territory.


Under an At Source Publishing Agreement, the Publisher would be entitled to 10% of income collected by the Sub-publisher, the Sub-publisher would be entitled to 10% of the income collected by the Sub-publisher, and the songwriter / co-publishers royalty or share of income will be equal to 80% of the income collected by the Sub-publisher.

ATA Carnet
An ATA Carnet is a document that permits the temporary import of gear, avoiding the need to pay any customs duty.

This is critical for international touring bands. Without an ATA Carnet, the band would be liable for thousands in import tax every time they crossed a border.

Atmosphere Microphone
This is a microphone that is situated some distance from the performers in order to capture the ambiance of the recording location. Typically overhead.

Strictly a description of music that rejects traditional tonality, but it is commonly used to describe music using unfamiliar harmony.

Attack Time
The attack time means slightly different things in different circumstances. When applied to compressors and limiters it is the time from when the input sound crosses the threshold until the compression begins to be applied. With effects or synthesis, it is the time when treatment begins to be applied until the envelope reaches its peak.

Attenuation is the reduction of signal strength, either intentionally or unintentionally. This can be achieved in the electronic domain by using a volume or loudness control. Attenuation can also be applied acoustically by using materials that have absorption properties.

Acknowledging that something was created or authored by someone.

Audio Engineer
See Sound Engineer

Audio Frequency
This is the frequency range that corresponds to the frequencies audible to the human ear, from 20 Hz to 20 kHz.

Audit Rights
This is the right to review the books and accounts of another party with the aim of verifying that the reported royalties (as reported to the party granted the audit rights) are being reported accurately, identifying the correct level of royalty payment.

Although termed an “audit,” it is not strictly an “audit” as the general accounting industry would understand the term.

This is the ability provided by audio recorders to quickly get to a chosen point, known as a locate point, within a recording or recording tape.</[p>

Auxiliary Send
A Mixing Desk output that is made up of a mix of channel signals or group signals that is independent of the main mix outputs. Auxiliary outputs are often used for sending to effects units.

This is the angle between the gap in a tape head and the longitudinal axis of a tape. The angle should be 90 degrees.

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