Knowledge is Power
Knowledge is Power
While the internet has created a vast new world of opportunities for Musicians and Producers to sell their music online, it’s also created a world of serious ADD. Every day you have new websites popping up offering the next best thing to help you sell your music online and get ahead. How do you weed through all the nonsense and find the good stuff? You have to be educated. You have to have an idea of how to “sell” yourself and what you want from your music career. For instance, do you want to get signed? Do you want to get published? Do you even know what these things mean?
For some period of time (roughly from the 1950s to the mid-to-late 1990s) the label system (and its related satellite elements: PROs, managers, agents, etc…) was divided between those who have knowledge and those who don’t.”Getting Signed” still seems to be the Big Thing these days. You have to hand it to the Record Labels for marketing the hell out of that phrase. It seems to be the only way an Independent “Unsigned” Artist can make it these days. And you have to love the whole labeling, “Unsigned vs. Signed.” What the heck does that mean any way? Is an Artist that’s “Signed” more competent than an “Unsigned Artist?”
There’s this idea that just because we’re creative minded individuals who make music, we’re not good at being business savvy. This is a ridiculous theory. The idea that you can’t create a sustainable career on your own terms, without the backing of a label (major or otherwise) is empirically ludicrous. No, not everyone will be able to do it, but the point is it is possible without a traditional label. Anyone that says otherwise is wrong.
But that’s the point here, you have to understand how to market yourself and be business savvy to work as an Independent Artist and survive in the world today. The key here is to inform yourself of the main components of your Music Career and build on these things. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too much at one time, but definitely know the basics. Copyright. Publishing. PRO’s also knowns as Performance Rights Organization. You need to know these things, so you can make your business work.
Then it’s probably a good idea to ask yourself where you want to focus all of your energy? Do you want to License your Music for TV and FILM? Do you want to play live shows, build a fan-base on line and off and focus on getting signed? Do you want to get your music played on the radio and go from there? How do you, as an Independent Artist want to run your marketing campaign?
And while you’re asking yourself these questions, it’s a good idea to be well-informed on what’s going on out there in the world of music right now. “Knowledge is Power” and guess what? The Record Labels didn’t heed this knowledge. Only when Napster started coming along and decided to shake things up by offering Free Music to the masses, did they finally open their eyes and say, “Oh, well, this might just be an issue afterall.” While they fell asleep at the driver’s seat, they put you in control. You don’t DEPEND on just them to get your music out there. You have many options to help sell your music online and off and because of this you are now in control. How do you stay in the driver’s seat? Educate yourself. Take a half hour every day and learn something new about the Music Industry. How can you take your music business seriously if you don’t know about the Music Business you’re trying to break into?
Here’s a few things that you should learn more about:
Learn what a Performance Rights Organization (PRO) is.
Every single time your song, be it your recording or a cover version, sells, streams, is played on TV in a bar or anywhere else publicly, you are supposed to get paid. In 2009, the PROs collected over $10 Billion dollars owed to artists that wrote songs. Did you get your share? If not, they gave it to Warner Bros., EMI, Universal and Sony.
Learn what the bundle exclusive rights is that an artist automatically receives when he or she creates an original work, and fixes it in a tangible medium.
Because knowing that whenever you create an original work and fix it in a tangible medium (write it down/record it), you get six exclusive rights that you, and only you, can utilize. With this knowledge, you will be well on your way to understanding how to monetize your passion for music.
Those six rights are:
1. right to reproduce
2. right to distribute
3. right to publicly perform
4. right to display
5. right to create derivative works
6. right to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.
Each one of these copyrights has the potential to make you a LOT OF MONEY.
Learn what music publishing is.
Because as the creator of a song you get six legal copyrights. Then you need to license these rights and/or collect the money owed to you. You will need to hire someone to do this for you. How the heck will you know if they are doing their job if you don’t know what they are supposed to do!
Learn what a mechanical license is.
Because this license is what you will employ in order to make sure you get paid whenever someone wants to reproduce and distribute your song on a record or a download; this is true whether you perform the song, or if it’s being covered by another artist.
Learn what a controlled composition clause is.
Because this clause — inserted into recording contracts, where the artist who is signed to the label also writes the songs that are on the record — can drastically cut into your income from…mechanical license fees (see above).
Learn what an “assignment” clause in a contract is.
Because this clause allows for labels, managers, publishers, et al., to transfer ownership of the most important thing you created – a copyright – without your consent! Learn what they heck it is you are giving up before you give it up.
Learn what a royalty “point” is.
Because that’s the language used in the industry to describe how you would get paid in return for transferring your rights. Understand how it is actually being calculated. If it cannot be explained to you in a way you understand, walk the hell away from the deal.
Learn that there are two copyrights involved when a song is released on a CD or download.
Because if you don’t know this, you don’t know the very basic underlying principle that drives money around every single piece of recorded music. There are TWO copyrights for a recording: one for the person who wrote the song, and one for the entity that owns the recording of the song.
Learn how to clear a sample.
Because if you don’t, and you use an uncleared sample, you could have your ass sued. And if you find someone else using your music or song without getting the right from you, you can sue their ass.
Learn what a “synch” is.
Because “synch” licenses can make you a LOT of money. Understand what the heck you are licensing and WHY this license is needed.
Learn the difference between an interactive and non-interactive stream.
Because the entire music industry is moving to streaming. This means people can listen to music without owning or downloading it. The old industry paid you when the CD sold, the new industry pays you when the song is listened to. You need to understand what the two different types of streams are in order to understand how much money is owed to you, where to get it and/or what rights must be granted to allow someone else to stream your song and recording of that song.
Learn the difference between copyright and a trademark.
Because if you don’t you might be forced to change your band name after making 12 dozen t-shirts.
Learn what an intra-band agreement is (if you’re in a band).
So you don’t kill each other or break up when you become successful
Learn what an LLC is.
Because not doing so can set you (and your family) up for tremendous liability should something go wrong/you get sued, etc…
Look, we’re at an inflection point. The “old” business doesn’t work. Really. It doesn’t. Remember what we said about going from downloads to streams? This means that labels who were accustomed to making $11 each time a CD sold for $17.98 had to become accustomed to netting out at something like $7/album or $0.70/single. And now they have to adjust again as they will soon be looking at $.000003 per stream. THEIR SYSTEM WILL NOT WORK. So, we have an opportunity here to begin again, and put our heads together, and start a new system up (RIP R.E.M.).
This time we can do it in a manner where all parties involved are clear on the relationships (risks and benefits). TRANSPARENCY in information and in money is the answer. This transparency and clarity will eliminate the ethical problems that have plagued this business we love since it began. No more bitching about getting screwed, now you know what to expect. In so doing, we level the playing field. At that point, we don’t have the moral hazard of artists taking undue risks because they think the label will bail them out, and its reciprocal action of labels taking advantage of artists because they don’t trust the artists.
As Edith Wharton said of Baltimore, “there’s no there there” when it comes to the record business any more. However, as with nature, business abhors a vacuum. It’s up to us as to how we elect to fill the hole. We vote for filling it with knowledgeable, empowered artists who are able to sustain their artistic careers on their own terms. All of you are a hell of a lot bigger than “them.”
Information source provided by George Howard – former president of Rykodisc. He currently advises numerous entertainment and non-entertainment firms and individuals. Additionally, he is the Executive Editor of Artists House Music and is an Associate Professor of Music Business/Management at Berklee.
Intro written by DW Music Marketing