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leveraging copyright

Your copyrights are your business. They are your assets and your products, so it makes sense to take some time to understand them. You don’t need to be on the same level as a big-shot entertainment attorney, but it helps to have a general understanding of copyright law.

There are two kinds of copyright: composition and sound recording. Copyright is created when a musical idea is put into tangible form. So when you write that song down (composition) or record it (sound recording) you own the rights!  All those rights are exclusive, meaning you, and only you can leverage your song.

So how does all this translate into actually making money? Other people and companies have to get your permission and usually pay you to perform any of the actions protected by copyright. Think of copyright like property – intellectual property. If you owned a large apartment building other people would have to get your permission to live in one of the apartments. They would sign a contract and money would most likely change hands. It’s the same principle for music. A record label or distributor pays you to be able to make copies of your song and distribute it to online and retail stores. A radio station pays you (through a PRO) to perform your song over the radio. A company pays you to sync your music to their promotional videos or advertisements.

One thing a lot of musicians miss is the fact that copyrights are power. You own the copyrights, so you have the power. Think about it, without your copyrights would labels or publishers have anything to sell? Many more musicians have been realizing this and figuring out how to leverage their copyrights.

Licensing is an obvious option, and there are surprisingly a lot of opportunities out there for indie musicians to make money licensing their music. In fact, there’s just 4 easy steps you need to take to START licensing your music.

Music publishing can be a tricky area to navigate when it comes to payment, especially when you’re just starting out. Many companies don’t have a budget for music and rely on small indie bands to license their songs for free. In these cases, don’t cave in or restrict yourself to just monetary payment. Think about what non-monetary things they can offer you in exchange for your music. Does the company run a blog? If so they could write up a quick feature or interview with links back to your site and social media channels. When done correctly, the publicity could be just as valuable as a check!

The Happen Ins are an Austin-based rock band that were featured in a catalog from the clothing company Free People and a corresponding video in July 2011. In this case, Free People had to get permission to sync the Happen Ins music to their video. Free People is a fairly well known clothing line, so the band most likely got some monetary payment, but we’ll focus on the non-monetary publicity, as it is something most companies can offer even the smallest bands. Members of The Happen Ins were in the catalog, were the feature of many blog posts surrounding the catalog release, and played at the catalog release party. In order to grow their fan base, the Happen Ins offered a free download to Free People’s customers.

If you want to make the most of your copyrights, the key is to find business partners that have a similar image or audience to yours or one you want to reach. In this case, Free People, their customers, and the Happen Ins have a vintage rock and roll vibe. Think about your image, personality, and music when you go out looking for publishing deals. But if you have a solid licensing strategy in place, you can make a decent amount of money licensing your music, even as an indie musician or band.


Want more music licensing tips? We’re hosting a free webinar that will take you through a surefire way to license your music. Everything we’re going to cover is tried and tested by our own Joyce Kettering, who has used everything she teaches to make a full time living licensing her music. Click here to register for free and choose the date and time that works best for you.


Want to know the other 9 musician mistakes?

  1. You Don’t Have a Plan
  2. You Skip Time Management
  3. You Don’t Have a Team
  4. You’re Not Out There Networking
  5. You Don’t Focus on a Niche
  6. You Don’t Let Your Fans Market
  7. You Don’t Have a Brand Strategy
  8. You Overuse Free Music
  9. You Don’t React to Opportunity

New-Artist-Model

The New Artist Model online course teaches you specifics of copyright law and creative publishing in detail. By the end of the 8-week course you will fully understand what copyrights you have and can create, what you can do with them, how you get paid, and how to effectively pursue music publishing and licensing.

 

Opposition to online streaming has been intense this summer. Songwriters, performers, and various music companies have spoken out against the meager royalties the streaming giants Spotify and Pandora dish out to musicians. Many prominent and influential artists have taken their music off Spotify. It seems that these streaming companies are in the business of fixing and maintaining their reputation against the onslaught of musicians and have little time left over for developing and improving their core competency – streaming music.

This past week, Pandora won an important court case against ASCAP, which solidly reiterates what was already written in copyright law. Spotify is an “interactive streaming service,” meaning users can skip as many songs as they like and choose what song or artist they want to listen to at any given moment. Because of this function, it almost replaces the need to own music. Musicians therefore have the right to choose to license or not to license. Pandora, on the other hand, is a “non-interactive streaming service,” and functions similarly to terrestrial radio. Like terrestrial radio, there is a compulsory license in place, requiring artists to license their music if they are associated with a PRO like ASCAP. This is why you hear about artists taking their music off Spotify, but not Pandora.

So what does this court case actually mean? Basically it removes the possibility of getting through any loopholes to take music off Pandora. If an artist wants to boycott Pandora, their only option is to remove all their music from performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. Publishers and songwriters are not allowed not allowed to make separate, market-driven deals with Pandora if they are also a member of a collecting society. Pandora had made private copyright deals with prominent publishers like Sony, EMI, Universal, and BMG, requiring the streaming company to pay a higher royalty rate to their artists. This court decision will most likely void those deals and prevent any similar deals from happening in the future.

While most artists wouldn’t dream of taking their music off their PRO, the possibilities for direct licensing are becoming easier with new technology. In a few years, big record labels and publishing companies may have these functions in-house.

For more information on this topic, check out these two articles from Digital Music News (article 1, article 2).

With all this conflict in the streaming industry, there is little room for improvement and progression. Streaming companies are fighting rights holders and rights holders are speaking out against unfair royalties. Not to mention, the lawsuits are creating a further rift between modern artists and the copyright law, serving as a confirmation to many that copyright law is not caught up with modern society.  This battle between the law, the streaming services, and the musicians does not equate to a healthy industry. Streaming companies will stagnate if they refuse to grow with artists, and artists will lose out on opportunity if they insist on shutting streaming services down their early in the game. Surely we can move forward and find a solution together?

What are your thoughts on music streaming? Should artists be concerned about taking their music down? Does the exposure make up for the small royalties? Can this ever be a healthy industry?