Like any entertainment industry, the music industry is constantly changing. With this change comes the invention of words and phrases that define new or evolving facets of songwriting, recording, touring, etc. Sometimes existing terms take on new meaning as well.
This can get pretty confusing! Trying to keep up with the latest music terminology and slang isn’t easy. That’s why we compiled this handy glossary for your reference. It’s a work in progress. We’ll keep adding to the list, and we’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments section for any words and phrases that need clarification. We hope you’ll bookmark this page for reference whenever you’re stumped!
Modern music terms you should know
Beatmaker: A person who creates beats for hip-hop, EDM and other electronic genres that are based around synthesized production. Beatmakers often use samples from previously recorded music, or sample live performances from musicians in the studio to craft looped tracks that rappers or other artists can perform over. They can also be credited as a producer on the tracks they created the beats for.
Bit rate: The number of bits per second (measured in kilobits per second, or kbps) that are encoded in a digital audio file, defining how much information is in said file. A file with a higher bit rate will have more information per second, and thus (in theory) sound better. Common bit rates are “lossy” MP3s in 320 kbps and “lossless” files at a steady 1411 kbps for WAV or variable rates upwards of 900 kbps for FLAC files.
DAW: Digital audio workstation. Hardware or software (or combination of the two) used for recording, editing and engineering audio files. These can be used in a traditional studio or home studio for artists to record directly into, or used as an editing and engineering tool after an artist records at a studio. The evolution of DAWs like Pro Tools along with increased processing power of computers has led to the popularity and quality of home recording in the past 20 years.
Distributor: A company that distributes music to Digital Service Providers (defined below) like Spotify and Apple music. A proper distributor does not simply distribute to platforms, but also provides adjacent services like monetization and publishing administration (also defined below). Example: CD Baby is the best music distributor in the world because they allow artists to distribute, monetize and promote their music!
Drop: Slang for releasing new music. Example: “New single drops on Friday!” Can also refer to a slang term in the EDM scene used to describe the part in a song when the bass is at its lowest frequency.
DSP: Digital service provider. Digital platforms that host music for streaming, download or both. Examples: Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music.
Hi-res: High resolution audio. This is any audio file with a bit depth and sample rate higher than the industry standard 16-bit, 44.1 kHz rate. A common bit depth and sample rate for hi-res audio sent to platforms like iTunes is 24-bit, 44.1 or 96 kHz.
Influencer: Someone who has significant knowledge and a large following in a specific cultural landscape and can use that to influence purchasing decisions or trends among others who are part of that same community. Influencers often use social media to voice their opinions on the goings-on in their community. Example: A music influencer could be a critic writing reviews, a label executive who defines their company’s tastes or a video creator on YouTube with a large following.
Live stream (verb and noun): Any media (video, audio, or both) that is simultaneously recorded and broadcast live. Musicians host live stream shows in lieu of in-person gigs when they are unable to tour or would just like to spontaneously perform for an audience without planning a show at a venue.
Monetize (verb); monetization (noun): To earn revenue from digital media. Monetization can be as simple as collecting money from streaming to placing ads on YouTube videos to generate advertising revenue.
Producer: Traditionally, this was a hired professional who sits in the studio with a band or artist and guides them during the tracking process. And it still means that in rock and many other genres. But in modern beat-based genres like hip-hop, this can also be someone who writes the beats for an individual song. These two roles can overlap, an example being Dr. Dre creating the beats for the early Eminem albums while also coaching him in the studio.
Publishing administration/publishing administrator: Collecting publishing revenue generated by radio airplay, live performances or any other use of an original composition. Publishing administration differs from traditional publishing collection in that an administrator only seeks out publishing revenue generated and owed to its clients without the extra trappings like song pitching and legal services. Example: CD Baby Pro Publishing is a publishing administration service.
Single: In the days when the vinyl record was the only format, a single was one song on one side of a record and another on the b-side. In the digital age, a single is normally one song, released by itself to DSPs. This can be as a teaser ahead of an album the song will appear on or on its own, as artists are moving further away from the traditional single-to-album promotional cycle.
Topline: The main melody in a song, sung by the vocalist. Often becomes a “hook” when repeated by the instruments. This is the big catchy part of the song you sing along to.
VST: Virtual Studio Technology. Plug-in software for DAWs that simulates effects one would normally achieve in a traditional recording studio instead of on a computer. Another contributor to the advances in home recording in this millennium.
YouTuber: A content creator who makes videos on YouTube. As YouTube’s popularity grew in the late-’00s and throughout the 2010s, a cottage industry formed around people creating their own channels on YouTube with original content focused on one specific interest. Music YouTubers host live streams of performances, Q&A sessions, etc., or upload previously recorded video of them performing.