Which PRO?

Which Performance Rights Agency should you choose as a writer? For the U.S., you have the choice between ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. You only choose one, but the one you choose is up to your tastes and how you feel the PRO fits with your style. And how you agree with the way they handle business. All three have an impressive list of songwriters as members.

It doesn’t matter which one you choose, but it’s important that you choose one and that you register your works with them. After/before you seek a copyright registration, but registering your songs means that the PRO has a database of your songs from which they can assign any royalty payments that may come your way. Many doors and career benefits will be opened.

If you choose to be the administrating publisher for your works, then find out the requirements for having a publisher membership and seek that. If you have a publisher membership, then register your songs under your publisher membership instead of your writer membership. This assures that the entire performance revenue stream is assigned to you or your company. As expected, the main criteria for joining as a publisher is to show evidence that you have had a song published. Find whatever opportunity that you can, say with an independent artist, to get a cut so you can apply for a publisher membership. Or, if you’re a solo artist, then providing info on your first solo CD project or EP or solo song will be the ticket.

If by chance you intend on helping other writers by being an administrating or exploitation publishing agent for them, be sure to sign up for a publisher membership with their PRO so you will receive the publisher’s share of performance royalties.

Preparing for the Studio

Simply stated, what you need in order to record music in a studio is to ask yourself ‘why do I want do this’? Whether you’re a songwriter getting a demo cut or a solo artist or a band, you need to know why you want to do this. Secondly, have an understanding of the process.

There are plenty of good articles everywhere that tell you some ins and outs of ‘how’. Let’s stick with the ‘why’ and some of the background stuff so you know what you’re getting yourself, and possibly your mates, into. After these questions are answered you can get more into the ‘how’.

What are your goals?

Why do you want to record you or your band? Are you a songwriter that needs a demo? What are the goals for doing this? Answers to these questions will help you decide how to proceed. For example, if you are a solo guitarist and your goal is to just have some CDs of a couple of songs to pass out to friends, why not ask around at the local guitar shop or ask friends of someone who has a decent recording set-up that would be willing to make a few extra bucks?

Let’s look at the larger picture. If you want to record with intention of replication and distribution, then be totally aware of copyright law. It would be illegal for you record a song that someone else wrote with the intention of distribution. Go to the Harry Fox Agency and google on ‘how to secure recording rights’. The answer on how to secure recording rights, in a nutshell, is this: pay for the mechanical reproductions you are making by contacting the owner of the rights of those songs. The cost is usually very reasonable.

If your songs are original compositions, protect yourself by getting the songs copyrighted before you record. This is job #1 for the serious songwriter. It takes sometimes up to 6 months to receive a copyright registration, but proof of your submittal is good enough for government recognition of your work.

Ok, back to the topic at hand. Why do you want to record? Are you a solo artist that is recording a project for demo purposes? Then maybe you don’t need to spend huge bucks on a top-of-the-line studio, maybe you need to find a smaller studio or a recording geek to help you out. Are you part of a full band that wants to record for the purposes of getting a demo for distribution to bars? Then seek good quality, but don’t break the bank. Are you a songwriter in need of a great sounding demo? Sadly, a great sounding demo is what is expected. Make a list of the studios in your area. Call or surf and find out recording rates.

Have a plan before getting into the studio.

Do you want really great quality? Then be prepared to spend some money. But fear not, you will save a ton if you your sessions planned far in advance. Think of session planning as you would songwriting. A little incubation time is required.

Before even getting into the studio, contact and prepare the musicians. This means send them charts, mp3s, CDs tapes, whatever. Get them prepared for the parts they’ll be playing. Even if you want them to come up with some ideas, prepare them with whatever you have. Even if it’s only a description of the song.

Plan the sessions with the studio manager. After setting up the blocks of time, tell him or her what you’ll be doing that day. “Today we’re bringing in the drummer and he’s (she’s) gonna play these songs”. In tomorrow’s session, we’ll split the time between recording the bass part on x songs and the acoustic guitar part on x songs.” The session on that day will be all about certain players and certain parts of certain songs.

If you’re planning on recording your band all at once, no problem. Most places can do that. Just be prepared that there’s a goodly amount of set-up time.

Speaking of set-up time, this is all studio time as well. Be prepared because you will have plenty. Especially when it comes to drums.

Even if you’re a solo performer, make session plans. No matter whether your solo or in a band situation, you will need to be flexible and re-structure your plans. Things happen or things take longer than you expected. Learn when a part is good enough and move on. If you’ve got the time to wait for the ‘perfect’ take, then wait. Just remember that time is money.

Build the house. Start with the foundation and build upward. Begin by recording the drums, then get the bass track down. Then the rhythm parts, then any highlight or lead parts. Finally, get the vocals tracked (you may want to record a ‘scratch’ vocal track during the drum session for reference). There’s no hard and fast rules about producing this way, but this is what works well. If you don’t have tight tracks from the drums and a tight bass guitar track to them, nothing else will groove. These ARE the grooves! You might decide to record the band all at once, and this is ok. This also works well. Do what you think would be best for you.

If your band or session musicians are playing and recording a song all at once and you think it will take multiple takes to get it right, think about recording each instrument separately. You’ll have more control over the mix and less frustrations overall.  It just depends on musician availability, whether or not the band performs together better or other time constraints.

The Business of Songwriting – 101

Beyond understanding why my heart burns for songwriting, there lies a need for me to understand the beginnings of songwriting administration. The separate business of Songwriting Administration that is performed by a publisher is also crucial, but that lies separately from what I need to understand as the songwriter.

As a songwriter, I need to begin to ‘dot my i’s and cross my t’s’ by being organized. Not everyone is going to feel the need to be so tidy as another might, but what I mean is so that you have a listing of your songs available so that at a moment’s notice you can be prepared to pitch a song. Creating a spreadsheet with items such as title, song form, musical style, copyright registration in hand/application sent, PRO registration and contract status are some important items. I’ll break out some of these items below.

Why have a column for song form? Not only is it a good way for you to understand the different types of song forms, but it might be a catalyst for you to intentionally write songs in certain song forms. Just another way for you to sharpen that tool for the craft tool box.

Musical style column? No matter what genre(s) or sub-genre styles you write, you’ll be prepared to pitch certain songs when a music manager calls for certain styles or feelings in a song.

A column for copyright registration explains itself. This is a great way to remind yourself that protecting your work before any submissions are made is vital.

PRO registration. Performance Rights Organization. In the US, these companies are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Don’t forget about registering your songs with CCLI. These companies collect royalty monies for any works that are made public, whether that’s radio/tv/satellite or other digital transmissions. Bars, clubs, restaurants, broadcast companies and websites that allow copyrighted material to be publicly played are required to pay license fees to the PROs and the PROs distribute money directly to you, the writer. This revenue is called performance royalties. This is how the basic revenue stream is set up, depending on the agreement you have with your publisher: The PRO will distribute 50% directly to the writer, if you have registered the song with them, and 50% to the publisher. Traditionally, the PROs only paid performance royalties to the songwriter and publisher, but due to the digital act of 1995 added to copyright law, artists now also receive a share of ‘digitally transmitted’ royalties.

Contract status. It will be good for you to keep track of whether or not a song is currently under contract, the type and length of contract and whether or not the contract has granted any exclusive exploitation. Unless you really want to have a column for all of these separate considerations, at least the easy visual of a check mark will lead you to discover the rest of the details in a specific file folder or computer folder somewhere.

As your musical catalog grows, the more you’ll find the need for organization. But only you can dedide that, and whether or not songwriting is a serious business consideration! But let me say that the more you treat it professionally at home, the more professionally you’ll be treated when pitching your wares 🙂

The actual method of pitching will probably vary, depending on your personal or other contact. I guess it’s best to say that being prepared to pitch your songs in a variety of ways might be the best thing. For example: mp3s at the ready, the ability to burn CDs or even inexpensive thumb drives with your personal information. Creating relationships with those who might be willing to listen to your work is a great consideration. Deciding on what type of package to create for pitching is up to your creative genius. The more professional the package and your willingness to make contacts or follow the rules of submission, the more receptive music managers and publishing agents will be with your works.

It’s all about relationships!

Music publishing: What Are Your Goals?

I would never suppose that any songwriter or artist should take the tac that I am taking.  But I might encourage them to look into how I’m handling it, at least for food for thought!

What are my goals as far as music publishing?  Well, in this case, my overall goals in songwriting include the self-publication of my music. So my overall goals belong here in this mission statement:

To be true to the call I have in writing songs for God.  To be true to the call that these songs will be edifying to the body of Christ. To help other writers along the path.  Kingdom ethics, considerations and relationships are first.  Money is second. 

I want to accomplish these goals by pursuing the following:

1) Become the best songwriter I can be.  Take songwriting course(s), read books and  complete exercises as well as create relationships with other songwriters.  Attend seminars when possible.

2) Become an efficient music publisher.  Be as prepared as I can be in administrating my song catalog.  Dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s legally.  Offer publishing services to a few other songwriters (be the exploitation publisher for some, administrating publisher for others).

3) Create a tight branding for my publishing company (stay and create within my niche in the songwriting world, use the same visuals in advertisements, be known for creating respectful relationships).  Create the right relationships and connections to get my songs in front of the right people.

I can’t ask if you agree with these or not, because that doesn’t matter.  What does matter, though are your comments or questions (if you feel like giving them).


Should You Learn More About Publishing?

You know, it’s not an easy decision to be a music publisher when your first passion is writing. My first thoughts were, ‘hey, the publishing aspect is for those who aren’t creative’.  And in some cases, that’s absolutely good.  But a quick read of the basics of copyright law and what publishing actually means to a songwriter had me thinking and researching.  There is too much at stake in the ownership and income pie of this aspect of intellectual property to ignore.  Should you learn more about music publishing??

Copyright law, at it’s very core, is a very simple read.  It’s just that there are so many different contingencies and what-if scenarios that it’s easy to have your eyes glaze over . Unless you’re either a lawyer or extremely interested, it’s easy to give up.

Ok, wait.  This blog isn’t meant to try and explain all there is to know about music publishing, but I’ll tell you this:  The copyright law for the U.S. is found in U.S. Code Title 17 at the Library of Congress.  You can find it all broken into nice little sections in .pdf format at http://www.copyright.gov/title17.  Or download the entire Title 17 there.  The entire code is continually updated to be relevant to current times, and includes all sorts of amendments in regards to other forms of creation, such as semiconductors.  As it pertains to songwriting, no further explanation is necessary, as an introduction, other than the following three paragraphs.

The U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8 says this: The Congress shall have power…to promote the Progress of Science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writing and Discoveries (emphasis mine).  This says that our founding fathers made sure that Congress could make laws protecting songwriters and other authors.

Section 101 describe all of the definitions of Article 17 of the U.S. Code.  Section 102 tells us that (a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.  This says that IF you are the creator of any writing AND the work is expressed in a fixed form THEN copyright protection automatically subsists.  Only one more paragraph, hang with me.

Section 106 of Article 17 says this (I will highlight): Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords; (2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work; (3) to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending (4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly; (5) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pan-tomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and (6) in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

Let’s break that down into small words and few of them:  You, the writer, AUTOMATICALLY own a copyright on the stuff you write.  You also own the EXCLUSIVE right to the words in bold above.  HOWEVER, even though you automatically own a copyright, it is highly suggested by the LOC that you apply for a copyright registration so that your work will be supported by them in a court of law should infringement occur.

What this means in practice is that routinely a song writer will sign away at least half of the rights of a song that they wrote (read over half of the possible income generated by the song).  But they have traditionally given away even more than that.  The majority of publishers in the past have included all sorts of schemes and costs that they can deduct from any monies owed you, and suddenly, you are not receiving even 25% percent of the monies generated by your song. What’s worse, some unscrupulous so-called ‘publishers’ and others that want to make a demo of your song are there only to loosen your wallet and give you promises they have no intention of keeping.  Paying for a demo separately is one thing, but just know this:  a real music publisher would never ask for any of your money up front.

A real music publisher will, however, ask you to sign over a certain percentage of your exclusive rights so they can do their job.  The percentages are a matter for another blog.

There are some basics to know about dealing with publishing contracts.  Reading legal lingo is usually no fun, though.  Learn about the basics of publishing and music publishing history in plain words.  One very good book to do so is Music Publishing: A Songwriter’s Guide by Randy Poe.

If you have any specific questions, please contact me at songs at solidwalnut dot com.