Wait a second…What just happened? Did the United States government actually try to address a problem that has effected millions of Americans for years by introducing a Bill before Congress? Did those blowhards in Washington D.C. stop fighting and tweeting and actually do the job that they were sent there to do?
Here is a draft of H.R. 4706, The Music Modernization Act of 2017.
For years now the streaming revolution has completely disrupted the way consumers listen to music, the way musicians release music and the way rights holders (musicians, publishers, labels etc.) get paid. With the recent onslaught of litigation against giants like Spotify and Apple Music, lobbyists in D.C. seem to have been effective in getting our legislative branch to try to address an over decade old issue.
With the goal of ensuring that streaming platforms (a) don’t get sued, (b) mechanical royalty rates are set as independently as possible and (c) theoretically, getting money to the right people in a faster way, the MMA sets up several new processes for the music industry.
In typical Washingtonian fashion, the Bill introduces yet another bureaucratic body to oversee and administer digital licenses and pay all copyright owners (so long as your works are registered correctly). While, in theory, this sounds like an intelligent move, there are numerous questions about the efficiency of yet another “agency” involved in paying monies to the correct rights holders. We think it is definitely a move in the right direction by centralizing all digital blanket licenses and the decision makers for mechanical royalty rates (without a commission or overhead cost put on the backs of rights holders), but the move begs the question of how effective other government led regulatory bodies have been in the past (Government Shutdown ring a bell?). Lobbyists have touted this move as a departure from the tenured “judges” that rule over the PRO’s (ASCAP and BMI) and allows for a more impartial method in determining amounts paid for performance royalties to songwriters.
Since the inception of streaming services, platforms have avoided paying mechanicals because after filing the required Notice of Intent (or NOI) there is no further requirement to determine the actual right holder of a particular song. So if your information isn’t found or hasn’t been registered, Spotify, Apple, Amazon etc. haven’t had to pay you for streaming your license. The MMA attempts to do away with this giant loop hole. The new oversight/governing body will attempt to collect all data (by working with Content ID/Google and other data aggregators) and theoretically make sure that every song is registered so that every right holder is paid (some minuscule amount) for every stream.
The Bill then sets up a more “free-market” system for determining what mechanical royalty is actually paid to the rights holders (now that they will all be contained within this database). The rights holders and the platforms will have the ability to negotiate and set rates rather than relying strictly on government set rates.
The Bill was introduced to the House Judiciary Committee before the end of 2017 and there it sits. We will be watching carefully, along with millions of musicians and industry folks, to see how it progresses, what changes are made and how much pork is added to it.
Maybe it is a millennial thing or maybe it is just a product of the industry but we consistently hear several things from new artists that are trying to make it to the next level:
“I need a manager”
“I need a label”
“I need a publisher”
Sometimes there is a need for one of these. Sometimes there is a need for all of them. But when does an artist really need a publisher?
We think there are only a couple of situations where a musician who writes music truly needs a publisher rather than self-publishing:
1. You are a top-line (lyrics) writer or producer that needs a publisher to set up writing/recording sessions with other similar or more established writers or producers.
2. You are in need of a substantial check as a loan/advance.
Going in reverse, the only way you are going to get to #2 is if you have a previously released catalog of music that is making substantial revenue on the publishing side of things (actual record sales, licenses, performance royalties etc.). Obviously, easier said then done.
So in our opinion #1 is probably the best and primary reason that an artist should consider or seek out a publishing situation. If you are a writer/producer that either writes for him/herself or has written for another artist and your goal is to try to continue to do so or write with writers who have credits on gold/platinum albums, a good publisher should be able to facilitate this. They should be able to pair you with established and up-and-coming artists that have budgets behind them. Getting in with those artists and getting music actually released with a budget for radio/pr etc. obviously builds your own value and the value in your publishing.
As many of you know, getting tracks to the top artists is incredibly difficult. Even if you have a direct line to the artist you still have to get through the artists, management, publisher and label to even have a shot of getting a placement on that artist’s album. Getting a writing session with the artist is even more of a challenge.
If you are at the point where you have the chops, you have a history of writing really solid music, your previous writing is actually earning you some money and you can write for other people, you want to make sure that you are doing everything you can to maximize your value and that of your publishing. We have so many stories of writers/producers that were involved in big songs that weren’t credited the right way or were left off registrations for some reason or the other. So making sure you are handling your publishing yourself is the first step in preparing yourself to even be considered by a major publisher.
Please don’t get it twisted (as the young folks say), if you self-publish you better be able to administer your works or have a lawyer/manager who knows how. Without registering your music with the PROs or securing correct split sheets or hounding labels for statements or hitting up independent artists who have used your music, you are essentially lighting money on fire. You have to know what rights you have in and to your publishing and how to go about collecting it. Registering works is not complicated. Understanding how and when you get paid from those works is.
There are several companies popping up that are offering admin services. Some are directly tied to the big publishers but then you have companies like CD Baby and Tunecore rolled out an admin service and functions a couple of years back. Songtrust is another one that offers a ton of services including administration of publishing. We have clients that have positive things to say about each one and those that have negative things to say about each one. So we will leave it up to you to decide if one of these outlets is right for you.
Remember, if you write a song and do nothing to register it or attempt to collect on it, it’s not really “published”.
Just like everything else in music (or most industries for that matter) you have to work your way up. You won’t get a publishing deal that makes sense unless you have already proven yourself as a writer. It is tough to prove yourself as a writer without getting a break in a very competitive industry. But you won’t get a break at all if you don’t treat your writing like an actual business and get the people you need to be in your corner to help you do so.
As seen from our last L4M post, success in the music industry is often dependent upon the people around you; managers, lawyers, and booking agents make up your “team”. But what about those other musicians that help you create the sound? The artist’s you work with to make a song. Collaborations are so common these days even bands with numerous members are bringing in teams of producers, a second percussionist or guitarist, and additional vocalists. So why does it matter? You work with your friends to create great music, right? Its true, but defining roles and ownership is essential in protecting your music. Some of the biggest disputes in the industry today involve payments to collaborators, the rightful ownership to a song involving guest musicians and artists.
Take for example the dispute between Jack Urbont and Sony Music Entertainment over the theme song for Iron Man. (Urbont v. Sony Music Ent., 100 F.Supp.3d 342 (2015)). Sony released a song by hip-hop artist, Ghost Face Killah, which used a portion of the Iron Man theme song and only received permission from Marvel Television but not Urbont. The main issue being when Urbont worked on the original theme song with Marvel was whether his contribution was considered a work for hire or should he own part of the composition with Marvel. The parties ended up settling out of court after Sony was granted the right to use a work for hire defense against Urbont. So what’s the takeaway? You need to decide prior to releasing any music whether your bestie is taking a fee, getting any rights to the composition or both.
“Work for hire” is a legal term in the copyright act that in a nutshell means you are being paid for your services as a musician but will not own any of the intellectual property to the song. Think of it as any service you pay for, if a carpenter makes you an original table, you pay him or her for the workmanship and the table, but the carpenter doesn’t receive ownership in the table and doesn’t receive a portion of the funds when you resell it. Same for a work for hire musician or vocalist. Work for hires are the most common when the musician doesn’t create anything original, they are just playing or singing what you put in front of them. However, work for hires are becoming more and more common with writers, musicians and producers who contribute original material to the song. Why would they do that? First because you give them a big paycheck and second because they don’t think the song will make more money then the paycheck, it’s a win-win for them.
On the other hand, if you are a songwriter and you ask your friend the guitar player to come in and write the melody, it makes more sense to split the ownership of the composition. This is when you want a guest artist agreement in place so that you won’t have to track down the guitar player every time you receive a license request or want to make a remix. What if you want to use part of that melody in another part of a song? You will need to ask the guitar player for permission and he or she can argue that they want their ownership percentage to stay the same even though your using only a portion of the melody. A guest artist agreement will prevent this headache as you can outline each individual’s rights and permissions involved with the song.
Sometimes artists will collaborate and give both a fee and ownership over the composition. In this case, the fee is treated as an advance that needs to be recouped against profits. Think of it as paying the artist upfront for what you think they will make off of the sale of the song in the future. Until the song recoups the advance amount they won’t receive payment from a label or you, even though they own rights to the composition.
So how do you ensure that all of this is done correctly? Unfortunately, a handshake will not suffice. A legal document signed by both of you will be necessary. Lots of writers and producers use session sheets to delegate publishing splits, but this doesn’t clarify who can do what with the copyright and definitely doesn’t help you in a work for hire situation. Having a lawyer draft this for you is the safest bet, but the good news is that often you can reuse work for hire agreements by changing the name and the fee instead of paying for a new document every time (don’t tell your lawyer I said that). The most important thing is to read the agreement and make sure you understand it!! Ask questions, do your research, and know what rights you have or are giving up. Just make sure that on the day you hit number one you’re not scrambling to get your former bestie to sign a work for hire agreement.
by Lauren Schulz (email@example.com)
I’m sorry (again) for the lack of posts over the last several months (make that years). The truth is that we have been too busy working and have let our attention to this important outlet lapse. Instead of promising to write more, we want to make sure we are posting quality info that can actually help musicians.
In line with that thinking, here is the most important thing that we have come to understand a bit better over the last 12 months or so: a musician’s team (#squad) is more important now then it has ever been. The team is still in second place behind the music (position 1a) and the work ethic of the musician (1b), but in today’s music industry, the people that you have working for you, representing you and seeking opportunities for you is more crucial now then ever before.
There has been plenty written about the demise of the major label system. What seems to be going largely unnoticed or undocumented is the growing roll of those left behind: Managers. Management (effective management) has now become the true one-stop-shop for a musician. Management is the new label. As management, we are faced with the same set of facts and challenges as a label. An artist creates music and now wants to bring it to the masses. Yes, you can get that music out yourself as an artist but how do you make a dent in the din of new releases on Spotify, SoundCloud or Apple?
To make a living as an artist you need to do more then just post your music on the internet. You still need to get a significant number of eyeballs and eardrums to consume your product. So the management team is faced with this challenge without (typically) the luxury of having the deep pockets, employees and relationships that labels have (or had).
An artist’s manager is now in charge of planning a release schedule, getting artwork created, lining up press (more than your mom reposting on facebook), booking shows, figuring splits, clearing samples, registering publishing, monetizing all outlets including YouTube and SoundCloud, paying out band members, featured artists, promoting the release and live shows, finding potential brand sponsors and licensing opportunities etc. etc. All of this without a budget. I’m tired just writing all of these duties and responsibilities.
I’m not implying that a manager is going to literally be able to do all of these things himself, but he will have to figure out who to line up to help with this process. Managers must either strategically team up with the right professionals or outsource these services without breaking the bank. Yes, getting your music on all outlets is pretty easy (TuneCore etc.) but getting on a top Spotify Playlist is not. Yes, booking a show in your home town is very doable but playing in another city is not. Yes, finding someone to remix your track is not hard but figuring out the rights of that new recording is not.
Our opinion is that artists should do what they are best at: making music. To permit this, managers need to keep everything else moving forward. Managers must leverage all relationships and forge ahead with qualified distributors, booking agents, pr agents, and lawyers to realize real success in today’s industry.
I’ve been told to write about what you know best so I can share the story of how we have created our team over here at The Propelr (www.thepropler.com). Obviously we have legal taken care of (www.tkhlaw.com) but we brought on staff to handle all admin from calendar/schedule to financial bookkeeping to merchandise fulfillment. We partnered with a PR company that shares in our percentage income from artists or gives us preferred rates when we need to use their services (ttps://subvertagency.tumblr.com/). We have a licensing company working out of our space that is constantly pitching our music (http://brewhousemusic.com/). We share space with a branding and marketing agency (www.workwithdomino.com) that helps with artwork, social media campaigns and overall branding for our clients. There is a concert promoter working out of our office too (www.silverwrapper.com). So short of having a booking agency in house, we have created a co-op of sorts that allows us to really serve our clients much in the same manner that labels used to do. Obviously I am biased, but I don’t see how else you can really provide value to an artist without building this type of squad.
Want to learn more? Just hit us up.
I’m happy to have been quoted in this article by Paul Schrodt and the Business Insider.
Please take a look here: http://www.businessinsider.com/blurred-lines-case-music-copyright-2015-12
Great question. With so many ways to get your music out to the public it should be easier to break into the music scene, right? Definitely Wrong!
We could write an entire book on the importance of your team as an artist. For the sake of brevity and sanity, let’s focus on networking and management for this post.
The number of individuals who post music to Soundcloud, YouTube, Facebook, ReverbNation, HypeMachine, Spotify, Pandora, MySpace (I think that site is still live), etc. is staggering. So while it is definitely easier to get your music on-line where it may eventually (randomly) be heard by the public, it remains just as difficult, if not more so, to actually get traction and make a career out of being a musician.
There is no one or best answer to this question. Unfortunately a lot of what permits an individual to “make it” in music depends on connections. So much of what happens in music is still based on who you know. While there are many stories of individuals grinding it out in coffee shops, selling cds out of their trunk, submitting demo after demo until, finally, someone with some clout (aka money) opens the magic gates to true exposure, the majority of musicians that have made it take a different route. Networking, schmoozing, pestering etc. are as important as great lyrics, production and stage presence. Going to panel discussions, meeting the right people or people that can lead you to the right people is hugely important. Please don’t mistake the necessity of having great music. You can be the best networker in the world and get your music in front of the exact right people, but if that music is not up to par, the door will quickly be closed.
Let’s assume your music is great and you just need the right people to hear it. What should you do? We at L4M consistently advise our clients to pick the best team members when embarking on a musical career. Try to find the right fit and figure out exactly who/what you need. A lot of artists assume they need a manager immediately. If the right manager is selected and he/she is utilized correctly by the artist, a manager can be an essential key for success.
Managers can quickly become a crutch or an excuse for an artist. Why am I not getting any gigs? Why am I not getting a publishing deal? My manager must not be doing something. While a good manager can secure some opportunities, a manager at the beginning of a musician’s career should be there to offer advice, tough love and help set up a plan for future success. Connections are a huge plus but having a level head and understanding the artist and his/her goals is equally if not more important.
Other key team members include a booking agent, lawyer and publicist. We could write long articles about the importance of each person, but in the very beginning of a music career, these people will most likely come with a certain modicum of success. L4M is obviously partial to lawyers being part of the team, but you will know when you need one (first deal, or band agreement or manager agreement). A good manager should be able to make introductions to all of the other team members you need. In fact, a good way to judge the skill set of your manager is to find out who he/she knows that can help build this team.
How do you find a good manager? Ask around. Don’t rely on websites (many of the best management teams don’t even have a website). Find an artist you admire and see who is on their team. Chances are that Scooter Braun isn’t going to take you on, but find out who he is taking on for clients. Those artists did not start with him as their manager. Reach out to people that know. Lawyers, publicists, other musicians should be your target when trying to find the best management fit.
Remember that there are two sides of a career in music: first and foremost the music followed closely by the business of music. If your music is great, your business skills and team need to be up to snuff. If your team is below par, your music will not get to the masses and you will sadly be lost in the (sound)cloud.
Pandora recently announced that it has passed 200 Million Users on its streaming music platform. This reportedly includes over 100,000 artists that compile the Pandora catalog of music.
Pandora which went public back in June 2011. Its stock has fluctuated after an inflated IPO. However, the recent news made public by the SEC, shows that its founders are cashing out as if they were dependent on streaming revenue to pay their bills (sarcasm intended). The SEC Form 4 report show that Pandora’s top brass has cashed out approximately $87.6 million dollars of their own stock all within less than 2 years of going public.
So what does this mean? Well, it means several things: 1. the executives are now rich (assuming they weren’t before they sold their own Pandora stock), 2. the stock will likely slide in value as the market watches the top executives’ behavior as an indication of the health of a company, 3. the streaming music model is not working well.
Point 3 should be the most alarming and obvious to artists. We’ve reported numerous times of the apparent inadequacies of streaming revenues (e.g. 1,000,000 streams equal some insanely low amount of money). With this new information it is clear that the streaming financial model in place with Pandora, while inadequate for most artists seems to be inadequate for Pandora itself. It appears that the royalty rates that Pandora agreed to pay the labels set the bar at too high of a rate to be a sustainable or scalable model.
For the artists out there, how much have you seen in terms of streaming revenue to date? Are you sound exchange numbers increasing in a proportional manner? Curious minds want to know.
Please write in with your comments. Stay tuned for more.