Music copyrights are divided into two chunks: 1) is publishing, which is the words and music of a song, and 2) each individual master recording of that collection of words and music. Music publishers control the publishing, record labels control the masters. Example: Sony/ATV controls the song "A Little Help From My Friends", while EMI (Universal, nee Capitol, in the U.S.) controls the Beatles original recording, but Regal owns the Joe Cocker recording. (Regal is currently owned by Warner Bros Records, but back in the day it was part of Parlophone.... which was also EMI)
You can get a license to use a song (publishing) with your own recording, but you can't get a master license without also getting publishing approval. So publishing is really the key to the money machine in music. The Lennon-McCartney deal with Northern Songs in 1961 (or whatever it was) meant the songwriters - the artists who actually produced the material - split 50% of revenue, while the copyright administrator (eventually Sony/ATV and Michael Jackson) retained 50%. When MJ purchased Northern Songs in the mid-80s, McCartney hoped they could negotiate a raise, but Jackson said tough titty toenails.
When I first moved to L.A. in 1997, I did film & TV licensing at EMI-Capitol. If you think back to the use of "Twist And Shout" in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, that license was issued without anyone at Apple Corps ever knowing about it, and it made them all very cranky indeed. Their recording agreements (and their publishing agreements) gave the copyright holders (EMI and Northern Songs, respectively) sole authority in how the repertoire was exploited, so there was no need to consult the artist. As a result, the Beatles renegotiated with EMI ("Twist And Shout" isn't their song, so publishing never came up) to get approval rights over film & TV licensing of their recordings.
Flash forward a few years, and Capitol Records finds itself with a seven-figure offer to use "Revolution" in a Nike commercial. This was close to 20 years before Zeppelin got that kind of money from Cadillac, btw. A lawyer at the label was faced with making the decision to follow up with repeated unreturned phone calls or go ahead and do the deal in the hopes the big payday would mollify the Beatles..... whooopsie. The commercial aired, and the Beatles threatened to take their music to another label when their agreement expired. In exchange for staying at EMI, they were granted an absurdly generous and artist-friendly deal; after about 1989-1990, I don't think it was financially possible for EMI to actually make any money selling Beatles music, but it was a prestige piece, a loss leader of sorts. For example, the Fabs got paid their (wildly generous) full royalty rate for every single unit that left the distribution center..... including promos. So if I wanted to send the Beatles catalog to a music supervisor to thank her for her millions of dollars of business, I had to write a letter to the C.F. frickin' O. of Capitol Records to plead my case. (Thankfully, his personal assistant was my girlfriend
) It used to be that you could take home your body weight in CDs every month, and no one batted an eye. But Beatles? Forget it. During my two+ years I got a grand total of three complete sets of their catalog; one for the aforementioned music supervisor, one for my department's library... and the other still rests comfortably on my media shelf fifteen years on, with the UPC code drilled through to mark it as a promo.
Anyhow, part of the fallout of the Nike commercial was the creation of a dedicated department to handle film & TV licensing. So in a very real (if indirect) way, I owe my first job to the alliance of Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono.