Recently I attended the Q-Tip and Cool Kids concert at House of Blues. During a bumping version of Bointa Appelbaum, my friend Aaron, taking a brief break from bobbing his head off-beat, asked me how can Q-Tip play this song without the rest of Tribe? Relishing the opportunity to spread my music and law knowledge I began explaining to him how copyrights work and wondering aloud whether a Tribe Called Quest had a band member agreement. Aaron, much like most people I talk to about the law, immediately glazed over and went back to doing his version of the electric slide.
I figure, however, if you are reading this blog, you may want to know how Q-Tip was able to publicly perform some of Tribe’s greatest hits or how Roger Waters could sing Dark Side of the Moon or how Phil Lesh and friends can delight fields of the unshowered with Sugar Magnolia. These artists have the ability to dig deep into their former band’s repertoire for several reasons.
Most of us have been to a concert where the headliner covered another song. Bands can play other bands material at a concert so long as they register the performance (oftentimes after the fact) with ASCAP, BMI or SEASAC. But the Q-tip situation is a bit different. Q-Tip was treating the crowd to set full of classic songs made famous by his former group. If Phife Dawg was on tour, could he ask if he “Can Kick It” (click on the link to see who holds the copyright)?
The answer, unfortunately, is that it depends on how organized the band was. If they had a band member agreement (see https://lawyer4musicians.com/2008/08/ for more about band member agreements) it undoubtedly contained provisions for an eventual band break up. Issues that may seem unnecessary today may have a huge impact later. A leaving member or termination provision will have an invaluable effect on how your band’s brand is treated after the life the of the band is over. If properly written, the termination provision will ensure that the band’s name and its value are not diluted. It will set out who can use the songs, who can tour under the band’s name and who can re-issue recordings.
Think of it this way: Smashing Pumpkins break up (for like the 5th time) but James Iha and Billy Corgan want to tour with new members using the Smashing Pumpkins band name and the Pumpkins’ catalog of music. If there is no agreement between the members of the Pumpkins, and both try to tour under that name, they will both most likely fail or at least end up in court fighting for the right to use the name and songs.
For independent artists that are not quite at the band member agreement phase there are steps to take to ensure that this type of confusion and conflict do not occur. First, just talk to your band mates about it; get a sense for where everyone is on the issue of song ownership. Second, register your copyrights in your recordings. The copyright registration will allow you to designate the author of each song you register. That way, if there is a debate down the road you can at least point to the copyright to show who owns what and who has to get permission from whom before a song is performed or recorded. Third, trademark your band name. The trademark registration will allow you to claim ownership of your band name and logo. Finally, suck it up and put everything in writing. Keep in mind your first agreement can be amended and modified as many times as you want.
SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION OF THE WEEK: WHATZISFACE
Bobby Buscher (aka the Waterboy) really just wanted a friend other than his momma and their family horse. Bobby, like you, knows the value of friendship. I’m hear to tell you how right you are.
I don’t know the cold hard numbers of how many people under the age of 30 have some sort of virtual community profile, but I do know that amongst my peers it is about 90% (it would be higher but some people can’t log on to Facebook from work). Whether its MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn people are “virtually” expressing themselves. As in the past, music is a normal way for any individual to express himself. Now instead of blasting music from your dorm room or dressing like your favorite hair band, people are including their favorite music on their homepage. MySpace profiles are laced with personal media players and Facebook allows you to become fans of your favorite band. So when a friend invites someone to view their page or to become their friend they are not just passing their pictures from their wedding or their latest vacation pics, they are also “virally” passing along their favorite music.
Smart musicians or their management team will allow their music to be added to profiles, but in a streaming only format (don’t want to give it all away without being able to track it). The minute your one fan passes or shares their profile with your music to their network of friends your audience has just increased exponentially (depending on how popular the fan is).
I have written about the viral loop effect of music before (see https://lawyer4musicians.com/2008/06/19/turn-your-music-into-a-virus/), but it is definitely worth writing about again. As our economy suffers and pirated music continues to run rampant, musicians need to capitalize on all of their available resources. One seemingly obvious resource that is consistently overlooked is a musicians friends and colleagues.
Case in point: here in Chicago there has been a huge burst in the “underground” hip hop scene. With the help of the mainstream rappers like Kanye West and Common, other windy city acts have been able to jump on the scene. The Cool Kids, Kid Sister, and Kidz in the Hall have been able to capitalize on the attention Chicago hip hop has garnered over the past several months and launch their own careers. Using the buzz of a growing music scene, brilliant use of community websites, the success of their colleagues, oh yeah, and good music, these once obscure artists have attained national and international recognition.
Now the next generation is climbing on board. The Cool Kids were helped out by Flosstradamus, so in turn they lent a hand to Mickey Factz, Hollywood Holt and Mic Terror. Collaborating on tracks, producing beats, appearing on stage, or hyping each other on their own community webpage, one artist helps out the other. This isn’t just hippy pay it forward crap, this is good business. The buzz becomes tangible and concerts with more recognizable lineups are packed, merchandise is moved and careers are launched.
Check out friendship in action: http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfmfuseaction=blog.view&friendID=7240921&blogID=425195126
As Tenacious D brilliantly crooned: “Friendship is rare. Do you know what I’m saying to you? Friendship is Rare.” Think of your friends as friends first and your potentially viral network second and things may go a.o.k. for you and your music.