Part II, Our Rights
it comes to composing, recording and selling music, do you know your
rights? Most of us dont. Until very recently that group included
myself. A little while ago I became convinced of two things; that
musicians get a bum deal with the established major label recording
industry and that the Internet offers the first real opportunity to
drastically change that. The more I look into it, the more I am convinced
that this is true. And I asked myself a question: if I write a song
and record it myself, what are my rights?
write a song, produce it and record it myself, I own it! Lock, stock
and barrel. Nobody has any right to make a penny from it, except me.
As long as I protect myself by obtaining the necessary copyrights,
the only way anyone can make any money from my song is if I allow
them to. (I will not go into all the details of copyright protection
here, besides Im a lover, not a lawyer! Please check out these
two great sites on the web that will give you all the information
you could ever want to have regarding copyrights and how to obtain
them, the US Copyright Office, its URL- http://www.loc.gov/copyright.
For a complete explanation of what copyrights are, go to http://whatiscopyright.org.
Now, why would I allow someone else to make any money from my own
sweat and blood?
it is extremely difficult and prohibitively expensive to package,
market, and distribute my own record. Also I have absolutely no (as
in zip, zero, nada!) expertise in any of the fields involved. I am
an expert at writing my own songs and even at arranging them for the
band to play. And lets pretend that I am also an expert at producing
them as well. So we will assume that I personally handle every aspect
of writing, arranging and producing my songs ( Im sure that
some of you reading this could handle that much as a lot of indie
and underground artists have been doing this for years.) and have
a ten song masterpiece ready for release. Now what?
is packaging to consider. Who will do my cover art? How about graphic
design? I will need to hire someone or some company that specializes
in that to do it for me. Ill want plenty of input on this, certainly.
But Im no graphic artist and I want it to be the best it can
be. When I do hire someone to take care of that, do I give up any
of my rights to the actual music I created? No! I will hire them to
do a job and pay them for it. Its very straightforward. The
same holds true for CD mastering and duplication, marketing and distribution.
None of the people involved in these processes are entitled to one
penny of royalty money, and none have any claim or right as far as
ownership of the actual music.
change gears here for a second. What if I didnt produce the
tracks myself, but hired an outside producer instead ? Does he "own"
any of the music himself? No, that is still all mine as long as I
own the copyrights and do not give him credit as far as songwriting
and publishing are concerned. Is he entitled to any royalty money?
Now the answer is, yes! He is entitled to a share of the Recording
Artist royalties that are generated by any of the sales of a song
or CD that he produces.
else to consider is the publishing aspect. The music publishing company
is another entity that deserves a piece of the royalty pie. Many recording
artists have established their own music publishing companies, thereby
keeping that share of the royalty money "in house". But
if the publisher is someone else, they get it, you dont!
royalties that are payable to songwriters, producers and publishers
are generated not only by record sales but by other factors such as
radio play and live performance. There is in fact more than one way
to skin a songwriter! These are called performing rights payments.
These are actually good for songwriters however as it is another way
to receive royalty money for your songs. The two performing rights
organizations are ASCAP and BMI. Both of these companies have great
web sites and a lot of the information I have used for this article
was gleaned from them. What these organizations do is collect royalty
money on behalf of songwriters, music publishers and (oh, no!) record
companies for radio play, use in commercial advertising and movies
as well as from live performance. They license your music for these
purposes and you need to be a member in order to avail yourself of
their services. But you dont have to be a member to check out
their web sites and learn a great deal about their organizations,
as well as the specific details of royalty payments (which I will
not be going into detail about here, it is way too complex for me
to explain!) Check out the following URLs, they will provide
you with a wealth of information regarding how royalties are paid.
Go to http://www.ascap.com for
ASCAP, and for BMI go to http://www.bmi.com.
This is invaluable information for anyone interested in selling music.
this discussion has centered around the premise that I would do everything,
or absolutely as much as possible myself, from song creation to publishing,
packaging, marketing, and finally distribution. But what if I decided
to sign with a record label instead? That is why I gave you the above
sites to go and check out. Because I feel confident that when you
do it will smack you in the face what a truly bad deal it is to sign
up with an established record company, even an indie label. It just
doesnt make sense, because it entails signing your rights away.
And the amount of money that you can possibly earn as a result is
reduced from a flood to trickle. Its like the difference between
opening up Hoover dam and turning on your bathroom faucet. How would
you like to make only 7.55 cents for each song on a ten song CD ,
or 75 cents for the whole damn thing ? And have to share part of that
as well? This is why some of our top recording artists have likened
the recording industry to "indentured servitude"!
you record for a record company, you dont make any money at
all until your CD covers all the costs that the record company incurs
for studio time, packaging, mastering and duplication, marketing and
distribution. They do not "invest" in you; you owe them
for all the services they provide. That is what you get when you sign
on the dotted line, reduced revenues and a strictly "pay for
play" relationship. Of course, you get all of their expertise,
top-flight studios to work in and producers to help you. You get all
of their marketing clout and distribution muscle. But in the end,
is it worth it?
think so. My opinion is that the fledgling Internet music industry
is the way to go. How about keeping two thirds or more of all the
money you generate from downloads of your music, while also retaining
all the rights to it? Of course, it means being a lot more involved
in aspects of production and marketing, but if you are a member of
OnlineRock then you exist in an online
community where people will see you and hear you.
as I write this, the rules of the royalty game are changing as a result
of the Internet music revolution. The whole way of paying artists
and what royalties will be is in flux right now. There is also what
is known as SDMI, the Secure Digital Music Initiative that is concerned
with having a secure file format so that you will not be able to "steal"
music the way that you can right now with MP.3 files. Musicians need
to stay abreast of all the changes that are taking place because these
changes will invariably benefit them. It behooves you to know your
said in my previous article, I truly believe that OnlineRock
represents a better alternative to doing business than the established
recording industry. This model definitely presents an artist with
a much fairer payment scheme and as it grows in stature it will offer
just as effective a way to market and distribute music. Honestly,
at this juncture downloads of digital music pale in comparison to
sales of CDs that are produced and distributed in the traditional
manner. But would you like to see artists continue to be treated as
chattel and paid pennies on the dollar by the major record labels?
Just say, NO!