While the focus here is on royalty rates pertaining to music marketed in the print form or "sheet music", its discussion is a prelude to the much more important and larger sources of royalty income today from music sold in media such as CDs, television and the internet.
Sheet music is the first form of music to which royalties were applied, which was then gradually extended to other formats. Any performance of music by singers or bands requires that it be first reduced to its written sheet form from which the "song" (score) and its lyric are read. Otherwise, the authenticity of its origin, essential for copyright claims will be lost as has been the case with folk songs and American "westerns" propagated by the aural tradition.
The ability to print music arises from a series of technological developments in print and art histories over a long span of time (from the 11th to the 18th century) of which two will be highlighted.
The first, and commercially successful, invention was the development of the "movable type" printing press, the Gutenberg press in the 15th century. It was used to print the well-known Gutenberg bible and later the printing system enabled printed music. Printed music, till then, tended to be one line chants. The difficulty in using movable type for music is that all the elements must align – the note head must be properly aligned with the staff, lest it have an unintended meaning.
Musical notation was well developed by then, originating around 1025. Guido d'Arezzo developed a system of pitch notation using lines and spaces. Until this time, only two lines had been used. Guido expanded this system to four lines, and initiated the idea of ledger lines by adding lines above or below these lines as needed. He used square notes called neumes. This system eliminated any uncertainty of pitch which existed at that time. Guido also developed a system of clefs, which became the basis for our clef system: bass clef, treble clef, and so on. (Co-existing civilizations used other forms of notation).
In Europe, the major consumers of printed music in the 17th and 18th centuries were the royal courts for both solemn and festive occasions. Music was also employed for entertainment, both by the courts and the nobility. Composers made their livings from commissioned work, and worked as conductors, performers and tutors of music or through appointments to the courts. To a certain extent, music publishers also paid composers for rights to print music, but this was not royalty as it is generally understood today.
The European Church was also a large user of music, both religious and secular. However, performances were largely based on hand-written music or aural training.
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