Protecting Your Music and Your Wallet (2 of 3)

Protecting Your Music and Your Wallet (2 of 3)

How Copyright, Licensing, and Common Sense Can Help You Survive in the Music Business

     When you have a CD to sell or play on the radio, it’s time to join a PRO. You can choose among ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), BMI (Business Music, Inc.), and SESAC (used to be an acronym but now it’s just SESAC). Each of these organizations is set up to track every commercial performance of a registered song and collect a set performance royalty for each use. They take a tiny fee for their trouble and send the rest to you four times a year.

     Which is best for you? Check out each one’s website for differences. They are all well-established and respected. Each has additional services to offer including workshops and showcases. Individuals can register with ASCAP and BMI for free, with small fees charged for more involved memberships or registering as a publisher. SESAC is more restrictive but worth a look. You may only register with one organization. In all cases, license fees are standardized so you’ll get about the same royalty whoever you sign with.

     How much are the fees? You get about 6 cents each time a registered song is played on commercial radio. That may not sound like much, but it can add up if you get regular airplay. If your song gets picked up for a network TV theme song you can get up to $5 per episode multiplied by how many stations air the show. Nice, huh? BMI’s royalty information booklet is particularly clear and detailed. Check it out on their website.

     Mechanical royalties are a little different, in that there is more maneuvering room for rate negotiation, at least with your own record company. But when someone else records a song you hold copyright on, they have to pay a standard royalty fee to you. If you’ve signed with a record company, chances are you’ll be working through or in partnership with their in-house publishing company. And chances are they have signed up with a mechanical rights organization like The Harry Fox Agency to track mechanicals. If you’re running your own show and are lucky enough to have others covering your material, you might want to register with a PRO as a publisher rather than an individual artist and then connect with Harry Fox to help collect all royalties you’re entitled to.

     If, on the other hand, you’re the one who wants to record someone else’s registered song, that too is simple and relatively inexpensive. You don’t have to ask advance permission to record any song that’s already out in the world. You simply find out which PRO or mechanical rights organization represents the copyright holder. You pay a mechanical royalty of 8 cents per track per CD you manufacture (that’s $80 for a run of 1000) and send a letter and check to the artist directly or in care of the PRO. Again, you can find accurate current rates and other details on the Harry Fox Agency website.

When might you need an attorney?

     It’s a good idea to invest in an attorney specializing in the arts if you want to market a band name or a record or production company name you’re not sure is unique. These questions involve trademark and DBA (Doing Business As) issues and vary from state to state. They are usually pretty simple to sort out if you know where to look and what papers to file. A well-connected attorney can do the thorough search you need much faster than you can.

     An attorney can also advise you on the pros and cons of negotiating away any portion of your rights to a song or recording. You’ll almost never want to sell anything outright and almost never want to sign a work-for-hire agreement for your creative services. Get good advice when deciding exactly what to sell, how long the agreement should stand, and what your work is worth.

     Another sensible use for an attorney is to scan any contract you’ve been given to sign. Record companies, even small ones, can trot out very long and involved contracts at first, loaded with boilerplate sections and filled with outdated or inapplicable clauses. It doesn’t matter how sweetly they smile. Get it checked. You’ll be surprised how much dead wood you can hack out. Most companies will happily delete unnecessary clauses. They just want to know if you’re paying attention.

Back to Top Previous Page | Next Page

home | music | writing | soapbox | contact