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 you know, typically we write about protecting your rights. This post is about musicians, of all types, having the right to make music in any format he or she may want.
Every decade or so a new type of music becomes popular amongst the teen to twenty-somethings. With the onset of a “new” hot genre of music an inevitable reaction is harsh criticism. The thirty-plus-somethings who still are fond of the trend that was tops when they were of a “taste-making” age cannot help themselves and shred the quality, craftsmanship or artistry of the the music trend du jour.
I guess it is a right of passage; you get to a certain age and you automatically are permitted to present your opinons on why whatever is hot right now sucks compared to what you like. In my formative years, rap took shape and took over. When I started rolling around in my Chevy Citation with a sideways tape deck and front-only speakers blasting Poor Righteous Teachers, De la Soul and NWA (when I was feeling especially hard) I definitely got some nasty looks from inhabitants of my white-bread suburb of Minneapolis. I immediately dismissed my parents and other elders who disclaimed that Rap was nothing more than unoriginal shouting and noise. They (Parents) just didn’t understand (thank you Will Smith).
Every generation has a similar story. Elvis and Chuck Berry were nothing but trouble makers with all that electronic nonsense and rotating hips. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and the Almond Brothers were pot smoking hippies who made noise that was only audible to people on acid trips. Ramones, Sex Pistols and the Misfits were screamers who couldn’t play more than one chord on a guitar. Hair bands came about, and well…I don’t know what to say about hair bands. The point is, every generation has its own thing, its own view point on music and society. That point begets the counter point that the preceding generations typically hate the succeeding generations music and viewpoints.
Enter Electronic Dance Music. EDM has taken the world by storm. DJs who seemingly have no traditional musical ability or knowledge are selling out tours and arenas with their version of music. Is it melodic or overly complicated in production and writing? No. Will it stand the test of time? Maybe. Is it actually music at all? Who cares?
Kids love it and are paying to see it. Yet, the music industry cannot help but get in the way of itself. Complaints by critics and label execs complain that it is destroying the professional musician and his/her chance at a career. Stories of musicians making less money because of the large number of computer programmers currently “acting” as imposter musicians are all over the industry blogs and postings. Complaints of so-called talentless button pushers are rampant amongst the “purists”.
What we can’t seem to understand is why are all of these critics complaining about anyone in the music industry making money? Jealousy is the obvious answer. Laziness or stubbornness are additional answers. The point is, in an industry that has completely changed in the past 15 plus years, another change in popular genres or fan patters should not be surprising. EDM is just another example of a new generation making a choice of what it wants to party and dance to; nothing more. No one is saying you should listen to it and no one is forcing you to buy a dub-step or die t-shirt. Just don’t hate on the kids that do.
EDM has had a huge impact on recent sales from pure DJ’s like Skrillex and Bassnectar to the EDM producers like Guetta and Afrojack. The Pop world has embraced it with acts like Bieber, Usher, Britney and Madonna jumping on the bandwagon and incorporating Dubstep and EDM styles into their major label releases. New festivals and concert series are popping up all over the place and bringing in huge revenue for the promoters, vendors and, oh yeah, the musicians.
So whether you can get down to “wub wub wub” or it makes you stroke out, try to accept it as the natural evolution of music. If you make EDM music, do what you can to learn the ins and outs of the music industry. If you are good, no doubt the late to the party label folks are coming around. Know what you are getting into before you get into it. Your music, whether created on a piano or a keyboard, carries the same rights as any other music. Make sure you protect it and make sure you cash in before the next craze takes shape.
Update: Check out what Coldplay’s Manager has to say about the Spotify Conundrum: CLICK HERE FOR DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS ARTICLE
To stream or not to stream? That is the .0007 cents per stream question.
Recently top name bands like Coldplay, The Black Keys and Arcade Fire have spoken out against streaming. Citing the “gross underpayment” to artists per stream, bands are pulling their music from sites like Spotify or simply prohibiting the placement of their songs altogether.
Let’s look at some projected numbers from streaming on Spotify (courtesy of Digital Audio Insider):
Spotify Per-Stream Payouts August 2009 to March 2011
Smallest: 0.02056 cents
Largest: 1.1456 cents
Average: 0.2865 cents
These numbers are strictly estimates and we have heard that some of the deals that major labels have entered into with Spotify have the per stream at a MUCH lower number then those above. Regardless, to make some actual money through Spotify, an artist will need millions of streams. No problem for Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga, but what about the little guy? Apparently, it’s not just the little guy that is worried/pissed. As mentioned above, Coldplay and The Black Keys have been very vocal about their overall disdain of streaming providers. In a recent VH1 interview, The Keys drummer said the following:
“We decided for this album, to not allow streaming services to stream the entire album,” Keys drummer Patrick Carney said. “It’s becoming more popular, but it still isn’t at a point where you can replace royalties from record sales with royalties from streams. So it felt unfair to those that purchased the album to allow people to go on a website and stream the album for free whenever they want it.”
Independent labels and artists are outraged with the seemingly enormous underpayment to artists and there are consistent stories of indies pulling their music and catalog from the site. The question remains however, will their protest pay off or are they really missing out on a new untapped method of reaching millions of fans?
The founders of Spotify continuously hammer home the message that their’s is a music discovery tool. By having all the published music in one spot, fans will be able to discover deeper cuts or new artists or even new genres of music that they didn’t already appreciate. Following their logic, once you discover these things your are more apt to actually go out and purchase your new discoveries or better yet, go to a show the next time the “new” band is in town.
From personal experience, I actually tend to side with Spotify (probably not the most popular opinion on this site). You can stream virtually every song known to man somewhere on the Internet. Whether it is on YouTube (the new radio for kids), Pandora, blogs, hacker/torrent sites or on artists’ websites, you can typically find a song if you really work Google over for a while. Spotify puts it all in one handy dandy place for you. Then it takes it a step further. In its recently updated version the artists’ radio stations suggest similar music to that of the artist, album or track you originally searched. I have found this to be a great way (much better than Pandora) to discover new music that I like and then support.
This is not the first time that the music industry has had to deal with a game changer (not even close to the first time). As we have mentioned ad nauseum on this site, the Internet fundamentally changed the music industry. Moving at a painfully slow pace, the label infrastructure was not ready for the shift. Look what happened to them. Now that the Internet is out of its infancy and new and creative ways to bring music to fans are being created on a daily basis, will the existing labels and, more significantly, the independent artists be ready to play ball? Or will they stamp their feet and and cry “UNFAIR, DO OVER!”?
Rather than complaining about the system in place and the uber small price per stream (which we agree is way to small and should be changed a bit), we suggest that bands get creative with streaming networks. Give fans extras and incentives to stream. Be discovered and it should lead to better results for your music.
Perusing the local trade magazines or attending a music based conference can lead a musician (or someone who works with musicians) to believe that Armageddon is truly here. If we hear one more speech or read one more article about the end of the music industry as we know it, we will certainly collectively go nutso.
The truth is the entire economy is in the crapper. We don’t know one industry that hasn’t been touched (well, maybe crime, if that is an industry). Music has certainly not been immune. However, we here at L4M are here to say that Debbie Downer needs to turn her frown upside down. While the days of multi-multi platinum records and huge advances are certainly on death’s doorstep, the savvy musician can do more than just eek out a living. Here are some things we think musicians should be happy about:
1. The Internet. Long hailed as the assassin of the music industry, the world-wide web offers more opportunities than it does problems if you know how to ride the waves. Not only has the internet introduced the fan to new (and mostly legitimate) ways of finding new music, collaborative websites now allow musicians a means to create, promote and distribute their music. Sites like TopSpin, BeatPort, BandCentral, SoundCloud and Facebook have become essential and typically inexpensive methods for sharing talent, ideas and product. If utilized properly, the internet’s social media platforms can completely replace a label based pr system. Access, affordability and a global reach are definitely something that the Internet provides to the musician willing to navigate it.
2. Music Festivals. Music festivals breath new life and huge opportunities to major label talent as well as emerging bands. Bringing great music to enormous crowds coupled with innovative festival organizers oftentimes bring great results. Not only are festivals bringing tremendous revenues to musicians and the organizers, they offer great opportunities to buzz bands to play in front of huge crowds and important taste makers. On top of that, every festival brings with it industry parties, opening slots for after shows, and tons of press. Emerging bands who strategically plan ahead for a visiting festival can really cash in (maybe not as much as Perry Farrell, but still…).
3. Music Licensing. It used to be that in order to get your music licensed your label or publisher would have to cozy up to a music supervisor. With the amount of media content around the world growing at a record pace (think tv, radio, satellite radio, internet programming, commercials, film etc.) there is a matching need for quality music. Jingles are a thing of the past. Ad agencies with unlimited budgets for music is also rare at best. Quality music that may originate from lesser known musicians but do not carry with it the rigors of publisher and label demands has become imperative. Musicians who work to get their music to savvy music libraries can make money on both up front music licensing sync fees as well as the oftentimes lucrative performance royalties.
4. The Remix. Want to resurrect an old single? Want to make some money as a producer by resurrecting that old singer? Never before has the remix been more important. DJ’s like Skrillex and Guetta have become über rich by making a name for themselves as talented remixers as well as great djs. For popular musicians, remixes by producers or other bands can lead to revitalized sales of a falling single. The remix is a handy promotional tool as well (Lady Gaga will be ever-present again for a while as she announces the release of an entire remix album). Another means of collaboration, oftentimes between artists who would not otherwise work together is definitely a trend that we can all be thankful for in 2011.
5. Vinyl. The LP appears to be back for good. Collectors as well as a new generation of music purchasers appear to be favoring holding something cool in their hands and not just in an electronic file living in an Ipod. While still expensive to manufacture, vinyl sales in 2011 continue to defy the rest of the industry. A positive trend that began several years ago, there does not seem to be a slow down to the sale of the old school vinyl record.
What about you? What are you thankful for as a musician or a music fan in 2011? Please comment below. Let’s stay positive and bring in the joy during this holiday season. Having trouble doing so, slap on the collector’s edition of Justin Bieber’s Christmas album. We have no doubt that you will soon be smiling!
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
Recently I was on a panel at Northwestern Law School with another lawyer, a musician (who happens to ba lawyer too) and an ASCAP representative. Our topic was the effect that cloud or subscription based music services will have on performers and songwriters. While I definitely had my own opinions on the topic, it was ear/eye opening to hear from my fellow panelists.
Most music lovers seem to have their own private way to listen and enjoy their music. While there is a lot of overlap amongst listeners (iPods, satellite radio, pandora, car radios, home stereos) everyone has their own unique method to purchase, stream, listen and (now most importantly )travel with their collection. In the past we would break out our record collection and play records in the family room. Then came the cassette and the walkman. Our record collections became somewhat mobile and we could grab our favorite tapes and walk around or drive while listening to our collection of music. Technology allowed for better sounding recordings to travel along with us with the invention of the CD. However, like one of my panel compatriots aptly pointed out, a music fan was a prisoner to his cd collection; still rather bulky and highly scratchable, you would have to lug a box/book of cds with you on each road trip and hope that they did not fall between the seats or get scratched on the dashboard.
Enter the MP3. A computer file that is quickly dowloaded and containes cd quality sound. The digital album revolutionized the way we consume music. As with most revolutions, the infrastructure that existed prior to the revolution (the big music label system) fell. Brilliant entrepreneurs and crafty opportunists from Apple to Napster entered the fray and came out making billions of dollars from the shift. For the everyday consumer of music, it became easier to listen to music wherever you wanted to do so. Your entire record collection can now fit into the palm of your hand, be programmed to your car’s stereo or be shared with people in your office with a click of a button.
Now that the digital age of music is over a decade old, there is yet another shift occurring. Technology again is making it easier for people to listen to their music collection regardless of where they are. The clouds have come rolling in.
Pandora has already helped put the cloud on the map with approximately 80 million users (1 new user every second per the www.digitalmusicnews.com). But services such as Spotify, Sony’s Qriocity and Google’s delayed cloud service will take it one step further. While Pandora allows you to listen to music based on bands or songs you tell it you like, the cloud subscription services allow you to pick all of your music. Essentially, you will no longer have to actually purchase a song, let alone an album. Rather, you will pay a monthly fee that will allow you to pick your favorite songs, categorize them, rank them, etc. and, most importantly, take them with you. Whether you are listening on your hand-held device (smart phone or iPod type device), on your computer, in your car or listening to your home stereo system, your music will be there waiting for you. As long as you keep paying the monthly fee, that music will be with you.
As a consumer, I think cloud based systems are the bees knees. Technology should make things easier and better. Allowing me to go from my office to my car without missing a beat of the song I was just listening to (I’m very fast) and without plugging anything in, is amazing. As a lawyer who represents musicians and songwriters, I’m worried. For interactive internet based music providers (where the user gets to select the songs he/she wants to listen to) the royalty rates are negotiated between the labels/publishers and the cloud provider. This means that the labels and big publishers negotiate pre-determined revenue shares for each stream of a song; typically a teeny tiny fraction of a dollar (in England the rate is thought to be around 0.00085 pound). A famous example of how potentially horrible these rates can be is the report that Lady Gaga who had over one million streams of Poker Face on Spotify in the UK earned $167.00 (click here for more on that).
The labels and publishers in the US are fighting for more per stream. But don’t go rooting for them quite yet. They are negotiating deals so that they actually get an equity or ownership stake in the cloud based service. So while it appears as though they are fighting for the artists (which some of them might actually be doing), they are also positioning themselves to make as much money as they can in the process. If the clouds make it unnecessary to ever download and actually own a song, how are the songwriters and artists going to recapture that lost income? As of now, the songwriter lobbyists are doing a good job of asking that question and fighting to establish fair payments for musicians.
The laws in place that cover interactive internet radio and subscription services did not imagine the day when streaming would eclipse downloads. That day has clearly arrived: “Streams of music are eclipsing everything,” Universal Music Group UK chief David Joseph recently told the Guardian. “It’s a different digital currency to downloading. You’re dealing with 175 million single tracks bought a year compared to 7 billion streams of music.” (from The Digital Music News). Just as technology has adjusted, the laws dealing with fair payments to the providers of content need to be modified.
The bottom line is that just as the cassette replaced the record, the cd replaced the tape and the mp3 replaced the cd, the cloud is going to replace the downloaded mp3. The clouds are rolling in and the artists may be left in the impending dark.
Lately we’ve noticed a growing trend in the independent music scene. Specifically in the businesses that work with independent musicians. Many companies and individuals who used to have a job or a business that covered one specific element of the music scene are now presenting themselves as the “one stop shop” for musicians. As you know, we like to dissect things around here, especially when catch phrases or “industry” speak is thrown around as if it has one universal meaning.
To me, a one stop shop conjures up images of a major highway gas station where you can get gas for your car, a slim jim, bait for your fishing trip, a slice of pie and possibly take a shower (I would not recommend the last one). Basically a one stop shop should give a consumer an option to purchase all that he or she needs in one location. Transfer the phrase to the music industry and it is not quite as clear what a one stop shop is or should be.
We know that in the past a label was supposed to be a one stop shop, with a massive amount of employees handling everything from A&R to press to accounting for its signed musicians. With the decline of the label system the number of employees at labels feel as dramatically as the number of records sold at Tower Records. Thus, the services once offered by a label were no longer present. The displaced label personnel did not simply bury their heads in the sand. Rather, they started showing up as specialty boutiques offering the specific services they once provided to labels direct to the musicians or independent labels. Because the music industry is still based on who you knew, these boutiques served a pretty powerful purpose for quite some time. For example a boutique full of ex-Warner Brothers PR experts could utilize all of the same contacts it once had at a label directly to musicians for a discounted price (lower overhead).
Still, as the economy worsened, the boutiques had a difficult road ahead of them. Boutique employees were cast off too. So now you have a bunch of skilled and connected music industry folks milling about and looking for a new way of doing what they used to get paid to do by the labels and the speciality boutiques. A PR executive befriends a merchandising expert who then befriends a music web designer and so on and so on. The displaced experts then form a “one stop shop” for musicians. Essentially becoming a lean-mean label which, ideally, avoids the red-tape and bureaucracy of the traditional label system.
However, each one of these self-proclaimed one stop shops must be examined a bit more closely prior to agreeing to work with them. Here are some questions you should ask: Do you have distribution (usually digital is enough, but physical, think vinyl, is still important)? Do you have press contacts and the ability to do an actual push to garner the attention you need (in the markets that make sense) for the release of your music? Do they have connections with booking agents? Do they have connections to a legal team that understands music and corporate law? Have they managed a band before or do they have a management team in place? What type of connections do they have to other musicians, producers and studios?
All of these questions are important when choosing to work with any business out there purporting to be a one stop shop. Oh yes, there is also that little issue of money. All the connections in the world don’t matter if you don’t have the money to fund the project. Typically, a one stop shop is not going to operate with the budgets of the labels or the indie boutiques. The shop will be more of a facilitator, a connector of the dots, rather than a bank roll. As a musician, you will want to make sure you have your music production ready to roll (whether it’s an EP or an album) before agreeing to work with a one stop shop. Otherwise, you may be stuck at their shop without the cash to buy the goods.
The model for these shops is similar to the license arrangements indie labels used to enter into (some still do) back in the day. You bring your finished product to the shop, they market it and sell it to the masses. But the shops go one step farther by attempting to manage your band, book you shows, protect you legally and sometimes keep your corporate books and records. That is why it is so important to know what you are getting into before signing anything.
The one stop shop idea can work. Due your diligence, ask the right questions, demand everything in writing (and have it reviewed in writing) and continue to do your own job as a musician: make great music.