Collaborating on Film

If you are interested in placing your music with television or film projects, GMIA (Georgia Music Industry Association) is sponsoring what should be a very interesting seminar: “Collaboration Between Musicians and Independent Filmmakers.” It’s coming up tomorrow night, Tuesday, March 19, 7:00pm, at SAE Institute. Free to GMIA members and first time guests. Just $10 to everyone else. Hope to see you there!

An Interview with SoundExchange

I’ve mentioned this organization before, but it’s worth repeating.  If you have music that is being played over the internet, or you are interested in pod casting music over the internet, you need to know about SoundExchange. They are the entity authorized by congress to collect royalties for internet streaming and make payments to recording artists and owners of the master recordings.

Gino Robair of Mix Magazine conducted an interview with Michael Huppe, president of SoundExchange, and asked the questions that you are probably wondering about yourself. The entire interview is here.

In addition, if you’re curious as to how much is paid, you can check out the rates on the SoundExchange site.

Predicting Effect

A few weeks back I read an article on the sudden disappearance of much of the ice in Greenland.  I wondered what could be the cause. I’m sure there are teams of scientists investigating this right now.  The nice thing about investigating a cause is that the effect is known. With good research, a cause can probably be accurately determined.  It is much more difficult to predict the effect of a cause unless it has happened before.

With every new musical release we create a ’cause.’  We don’t really know what the effect will be.  Record labels use focus groups to grapple with this problem.  They will get a representative group or groups of people together and let them listen to the music that is up for release.  The companies running these sessions have prepared questionnaires and guidelines that help determine what demographic the record company should aim for in marketing the music.  These kinds of groups are valuable in that they help reduce the marketing costs involved in promoting a recording, and help target a potential fanbase for the artist.

Until now, that kind of research has been prohibitively expensive for the independent artist.

Sure, there are places you can get your music reviewed by a professional critic, and for the people who frequent those blogs or online magazines, this can be a source of validation.  But that is a professional reviewer, not the average unbiased listener.

There are social outlets and contests you can join to have your song rated highly.  This usually involves contacting your network of friends and requesting that they vote repeatedly for your song.  The only ones benefitting in the end from this is the hosting website, who gets all of those extra eyeballs for their advertising purposes.

One of my clients recently sent me a review of one of his songs that cost him around $40. It was a comprehensive report that was broken down by sex (male/female) and also into three age groups (16-24, 25-34, 35-44)  weighted toward the younger demographic.

It began with an overall market potential for a single overall market, in this case ‘rock.’  Following that was the ‘track rating’ and ‘passion rating.’  Then for comparison, three songs by established artists with similar ratings were listed along with a ‘play’ button to audition the tracks.

The ratings were then illustrated by pie and stack charts, showing the breakdown of the sample group by age and gender, and a 1-10 scale of how well the track was liked which was distributed by the number of people who voted that way.  It also showed a scatter graph of how the track would fare against 1,000 other tracks in that genre of music.

Next it did a breakdown of the language used in the reviews of the track, listing the most talked about elements of the track and a sound cloud with the most often used words shown in the largest fonts.

After that, selected individual reviews (over 40 of them) were listed, identified only by the age group of the reviewer. These ranged from very knowledgeable and articulate opinions to ‘not the style of music I normally listen to, but…’

What an awesome tool!  In his case, I believe he got the picture that the ‘rock’ track he presented was perceived as more of a ‘country’ track by this sampling of the public as of this date, and that his target demo was age 35-44 with a surprisingly strong following by the younger demo as well. This sure beats just going with your gut, taking years to understand who is going to be affected by your music.

So there is now an affordable tool for anyone who is serious about releasing their music to the public, building a fan base, and being closer to the target with their marketing.  I almost forgot.. the name of this company is SoundOut.  Be sure to check out what they have to offer.  I think it’s a real deal.


The New Retitle Publishing Approach

A friend and cowriter of mine recently sent me a link to a site that was interested in pitching our song for film and television.  All well and good.  But this proposition had a twist:

  • They would give our song a new title
  • They would have ownership rights to the retitled version
  • We would keep all rights to our original title

In every other respect, this was a standard publishing contract.

Why would a company do that?

The publishing industry has changed dramatically in the digital era. The two largest sources of income for published songs are broadcast performance royalties (radio, television) and film and television licenses (synchronization fees).  It’s practically impossible to crack this field as an individual.  Given the wide range of musical material needed for film cues, you have to have a large library of music in all styles in order to compete.  So in addition to the usual large traditional exclusive publishing  companies going after this business, there are also companies that employ member crowdsourcing (TAXI) and still others that troll searchable sound sites like Soundclick to quickly build up a catalog of material by working out retitle deals with the owners of the music.

In our case, I thought it was a win-win for everybody.  Our song had been written for a specific movie use and was not selected.  We had nowhere else to pitch it, so it sat dormant for a year.  The way this deal was structured left us free to continue to pitch our original title any way we wished, AND we had the benefit of the alternate title being actively pitched by a publishing company with film contacts.

As I did more research, I discovered that there are some drawbacks.

Because the content is identical, and only the ‘wrapper’ changes, it means in effect that the retitle publishing company does not have exclusive rights to the song.  As a matter of fact, we could find another retitle publisher and work out a similar deal, giving us our original and two retitled versions pitched by two different companies.  This can create confusion and ownership questions when the film company receives the same song with two different titles from two different companies at two different licensing rates.

Another area of concern is automatic song identification.  ASCAP and BMI have both employed ‘fingerprinting’ services that can identify a title by its sonic characteristics, reducing  the need for broadcast station playlists and streamlining the logging process.  This is extensively used for song identification with streaming internet radio.  If you have your original version recorded and released for airplay at the same time your retitled version becomes popular from inclusion in a film, who gets the airplay royalties?

Also, consider the possibility of future interest from a traditional exclusive publisher.  They would not be interested in signing a song that already exists in the marketplace under a different title.

Lastly, why retitle the song when there is the option of placing it with a company that does in effect the same thing (pitch the title to film and television) but they don’t retitle the song and there is no long term contract (

So it’s a mixed bag.  Retitling makes sense if:

  • Your song has not been previously released
  • You are not actively pitching the song
  • You don’t have the option of placing it with an exclusive publisher
  • You don’t have the option of placing it with a licensing company that doesn’t retitle
  • You sign it to only one non-exclusive retitle publisher
  • You are comfortable with the fact that the retitled version, if successfully placed, will be the version of the song that will be recognized and identified, not the original

If you do decide to pursue a retitle publishing deal, remember that this IS a  publishing contract.  As with any publishing deal, you’ll want to make sure you agree on the money splits, that there is some kind of reversion term where you get the song back after a period of time if no placement is secured, and that the publisher is someone you feel comfortable about staying in contact with since you have, in effect, entered into a partnership agreement.

Research links:

Access THIS…

Before there were recordings, there was live performance and sheet music.  In order to hear your favorite piece of music, you had to either show up at a public concert where it was being played, or learn how to play the notes.

When radio broadcasts became available, you could listen for hours until you heard your favorite song being played.

In the days of records, you could purchase a recording and play it in your home any time you liked.

When the cassette recorder came out, you could personally tape record your favorite individual songs either from your records, your friends’ records, or off the radio, and play them on your home stereo, your car player or battery powered portable player.  Freedom at last!

CD’s became just a high tech version of the LP until the CD recorder came out.  Then it became a high tech version of the cassette recorder.

And now the internet turned our favorite song into 1’s and 0’s that we could share with our friends in a data stream, wherever they may live.

Concurrent with that is the history of audio data storage.  LPs were 1/8” thick and 12”x12” square.  Cassettes were smaller but thicker.  CD’s in jewel cases are about ¼” thick and about 5.25” square. MP3 files have no physical dimension, but they take up digital storage space as measured in megabytes – about 1MB per minute of music.

Who wants to devote an entire room to a collection of 1,000 LPs, cassettes or CDs?  Maybe you can devote an entire hard drive to your music collection, but you wouldn’t have access to it while you’re at work.  Maybe you can put some of it on your MP3 player, but you wouldn’t have it all.  That’s where the cloud comes in.

The cloud is nothing more than a huge cluster of computers to which you are granted access.

And so our model of recorded music is shifting from ownership to access. We, the media consumer, want everything all the time, because it’s now possible.  The control of access is where the money is. You pay Comcast every month for access to hundreds of channels that you don’t watch because that’s the only way they sell it to you. You pay Netflix every month for access to thousands of movies that you don’t watch because it’s cheaper than one night at the local movie theater.  By the same token, every now and then you stumble on something cool while channel surfing and become a fan, or you’ll read a movie synopsis presented by the Netflix “Because you liked this..” algorithm and decide to watch it instantly.

In our field, the big three access models are Pandora, Grooveshark, and Spotify.  Each allows you to join for free, provided you don’t mind the ads.

Pandora is built on the old radio station idea, where you build a channel based on the style of your favorite artist.  You’ll hear the artist about one in every ten songs, but you’ll hear a variety of music and musicians that have similar styles.

Grooveshark is a personal playlist engine.  You do the work of finding the songs and create your own playlists.  The site will present you with suggestions of similar artists.

Spotify incorporates both ideas.  You can listen as your own custom radio channel, build your own playlists, use playlists generated by other users, or any combination thereof.  In addition, by default it shares what you are playing to your Facebook or other social network friends so that they can see what you’re listening to. If you don’t want to share, you can set your session to be private.  Also, you can use music found on your desktop or mobile device in your playlists and access it anywhere.

None of these applications take up much room on your desktop or your mobile phone.  The music you stream comes from the worldwide cluster of computers in the cloud, not your personal and limited storage.  You are free to stumble upon as much new and interesting music as you like, provided that it is available on the service – which is why I write this.

If you’re not represented on a streaming service, it’s time to think about it.  Each service is interested in both signed and unsigned artists.  You may have to go through a middle man ‘aggregator’ like CD Baby or Tunecore.  You probably won’t make much money.  But you will be represented, people will have a chance to discover you, and you can make some money.

The requirements for each service can be found in the following links:

Pandora  |  Grooveshark  |  Spotify


Let’s talk money. All forms of income from music stem from the protection offered by the existing copyright laws.  The monies that are generated by a song’s copyright are usually split evenly between the writer(s) and the publisher(s).  If you are the sole writer of a song and haven’t signed an agreement with a music publisher, YOU are in effect both the writer AND the publisher.  If you are an artist with a song somewhere on the internet and you haven’t entered into an agreement with a recording company, YOU ARE the recording company as well.

Unless you are negotiating directly with someone for the use of your music, another company is collecting these royalties for you (and for everyone else like you).  If you don’t register with them, the money they collect for you goes into a big pile and gets distributed to the ones who HAVE registered.

So, getting down to it, in the copyright law passed in 1976, your rights were:

Public Performance Concerts, radio and TV broadcasts,nightclubs, etc Broadcasters pay the performing rights societies: ASCAP, BMI, SESAC.  They in turn pay both the publisher and the writer.
Mechanical Rights Any form requiring a mechanical device for playback: cassettes, CDs, MP3s Recording companies  (Sony, UMG, your indie label) pay the publishers or publisher representatives (Harry Fox Agency).  The publisher then pays the writer according to their agreement.
Synchronization Synchronizing music with video – whether TV or film or commercial. This is usually a negotiated one-time fee. The publisher of the song negotiates directly with the film or TV or advertising company, then pays the writer according to their agreement.
Print Sheet music, TAB transcriptions, etc. The print publisher pays the song publisher, who then pays the writer according to their agreement.
Grand Rights The use of the song as the basis for another art form, such as film or book.  This is, again, usually a one-time fee. The publisher negotiates the fee directly, and pays the writer according to their agreement.

OK, that’s the ‘what.’  How much money are we talking about, and how does it get paid?

Radio & television Stations pay a blanket license to the performing rights societies for the right to play ANY song in their catalog.  The fee is based on the size of their listenership. Generally, this is the lion’s share of income received by a songwriter or writer/artist.
Nightclubs Clubs also pay a blanket license for the right to play music in their clubs for their patrons, based on their capacity.
CD sales Record companies pay a per song rate to the publisher or a publisher representative such as the Harry Fox Agency. Congress has established a minimum rate (statutory rate – currently 9.1 cents) that is reviewed every few years. FYI, record companies will generally submit a separate agreement to the writer(s) prior to a CD release for a sub-statutory rate. Gotcha!
Synch License (Film), Grand Rights The film production company pays the negotiated fee for synchronization to the publisher directly.   This is normally a one-time fee ranging from free (for exposure) to thousands of dollars.
Advertising The advertising agency negotiates either a one-time fee (buyout) or a residual fee with the publisher.  Many factors determine the amount paid: the number of markets in which the ads will air, artist name recognition, lyric changes, etc.
Print The print publisher pays the song publisher a percentage of the wholesale price as a royalty. Traditionally this has been between 10%-12.5%.  Also, traditionally, this is not split 50/50 (a holdover from the days of print), but that is changing.

In 1998, the Digital Milennium Copyright Act was passed which expanded the 1976 law into the digital realm of the internet.  It also criminalized attempts to circumvent digital rights management and heightens penalties for copyright infringement. There’s a great article from back in 2007 written by Dina LaPolt that goes into great detail about the various ways artists and writers are paid for digital streaming and downloads.  Click here to read it in its entirety.  Here are the highlights:

Digital Downloads Treated as a form of mechanical license, these are files downloaded for a fee from sites such as iTunes or Amazon. The download site pays the recording company or administrator such as CDbaby, who then pays the song publisher a percentage of the fee.
Interactive Webast The consumer interacts with the website to hear music of their choosing as either custom playlists (Grooveshark, Rhapsody) or random automatic selections based on preference (Pandora). The web site owner pays the recording company, since this is not a broadcast situation. They in turn pay the song publisher a percentage of their fee.
Internet Radio (Master Recording License) XM Radio, internet versions of terrestrial radio, cable music stations such as Music Choice. The Master Recording license is the fee paid for the right to stream the sound recording. Soundexchange collects streaming royalties on behalf of the owner of the master recording (usually the record company). 50% goes to the label, 45% to the featured artist, and 5% to the non-featured musicians and vocalists.
Internet Radio (Broadcast performance license) XM Radio, etc. as above.  This is the fee paid because it fits the legal definition of a broadcast. These fees are collected by the performing rights societies (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) and are paid to both the publisher and the songwriter.
Video Games X-Box, Wii, online games, mobile apps Publisher negotiates the fee directly – usually a ‘buyout’ (one-time fee for unlimited use)
Ring Tones Treated as a mechanical license, these are short portions master recordings used to identify callers musically. Carrier keeps half the money, record label gets the other half, and pays the statutory rate (24 cents) to the publisher.

So now you know – at least some of it. SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) are current legislative attempts to protect and further strengthen copyright law enforcement.  Unfortunately, the wording of the legislation opened the possibility of abuse and it has been tabled indefinitely (largely because the lawmakers on the government’s Technology Subcommittee have no experience in the field).  Even without it, current intellectual property law gave the US Justice Department the power to shut down the site – an operation based in China and headquartered in New Zealand – and extradite its principals to the US for trial.  I think that this case will be a bellweather for the future of copyright law, and our future income.

EZ Buy Buttons

I’ve started working with SoundCloud to post some songs up on my Reveal Audio Facebook page.  I’m not sure of what all I might do with this right now.  One use would be to plug some of the music coming out of the studio by putting up snippets of the latest work.  So far that’s what I’ve been doing.

If I were an artist with a presence on iTunes or Amazon, I could use the SoundCloud app to link to my commerce page on those websites.  It already can link up with just about every major social network out there with one click of the mouse.

Today I noticed a little button on the right side of the page about using the program as a platform to sell music using an app called Ganxy.  This links directly to your SoundCloud page and allows anyone to easily set up a way for listeners and viewers to purchase a download of the music or the media. If you don’t have a dedicated website, you can promote the heck out of your music on your Facebook or Twitter pages and use the SoundCloud page as the commerce site. If you do have a website up and running, you can embed a bit of code and get a “Buy” button to appear.

The nice thing is that there are no setup fees, no maintenance fees, and you keep 90% of your download price.  That beats just about everybody else – CD Baby, Amazon, PayPal, or Tunecore.  It’s up to you to drive the traffic to your SoundCloud page (or your SoundCloud enabled web page), but once you do and the “Buy” button is clicked, you stand to make more.

I just wanted to pass this along as it was new to me.  Those of you who have been e-commercing things for a while may know of other options.  If so, feel free to pass them along here for the benefit of others.

Errors and Such

Whenever someone finishes a project with me, they get a data DVD as well as the audio CD master. The data DVD contains all of the files of the session – all tracks, no edits, all starting from the beginning of the project. Also included in separate folders are the WAV mixes and the WAV masters. This is not just so that you can return to the studio at a later time and be able to pull up the project to change a vocal line, although that’s handy. It’s also not just to have the tracks in case you want to take them to another studio on another audio platform, although that’s handy, too. It’s also about avoiding errors.

When you burn an audio CD on your computer, you also burn errors onto the disc. It’s unavoidable. The faster your burn speed, the more errors you introduce onto your audio CD. The only reason we are even able to play an audio CD is because the players have error correction circuitry built into the device. Some are better than others. That’s why your CD will play on your stereo at home but stutters when you put it in your car.

So if you put your audio CD in your computer and iTunes rips it onto your hard drive as a streaming media file (MP3, M4P, etc), you’ve even degraded it more because it’s now lost up to 90 percent of the audio content.

Copying data from a CD or DVD is another thing entirely.  Error correction is built into the process.  So if you take the data DVD I’ve given you, navigate to the Master folder, and copy the mastered WAV files that you find there over to your computer, they will be bit for bit identical to what was on the disc and what was on my computer.  That means when you burn a CD using those WAV files, you are starting with the best quality of data you have available.

If you are selling CD’s that you’re burning from your home computer, this should go a long way towards preventing returns on CD’s that won’t play.

TV/Film Placement

In addition to 99 cent downloads, more than ever we are looking to film and TV for a song placement. If we are successful there, it means instant recognition for our song and for ourself as an artist, not to mention the money paid for the license and the back end performance royalties generated. Here are three internet sources:
Taxi: Billed as the world’s leading A&R company, Taxi works to pair its members with music industry professionals, hopefully resulting in label deals or song placements. It costs about $300/year to join and they charge a fee every time you want to submit one of your songs for an industry event or media placement.
Broadjam: Networking site dedicated to indie music. Song of the month/lyric of the month contests with cash prizes. Can sell downloads on site. Broadjam charges $.19 per $.99 download (20%). There are opportunities listed to place your music with film/TV projects on a reasonable flat fee per song basis.
Rumblefish: Music licensing site that acts as broker for music supervisors seeking music for film and TV. You retain all rights and performance royalties. Rumblefish gets 50% of the net licensing fees. It’s non-exclusive with a one-year term and no submission fees.

The gist of my “music is free” speech

Anyone who’s recorded with me has heard this. But in case you should need a refresher course, here it is.

In the mind of the public, music is free. There are many reasons to record and publish music that don’t have anything to do with making money, but IMO if you want to make money with music you must package your music with something of value that cannot be reproduced digitally.

There. That’s the gist of it.

Until the late 1960’s the only form of recorded music was the phonograph record. It was not portable. It could not be reproduced by the ordinary listener. Then the cassette tape was invented. At first the sound quality was inferior to the phonograph record so the music industry ignored it. But soon the quality DID improve and the fact that it allowed the user to compile a tape of their favorite music from different sources and carry it around made it more popular than the phonograph in a matter of a few years.

The music industry got legislation passed that allowed an addition of a royalty to the price of blank cassette tape as a form of compensation for the sales lost due to consumer home taping. The money generated from this went into a big pool that was distributed according to the record label/artist’s sales of real product. The more popular labels/artists got more of the pool.

Then the CD came out and we were back in the days of the phonograph. It could not be reproduced by the listener, could hold more music, sounded cleaner, and could last longer. But the invention of the CD burner changed things again. Now the consumer could make digital copies of their favorite music again, just like the cassette days. And just like the cassette days, the labels got legislation passed that allowed an additional royalty to a certain type of blank CD called the “music CD.” (The truth is that except for a header that identifies the disc as a music disc, there is no difference between this type of CDR and a data CDR except that some standalone disc burners will not burn to a data CDR. They’ve been cripped by their manufacturer.)

The internet and the MP3 changed things again. Again we have an inferior format (MP3) that is more widely used than the higher quality CD because of its portability. We think nothing of sending entire songs via email, downloading hundreds of our favorites to our hard drives and MP3 players, listening to customized internet radio, etc. So for the time being, because of the ease of digital copying, the value of recorded music is approaching zero.

On the other hand, people still pay real money for things they need like clothing, food, shelter, gasoline. So it follows that by packaging your music with something of value that cannot be reproduced digitally, you can make some money. What kinds of things am I talking about? Here are a few examples.

Your live performance is the first thing. It exists at a point in time that will never happen exactly the same again. In order to have a memory of the performance, people will buy a physical item like a CD, tee shirt, hat, etc.

If your song has a trademark-able hook, take advantage of it. Example – “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffet spawned an industry of items for him. Not only was the song popular, but in the thirty years following its publication, there are now Margaritaville restaurants, bar supplies, clothing lines, and more. Why? Because the title identified a lifestyle.

Niche markets like specialized groups and charitable causes are places where your music can be considered a rallying cry or an anthem for the cause. People will support the cause by purchasing your music outright. But if you can add to that with something physical, it will mean even more. One example is the song, “A Song For My Son” written and published by a mother of the groom because there were no wedding songs with that subject. She packaged the CD with a small booklet that could be signed by friends and family and kept as a keepsake.

These are just a few suggestions. I’m sure that people will not stop making music just because consumers feel they have the right to copy and distribute it without paying for it. I’m sure that at some point there will again be just compensation for creators. But for the time being, in this transitory stage, digital goods bring attention, and real goods bring real money.