We here at L4M had an original goal of making the music industry LESS confusing for musicians by attempting to simplify and decode the mythical “industry standards” that generations of music executives and attorneys had crafted. In our opinion, the standard of the industry was to confuse musicians so that they would willingly give up rights that they needn’t relinquish. The combination of a monumental change in the music industry (with the introduction of the internet) and the easier access to information (such as sites like ours), musicians no longer have an excuse when they enter into horrific label agreements.
If you look over the last several articles posted on L4M, we admittedly have wandered away from the path of simplicity. So, hand in hand with all the kids going back to the classroom this week, we will be returning to the basics. Today’s lesson, what do Performance Rights Organizations or PRO’s actually do and why do you need to register with one?
Most folks in the music industry and many outside of the industry have heard of ASCAP or BMI. However, the numbers decrease signficantly when you ask those individuals what ASCAP or BMI actually do for artists.
ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) and SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers) are the three performing rights organizations in the US. They have international presence as well, but for this post we’ll just focus on their doings in the US. As their names suggest, PRO’s work with writers who have their music published and broadcast to the masses. They issue licenses to any one or any thing which broadcasts music for more than merely personal enjoyment. As part of those licenses they collect royalties to the composers of music which is broadcast to the public. According to ASCAP itself it:
“protects the rights of its members by licensing and distributing royalties for the non-dramatic public performances of their copyrighted works. ASCAP’s licensees encompass all who want to perform copyrighted music publicly. ASCAP makes giving and obtaining permission to perform music simple for both creators and users of music.” www.ascap.com/about
Think of it this way: You drive your car over to your favorite shopping mall. While en route you jam out to your local rock radio station (if it still exists). After parking, you saunter into the mall which is broadcasting some easy listening jams over its PA system. You wander into Abercrombie & Fitch to see if you can grab that hoodie that The Situation wore on last night’s episode of Jersey Shore and in the darkened perfumed laced store you are accosted by much too loud ska music. Working up a hunger, you then meander into TGIF where you are immediately accosted by 30 flat screen tv’s blasting a Black Keys track over a Cadillac commercial. Exhausted, you get back in your car and switch over to the smooth jazz channel for a relaxing drive home.
Every step of the way during your epic mall journey, songwriters were collecting performance royalties. Let’s take them one at a time.
1. Your car ride to the mall: The local radio station licenses its playlist from the PRO’s and pays a set amount for each song it broadcasts to the appropriate PRO (which is the PRO that the songwriter signed up with and registered its songs). The PRO then allocates the correct portion of that payment amongst the writers of each song which was broadcast. Eventually, the radio’s payment trickles down to the songwriters themselves.
2. The mall itself has a license with the PROs to broadcast its easy listening jams. The same process ensues. PRO’s collect from the mall owners and pay out the appropriate writers.
3. Franchises like Abercrombie and Fitch also have direct licenses with the PRO’s in order to continuously broadcast music to their patrons. So similar to the radio stations and the mall, individual stores will also pay a license fee to the PRO’s to pay for the right to broadcast music.
4. The network which broadcast the Cadillac commercial on television will also pay a license fee to ASCAP. See our article on Licensing to see the other compensation that may be owed for this type of use.
5. See number 1.
The amount of money paid every time a song is broadcast varies. How much does it vary? Well that depends (sorry, but it’s true). The PROs negotiate individual licenses and rates with its licensees. The terms of the licenses depend on a large number of variables including the size of the audience, the time of day of the broadcast, the method of broadcast and even the current financial climate. A song that is featured on a top network drama played at primetime on a Thursday night will surely be worth more in performance royalties as compared to a song that is played over the loudspeaker at Steak and Shake in rural Georgia. However, if you do not register your work with a PRO you will receive the same amount for either broadcast: $0.00.
We are often asked which PRO is better? BMI and ASCAP as the biggest PROs have standard answers as to why they are better than the other. However, as with most things in the music industry, we feel that it comes down to relationships. If you develop a relationship with a representative from a PRO you should stick with him/her. Finding someone to help you through the registration process and explanations as to what royalties are owed is invaluable to any artist. Neither of the organizations have long term contracts, but you have to be pro-active to know when to terminate or they will continuously renew.
This is obviously only a very cursory overview of a much more complicated subject. But, it is a start. If you have more questions, please contact us.
We generally have opinions about everything related to music and the music industry. It is not often that we completely agree with an opinion expressed by the media. However, the recent article written by Jason Richards of The Atlantic is right on (http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/07/for-indie-bands-the-new-publicity-is-no-publicity/241477/).
In today’s industry where quantity over quality overwhelms, true artists are taking a step back and re-evaluating how to present themselves and their music. While most independent musicians crave exposure, there is always a counter to that (if you have the patience): put out quality music and let the fans find you.
Recently some bands have been finding success using this “less is more concept”. Post a song on a taste-maker website and let the pieces fall into place. Obviously, this is not the right path for all bands. As with everything that we write about, we are always assuming that (a) your music is good and (b) you plan on making music for a living. Rather large assumptions, but if you don’t believe in your own music and career, who else will?
Enjoy the article: CLICK HERE
We are constantly writing about the pitfalls of the music industry, the changes in the music scene today and the problem with the overal label system. Let’s focus on some of the positives of today’s music industry (there are more than you may expect, especially if you read our content regularly).
It has never been easier to get music recorded, produced and distributed to the masses. With today’s software, the home studio has become a reality for a ton of musicians. That means that the prohibitive costs of a studio, a producer and studio musicians can be avoided. While sound quality may not be as amazing as it would be if you spent the money to record at Abbey Road or Paisley Park, decent recordings can be done with equipment you can pick up at Best Buy.
Once the recordings are complete, the plethora of web sites and web based software that offers digital distribution is pretty amazing. Whether it is through www.tunecore.com, www.cdbaby.com or one of the hundreds of other sites out there, your music can be on the world wide web in a matter of minutes for little to no cost. The question then is: NOW WHAT??????
Getting noticed in today’s music industry has become the biggest obstacle for bands. The quality of music that is out there hasn’t necessarily dropped, there is just so much music on the web that trying to find something worth while is near impossible. In speaking to some industry experts, including major music supervisors and licensing agents, trying to get noticed by posting your music on myspace, facebook, bandcamp,etc. or by submitting unsolicited discs to supervisors and labels is pretty much a waste of time. The ease of production and manufacturing has left everyone in the music industry drowning in its own cash crop: music.
In the past, spending money on a radio campaign could help break a band. However, terrestrial radio has lost millions of listeners to the internet and satellite radio, so paying to get your music on the radio doesn’t even work anymore. If you can’t get noticed by creating a wicked cool website, submitting your music to supervisors/labels or paying to get your music on the radio, what is a band to do?
Fear not our loyal minions, we think we have some viable options. We’ll explore one at a time over the span of several posts. Here’s the first way:
1. The missing link in today’s independent music scene is competent, affordable and effective PR. As discussed above, a band can produce its own music, package that music in a brilliant way, promote the music to its own fans in its own region and send the music out to anyone it sees fit. However, without the right contacts and knowing where to send the music or the link or the super sweet low budget video that your cousin shot last night, your project, just like so many before you, will fall into a black hole.
In the old days labels had scores of PR/Marketing employees who got paid to promote their clients to radio stations, concert promoters, magazines, television stations etc. Now, those employees are looking for jobs and the labels have either cut way back on in house PR or outsource PR just like independent bands need to do.
Today, there are some really solid PR/Marketing companies out there servicing both major and independent labels. While a healthy budget is still required, we have worked with some PR companies by getting creative with budgets. Check out Riot Act, Flower, and Big Hassle to get some ideas. If you can scrounge together enough money to pay one of these companies to help you get your music in the right places, it will be one of the smartest investments your band can make.
What if you have a budget of $500 or less? Time to hire interns! Get your friends, class mates or family members together. Figure out which one understands your music and where you want your music heard. Make sure they have a computer and access to the internet and then…start posting! Smart teens and 20 somethings know where they go for new music (usually free). Figure out submission policies and be relentless. Finding the right blogs (the “tastemaker sites”) and getting your band’s music, or better yet your band itself featured on such a site can be a huge boost. If your music finds its way onto HypeMachine or Allhiphop or even Pitchfork, more doors will open. We’ve seen bands featured on these sites end up with sponsors or even tours. After that, if capitalized correctly, the added exposure can actually lead to money, which in turn, may lead to the ability to hire a PR company to expand the reach.
Obviously everything that a band does is predicated on actually having a playlist of high quality music. If your music is bad, eventually, the public will reject it (regardless of your budget). Speaking of good music, here’s our SHAMELESS PROMOTION OF THE MONTH: CHECK OUT ELEPHANT STONE. Our Canadian friends are on tour and will be hitting up CMJ. Find out more about them here: ELEPHANT STONE
If any of you read my ramblings you or are fans of any of my clients, you already know that we had our second annual showcase in Austin last week. Our showcase is a way to promote our clients and let the music community know that not all lawyers suck. We at L4M strive to help artists (not just musicians) treat their art as a business. We routinely help protect work product, form entities for bands, review and draft label and license agreements and, overall, act as the left brain aide to right brain thinkers. Our showcase is just a way to get that across to a wider audience and to thank our current roster of clients. NOW ON TO THE SHOW:
It is now Wednesday, March 24, and I have still not completely recovered from our showcase which took place on Saturday, March 20. To say that it was an amazing show is a huge understatement. Obviously I am a bit biased, but our lineup which included You, You’re Awesome, French Horn Rebellion, Hey Champ, Kidz in the Hall, Bad Rabbits, 88 Keys, Cool Calm Pete, The Cool Kids and Rakaa actually got better on the day of the show! Travis McCoy dropped by to perform a new song with 88 Keys, Tenille blessed us with her vocals on a couple of Cool Kids’ tracks and The Alchemist and Evidence reunited with their Dilated Peoples mate Rakaa to take the show to the next level.
None of this could have been possible without the amazing work and dedication of CATHARSIS NYC. Thanks to Justin Kim, James Kim and Tonia Kim (no relation) who put on yet another seamless show. All of the artists were amazed at their efficiency and organization in running such a giant event. Several commented that it was the best show they played for the entire showcase. If you are even thinking of hosting an event, you need to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More kudos goes to our firm of Stahl Cowen. If you become a client of ours, you are a client of theirs. Without Stahl Cowen’s support, there would be no show.
Finally, thanks to the newest members of L4M, Eric Malnar and Brian Troglia. Both of my partners have made L4M bigger and better by bringing their unique music industry and legal experience to the team. Watch for new entries and articles from both of these guys.
So, if you were at the show, thanks for coming. If you were not there, you missed a great time. While it is impossible to replicate the live show experience (there were about 800 people there and a line around the block at 2pm on Saturday!!!), here are some pics to help bring you a little bit closer to the action. Special thanks to Justin Kim and Tonia Kim for the pictures (All Rights in the following pictures are reserved to Catharsis, LLC).
Ever since Napster and its sinister brethren appeared on the scene a lot of my peers (even those with the purest of hearts) have added to their music collection without spending a dollar. In addition to getting music for free, the actual method of creating and distributing music has fundamentally shifted. Threats of lawsuits from the RIAA may have slowed the free music exchange sites, but social websites, blogs and China have continued to make music available to the masses au gratis (that’s french for free or with cheese, not so good with the franscais).
It is far from original to state that the way the public obtains, shops for or even listens to music has changed over the past decade. Countless reporters, bloggers, industry experts and politicians have noted the fundamental shift in the music industry. Your humble author has also contributed to the rhetoric. But now it is time for musicians and their respecitve teams to stop talking about the change and adjust their own business models in order to succeed in this “all-access-all-the-time” era of music. Here’s my roadmap:
THE NEW TEAM MODEL FOR MUSICIANS AND THEIR MUSIC
1. Amazingly good music. If you don’t have number 1, there is no point in reading past this point. Because of the ease of getting music out to the public without the cost restrictive hurdles of cd manufacturing, warehouse and transportation costs there is more music available to the public than at any time in history. While the digital shift has seen many positives, the overhwelming result is an overly saturated market full of average music. No one likes to think of their music as average, so I’m assuming that you are still reading to see what else you need for your team. I don’t want to belabor the point, but seriously, if your music isn’t good, you are not going to get far (except for the aboritions of people like Lady Gaga, Soulja Boy and Nickleback). It all boils down to the music; and that’s a good thing.
2. Hire A Lawyer. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m a lawyer and I’m telling you to hire an attorney. But it doesn’t have to me. As you will see in steps 3 and 4, you will be consistently entering into contracts. Hand shakes are cool, especially funky ones with fist bumps included, but they are not cool for agreements that will involve money and your career. A lawyer who understands new media, intellectual property protection and more importantly contract interpretation and law is essential. The new music model involves, digital distribution of music, corporate partnerships, website policies, copyright and trademark protection, royalty collection, license deal, etc. etc. A lawyer who you trust should be step number 2. (If a lawyer tells you she will “get you a deal”, you need to politely excuse yourself from her office and never look back. This old school model is as dead as Chris Brown’s Drink Milk ad campaign.)
3. Hire a Manager. Your buddy might be a fun guy and is good at working a guest list, but you need a professional that will not only manage your day to day career but find new opportunities for your music. The manager needs to think as creatively as the musician, but instead of making music, they should be making deals with new partnership opportunities, tour deals and promotions. A manager should get a percentage of the money that the musician makes for the work that the manager actually does. DO NOT sign a manager agreement that blindly gives your manager 20% of everything you make unless that manager used to work for U2 or Jay Z. Another old school tactic, managers should get paid for what they bring to the table and not just feast on all of the opportunities that come to the band without the managers’ help. Your agreement with your manager should spell this out in great detail (NOTE, having a written agreement with your manager is a mus. See point #2).
4. Get a PR/Marketing Firm. A firm that understands the music business is obviously important. But what is more important is a marketing team that understands your music and your niche. If you are trying to cross over from a hip hop audience to a more mainstream pop market, look for a PR firm that has both clients on its roster. PR firms can be expensive but if you have a budget to spend they can typically tailor their efforts to match it (see point #2, again). Posting your music on popular blogs and on social sites is definitely worthwhile. However, if you want to take it to the next level, you need the network and reach of a competent PR/marketing firm. Yes Fakeshoredrive.com is cool, but spin.com is better.
If you have the “new team” assembled you are in a good spot. This team should be able to act in much the same way as the archaic labels once did. One remaining step is physical cd distribution. While the CD is dying it still makes up a large percentage of music sales. However, unlike the old days, your team can approach physical distributors after you have enough buzz and digital sales racked up. If a distributor sees good numbers, a deal can be inked for small distribution of physical copies of your album.
The DIY artist has a lot of opportunities now. But like many experts have noted, (click here for a great article on the perils of a DIY artist) just because an artist can produce and publish her work for the public to hear, does not mean that she will succeed. If your music is good (and your mom thinking it is good does not count), start building this team and you just may be able to achieve success in the music industry.
SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION OF THE WEEK: FRENCH HORN REBELLION
Speaking of a DIY band, check out French Horn Rebellion. Originally from Milwaukee, now embedded in Brooklyn, these guys have made their own opportunities and have worked hard to get a foot hold on the indie electro pop scene. Good music and a sense of humor make them a popular band with cross over appeal. Now with a good TEAM behind them, you are undoubtedly going to hear a lot more french horn in your music.
Due diligence is a phrase that is thrown around the legal world on a daily basis. “Is that borrower credit worthy? We’ll have to do our due diligence.” “Do we want to purchase that gas station? We will only know after we complete our due diligence.” Does the concept of completing due diligence in the music world ever come into play?
The answer is that it should. Just like a business looking to buy out its competitor or a bank trying to figure out if it should issue a credit line to a borrower, a musician should always complete due diligence before making any decision related to his career.
In my quest to get musicians treat their music like a business, I have often compared a music career to any other type of business. However, even though being a musician is similar to being a manufacturer of tires or a having a shoe store, there are different rules and procedures in the music industry. These different rules and standards are due partially because of the slick talkers and stereotypical music industry professionals but mostly from a successful system that has been in place for decades. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it has been the mantra of the major label music industry for years. In this system, the typical scenario played out as follows: a musician breaks onto the scene or discovered by an A&R rep, the musician blindly signs a multi-album record deal, a manager is provided by the label and the label would control the musicians career for the length of the contract and beyond. As we all know, this system is no longer the norm. Due to the failures of the record industry over the last several years, the system has changed and the process for building a career as a musician has changed along with it.
While a musician was happy to sign the first contract that came from a “reputable” label in the past, that musician now has the ability to conduct her own due diligence. For a musician his or her music is her work product. Today, when that work product gets to a level where it is ready to share with the public and the public wants to hear it, several doors may open for the musician. Behind every door, however, is another business who wants to make money off of the musician’s work product. A manager, business manager, lawyer, label, publicist, publishing company, etc. etc. are all examples of businesses who make money off of your work product. But just like a business owner who is looking to hire a new CEO, a musician must conduct diligence before making a long term committment which may direct the musicians career and check book for the next several years.
So what should you look for as a musician who is looking to sign with a third party (a label, producer, manager, etc.)? How does a musician conduct his own due diligence? First, conduct your own research: google the hell out of the company or individual that is looking to work with you; talk to people in the industry to see what their experience has been with that company or individual; and spend a lot of time talking and observing what that individual or company is really like to work with. A label might have a good reputation, but that reputation could have been built on a success 10 years ago; what have they done lately? Ask for a specific plan for you and your band. How will the label help you get tours? How will the manager deal with finances? How will the lawyer bill you? We know that Sub-Pop has been successful with many of thier artists, but how do their contracts work? Will they enter into a license deal or maybe they are only a 360 deal label? Just because a label or management company has a good name doesn’t mean that they are a good fit for you.
It is always exciting to have someone interested in working with you and in some cases offer you money to work for them. But in today’s music world, you have to ask: is it worth it? Maybe you can do it on your own. Maybe you make your own start and then go with a label. Maybe your best friend is ok to work as your manager for a regional tour. All of these things must be thought about before signing on the dotted line. In the business world if one business is looking at buying out another business, the due diligence period may take months (years even). Lawyer pour over the existing contracts, the amount of money coming in and out of the company, the people working at the company, the systems in place that are working or need to be fixed. Why should your music career be any different?
Musicians should focus on music. That is what they are inherently good at and why they have the exciting prospect of people paying them for what they create. However, saying that “I only want to make music” and ingorning the decisions that effect your career as a musician can have devastating results. Do your due diligence before you make decisions that will effect your ability to continue to make music for a living. Once you have made smart decisions on who makes up your professional team, you can go back to what you are truly meant to be doing: making music.
I’m on the way to CMJ music marathon in NYC. CMJ and other similar music events are good barometers for the industry as whole. Who will be the next band? What are the labels going to do know? How has piracy effected music sales? Etc. Etc.
In the past this indie music conference and pseudo music festival has proven to be a great place to find new music talent and network with creative industry types. This year, the line up is more representative of the changing music scene: a lot of bands that are great, but that you probably haven’t heard of yet. The Antlers, Pitbull, Japanroids and Das Rascist are recognizable names to those in the know and will hopefully CMJ will take them and the hundreds of other bands to the next level.
The networking that had gone on in the past was between labels, pr firms, distributors and radio folks. This year, many of those people are looking for jobs. Perhaps CMJ will have a job fair day?
I’m looking forward to seeing if the unprecedented ease of getting music to the masses (i.e. the Internet) has truly watered down the musical talent or if it has afforded those that never would have had the opportunity to perform in the past to have their talent seen and heard. I’m obviously hoping for the latter. I’m also curious to see what pearls of wisdom the overly entrenched New York industry types plan on sharing at the various panels. My prediction this year is that a lot of the label types have new jobs with smaller (both in size and revenue) companies. So, chances are that the theme will be battling piracy and identifying new ways of getting paid for making music.
We shall see and I’ll report back after my trip.
SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION OF THE WEEK:
Speaking of new ways of getting music to the masses in a creative way, check out my friend Whatzisface’s newest project (click the link below). In the past hip hop artists have been found via the mixtape. Mixtapes were and still are to a large extent, full length albums without a particular theme or concept. They are given away for free usually on a burned cd or now, via myspace download. The hope is the same: someone with decision making power and a budget will listen and choose to develop the artist. Why not change it up? Why not re-invent the mixtape so that people look forward to it like a new album release? Add a concept to it. Make it funny and release it in a cool way. That’s what ‘face has done. Here is one of his latest installments in the White Chocolate and… series. Enjoy.
Most people don’t want to be that guy. You know the guy that rocks the Iron Maiden t-shirt to the Iron Maiden concert. However, that guy, has helped musicians generate additional revenue for decades.
Today there are many more outlets and many more products that an artist may peddle. While t-shirts and posters still rule the merch tent, new (and cooler) band merchandise is being developed seemingly every day. Recently one of my clients put out an entire mix tape on a bracelet. The LiveStrong looking bracelet ingeniously connects via a USB drive (see below). This allows a band to sell something that looks cool, is unique and includes the band’s name, logo, design AND their music. It’s brilliant. There is even software available that would allow the band to continuously update the USB drive so the fan who purchased it will have updated music and band information and the ability to purchase new music every time the fan plugs the device into her computer. (contact Vadim at http://www.customusb.com for more info.)
T-Shirts are not what they used to be anymore either. If you remember this post: Mos(definitely A Great Idea, you know that I am a big fan of including music on non-traditional media. Computer codes and affordable USB drives can be included with all sorts of merchandise that fans are more apt to buy. Mos Def included a code on a designer tee which enabled the purchaser to download his entire new album. Magazines have used this idea for years; purchase the an issue of Spin and you can download the new single from Jack White’s new band, The Dead Weather. Even beer purchases include mp3 downloads. Obviously, indie artists do not brew their own beer, publish their own magazine or manufacture their own t-shirts. However, with a little bit of research and some creative marketing, partnerships with content starved companies can be forged.
Not only are there new products, but with band websites, myspace, facebook, sonicbids, amazon and other e-stores, there are countless new ways to sell the products. The back of the tour van will always be the primary way that a true indie rocker sells his burned cd’s, but for a couple bucks more, that indie rocker could sell you an mp3 from his couch. Internet partnerships work just as well, if not better, as partnerships to manufacture and sell physical products. If you align yourself with a like minded or themed website that has an on-line store, than you can offer exclusive gear to that site. You take a chunk of the sales and share the rest (and all of your users that visit the site) with the partner website. Everyone is a winner.
Music is quickly becoming a “value add” to products that people already purchase. In the battle to grab a consumers attention, companies will pay a bit more to make their product stand out. “Free” music is a great way of doing that. And for musicians, the deals that can be struck with these type of forward thinking companies can be fairly lucrative; or at the very least serve as a great way to get music out to a whole new audience.
Creativity has to continue after the music is recorded. In today’s era, where the only type of music sale that is increasing is vinyl, artists have to think creatively in order to make a profit. If the public will only pay for select albums and download the rest of their music for free, new income streams must be forged by bands. Selling your music in a non-traditional way may increase a band’s merchandise sales as well as “album” sales all at the same time.
Music in general is awesome. It is a social utility which allows all types of people to relax, escape, dance, party, sing-along and just have a good time. People identify others and themselves by the type of music that they listen to. For musicians music is a way of life. It is something that musicians are born with; it is truly a part of them.
Those of us who cannot make our own music depend on the artists to give us what we need. Today, there is no shortage of music. In fact, there is a plethora of music, just a dearth of quality. For those musicians who know nothing else in life but to make music, how do you get recognized or more practically how do you make a living doing the one thing that makes you happy?
Obviously the world will always need waiters, baristas, bartenders and temp workers. But in today’s new music industry, is there a way to still make a living for a lifelong musician?
I try to provide some general ideas and thoughts for musicians and the music industry, but for this post, I need your help. I know how the musicians I represent make a living. I am constantly working on license agreements, concert proposals, royalty agreements and the like. So I have a general idea of how you can still make money as a musician today. But the original idea behind this blog was to get interactive with musicians and their teams. Tell me how you are surviving as a musician. If that means you have 3 other jobs but are eeking buy playing at a Potbellys during the week, let me know.
My next post will hopefully be part my thoughts and part yours. I will share the best responses that I got and combine them with my own money making ideas and experiences. If you have an idea or think you know how to survive without royalties and big label advances, write to me: email@example.com. Thanks, L4M.
I had a lengthy internal debate over whether to join the endless number of blogs, articles, tributes and montages in honor of Michael Jackson. Even though I was big fan of MJ and I did rock the moon-walk on numerous occassions during bar and bat mitzvahs and family weddings during the 80’s, I decided that for purposes of my posts, we should learn from Michael rather than add to the endless fluff pieces circulating our globe at the moment.
So, what can we in the independent music industry learn from the King of Pop? One glove is better than two, Emmanuel Lewis (aka Webster) is cool, living on a ranch with children, monkeys, and an amusement park will definitely get you noticed. All joking aside, Michael Jackson was one of the biggest grossing artists of all time. He single-handedly changed the way music was marketed to the masses. He was one of the first truly international (Asia to Africa to Australia) superstars. Along the way, he purchased the Beatles catalog.
That purchase, along with some of his other buisness decisions is what I can’t help but focus on when thinking about MJ’s legacy. Michael and/or his management team had the foresight to purchase a large chunk of the greatest rock and roll band’s publishing catalog of all time. In 1985 he puchased ATV Music Publishing for $47.5 Million. ATV controlled around 200 Beatles songs. This investment, at a time where the value of music publishing was still unknown, was one of the best investments anyone could make.
Every time one of the Beatles’ songs was played on the radio, which is virtually every minute of every day, Michael was earning money as the publisher. For every song that was licensed in advertisements, tv shows, movies, greeting cards, etc. Michael got a check. At the time of his death, the Beatles catalog would have been one of his most valuable assets. Think about that; Michael Jackson albums sold in the 100’s of millions but he had more earning potential from another artist’s songs.
Obviously when we discuss the Beatles and Michael Jackson we are looking at musicians who are in a different stratosphere when compared to most indie musicians or even most major label acts. However, the lesson that any musician can learn from both the Beatles and MJ is that control of publishing, control over who owns your music and how it is maintained, can be the life-blood for your retirement, and even for future generations.
When you sign to a label you need to think about what you are signing away. If you choose not to sign with a label but pursue a publishing deal, the same rule applies. Most major label deals will come with a publishing deal wherein the label or a division of the label will get the right to publish your music. While this is not always a bad thing, just remember what you are giving up and what the financial repercussions may be. A good warning flag that indicates that a musician may be giving away her music forever is an offer of an advance. Typically, publishing deals, like label deals, come with an advance. BE WEARY OF ADVANCES. If you are getting money up front, it usually means that you are leaving something behind. The length of publishing deals can be for the life of the copyright (95+ years in some cases) or can even be perpetual (never ending). Is a $50,000 advance worth the value that publisher is going to bring to your music for the next 100 years? Maybe…
Publishers are ideally supposed to act as your world-wide agent. They are supposed to help advertise your music to the world and seek money making opportunities for that music. Also, publishers are there to collect the money that is earned for music which is actually “published”. The typical split with most publishers is 50/50. The even split looks better than it is (of course). Many artists need sub-publishers to reach different markets around the world. A sub-publisher will take its percentage which in turn reduces your percentage.
The easy argument to make in favor of publishers is that without them: are you going to get your music out to the public en masse and more importantly are you going to collect once that music has been published? While the new music industry has seemingly endless opportunities to get your music out to the public, the publisher still plays an important role. Several new bands and even labels have either formed their own publishing company or partnered with a publisher. The partnership or the self-publisher model will reduce the endless percentages that go out to people and companies who are not in the band. But, just like everything else in the D-I-Y music model, it takes a lot of work and a strong team to accomplish what established publishers can already provide.
God willing your catalog of music will be worth as much as Michael’s or the Beatles. Realistically, you might not get to that level. That does not mean that you should not think about the value of your music before you hastily sign it over to a publisher. A quick advance from a publishing company may look great now, but as I have ranted on several occassions, advances are simply loans which must be paid back. Look at all your options first and go with the one that is best for you and your band. Think before you ink.
SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION OF THE WEEK: NALEDGE’S (AKA MR. BRAIN) CHICAGO PICASSO