WHERE’S MY MONEY?

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:

RIGHT DESCRIPTION WHO PAYS?
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?

ROYALTY TYPE HOW IS THE FEE 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:

RIGHT DESCRIPTION WHO PAYS?
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 megauploads.com – 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.

Back To The 40′s Again

So I subscribed to Spotify Free on my desktop.  The number of choices of music is simply amazing.  Of course, being the free subscription, they aren’t streaming in high def but I’m OK with that for now.  And, being the free subscription, it’s only available on my desktop, not on my Android phone.  Still no biggie.  My phone doesn’t even come close to replacing my desktop at the moment.

I first started looking up people who had recorded with me to see if they were listed.  Claude Diamond’s albums are all there.  Jeff Talmadge.  Even Marty Nickel’s first CD is listed.  There’s a little graphic to the right of the song with a number of bars to indicate the popularity of the track. Initially empty, one of the bars lit up after my play.

Then I searched one of the more mainstream artists – Katy Perry.  All of the bars were lit on all of the songs listed.  Not only were there songs that she had recorded, but there were listings of people who had alternate versions of her songs.  For “Teenage Dream” there were dance versions, trance versions, club mixes, and acoustic versions as well as the original.  I listened to every one of them and deemed the original release as the best.

It really hit me that we haven’t seen this kind of thing in a long time. Back in the 40’s, the Tin Pan Alley songwriter would pound out a song on a piano for a publisher.  If it was accepted, the song would be transcribed to sheet music (melody line, lyrics, and chords only) to present to various artists. Because there was no recording presented, arrangers were free to adapt the song for their artist any way they chose.  As a result, the same song was recorded by multiple artists in a variety of styles and released for radio airplay roughly at the same time.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen on radio anymore, but cloud services like Spotify are bringing all of those versions together in one place again. It’s quite possible that the original artist release may be considered inferior to and ultimately not as popular as a later, better production by a different artist.  Also, if a song originally recorded and released by an independent songwriter/artist is covered by another more popular artist, those two versions will exist side-by-side on Spotify – each with an equally good chance of being streamed by the listener.

Google has a cloud music service – free.  Amazon has a cloud “locker” – $20/year.  Apple will be releasing iTunes Match cloud service with iOS5.  These are beta services right now and they’re still a variation of file downloads where your music is stored to your local device.

In the case of Spotify, these aren’t downloads – they are music streamed on demand.  They aren’t broadcasts – they are personal subscriptions.  They’ve worked out a payment deal with major and independent record labels of how much to pay for each stream or portion of a stream, and the artist is getting their cut of that money.  It’s not a lot, but since you’re talking about an audience the size of the digitally connected world, if you’re streamed an awful lot it adds up.

These large amalgamators won’t be making money on the music.  That’s like the admission price at Six Flags. They’ll be making it from the advertisers drawn to the large numbers of people who use the service. They’re accessing your Facebook info and passing your likes and dislikes on to the demographic number crunchers who can determine with an algorithm your likely purchasing habits.

The 40’s weren’t necessarily times of prosperity.  They were times of world war.  The long play (LP) record wasn’t invented yet.  Radio was in its infancy.  The boom didn’t take place until the 50s.  But the stage was being set, and I think that’s where we find ourselves today.  The media forces of the next decade are now emerging, using the attraction of music in the virtual space to drive the purchase of real goods.

Yes, you can.. write a song.

Last night I watched “Still Bill,” a docu-drama about writer/artist Bill Withers.  I have always enjoyed his songs and his artistic style, but after seeing the movie, I appreciate him much more.  Here’s someone who decided at 32 years of age to start writing songs and try to do something in the music industry.  He didn’t try to write songs for other people.  It was always about what moved him, and (IMO) he innately understood the expectations of listeners as he worked through composing his songs.

Some people believe that you can either write or you can’t. I personally believe that anyone is capable at some point of writing a song that people can identify with. The better they understand a few points, the easier it will be for them to get their idea across.

A song, in its simplest form, communicates an emotion.

When you as a writer have an idea for a song, it is because something moved you. You saw something that made you mad; you heard a phrase that made you feel good; you wondered what it would be like to be in someone’s shoes; you experienced something deeply that you need to get out. That emotion is what you want to get across. How you want the listener to feel after they’ve heard your song is just the way you felt when you wrote it.

When you begin writing, start by writing down the phrase, person’s name, or situation that got it started.

If you get lost, come back to that starting point to get your bearings. Also write as precisely as you can the emotion you feel. There is a rainbow of feelings in between sad, glad, and mad. Try to pinpoint it.

For the most part, a song is about one moment in time, with every line written from the same emotional point of view.

That one moment is usually now. If the singer is remembering something, it’s in the context of what’s going on now. If the singer is thinking ahead, he’s still planted in the reality of now.

As for the finer points, each verse should basically say one thing. If there’s a chorus, each time the chorus comes back, it should have a slightly different meaning because of the new context of the verse.

Each couplet should be written like the punch line of a joke.

A joke is really two different planes of thought. You lead the listener along the logical line of thought, then you get to the last word, which introduces a completely different plane of thought. Here’s a pun to illustrate the point – My last job was working in a muffler factory, but I had to quit. It was too exhausting.   “Exhaust” is the link word – joining the logical reason for quitting with the physical function of a muffler. Construct your couplet rhymes from the thought generated by the last word, then work backwards for the setup rhyme word.

Musically, a song is a balance between repetition and surprise.

If you get all repetition, you have a boring song. If you get no repetition, you have a confusing song. Repetition is what makes us remember a song, i.e., the melody of the second verse should be the same as the melody of the first verse. After you’ve heard a repetition, then it’s time for a departure of some kind. We anticipate that as listeners. We like safe adventures. Guide us along a new path for a little while, but bring us back home.

I feel those are the biggest basic fundamentals one should absorb into the unconscious songwriting life. Start by internally analyzing songs you love that have made an emotional impact on you:

  • Write down the emotion you felt at the end.
  • Paraphrase each verse.
  • Look at the last lines of each couplet, particularly the last word of the second line.
  • Pay attention to how you anticipate a change after the second chorus is through and what happens in the song to satisfy you.

Then start applying this kind of analysis to your basic thinking and develop your own methods for constructing your songs to have the impact you desire.

Fans as Producers

I’ve stated before that I think the key to effective live performance is to break down the barrier between who’s the performer and who’s the audience.  I give the example of my friend, Skip Folse, who performed at a club here in Atlanta.

At one part of the evening he would start the “naked conga line.”  The club had two entrances and people would form a line in front of the stage, dance out one door into the parking lot, return through the other door, and when they reached the front of the stage the ladies would lift their tops and the men would turn and drop their trousers.  Skip performed with one hand on the keyboard and one hand holding a digital camera, which he used to snap a picture as the action happened.  He would meet the people on his break, find out their story, edit the pictures with ‘stars’ to cover the naughty parts, and upload them to his website before going to bed after the gig.  Everyone knew that if they were part of the naked conga line, they would be ‘famous’ by morning.

Now look at this video and check out what the Kaiser Chiefs are doing with their new release. Fans can go to their website and listen to 20 new songs by the Chiefs.  They pick their favorite 10 songs, arrange them in any order they wish, and design their custom album cover from pre-selected art.  They are then given their own personalized web page to sell their version of the album.  For every copy they sell, they receive £1 via PayPal.

I know it’s still selling copies, but I think it’s a great twist on the idea of exactly who is the the producer of the album. Very creative idea, IMO.

They’re Here

Spotify is making its US launch today.  We already have music stream services like Rhapsody, but Spotify offers a free ad supported version of its services and offers integration with Facebook, making it easy to share music you love with others.  Well, that’s the company line, at least.  It’s surely the way music will be moving forward.  Instead of ownership of a limited number of copies, we as consumers will gain access to an unlimited virtual library of songs.  We’ll all have our own  personal jukebox in the sky, so to speak.

Plus, for those of us old-schoolers who do have a library of owned material, we can use the Amaon or Apple cloud and store everything there to stream back to us when we need it.

Side thought, brought on by the law of supply and demand: As technology has moved forward, computer manufacturers have dropped the things from their hardware that are out of step with the times.  There are no more floppy disk drives, no more PCI slots, AGP graphic slots, IDE hard drives, etc.  With the advent of the iPad, there are quite a few things missing that were on our desktop computer.  If you need it, it’s available ‘in the cloud.’

What is ‘the cloud?”  It’s simply storage space.  It’s paid 4G data access.  You don’t want to be limited by that puny 500 gigabyte hard drive?  Here’s your solution.  Do away with it and store everything on the massive redundant storage systems offered by your internet service provider.

So, in the words of The Who: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.  It’s still a game of supply and demand.  We’ve demanded instant access to everything, and for a price, it can be supplied.

That puts the music industry as part of the supply chain, providing the content that the public can use.  How do the creators and owners of this music get paid?  That’s still an ongoing point, but one possible solution is a public performnace license.  Give a listen to Gerd Leonhard’s video.  I think it makes sense.

Billboard’s Top 140 Music Characters to follow

I saw this article a couple of weeks ago and meant to repost it right away.  Shame on me!  Billlboard magazine published their list of the top 140 music business people on Twitter that you should follow. The link is here.

Maybe you’ve dismissed Twitter as just too much information about nothing. It certainly can be.  But it can also be a valuable source of information for you.  Kind of like hanging around with people whom you feel have something important to say.  And the people that Billboard has chosen fit that category.

One of the people on the list is a futurist who I follow – Gerd Leonhard.  I read his blog, sure.  But following his tweets is kind of like looking over his shoulder and discovering where he gets the information that leads to his thinking.

Signing up for Twitter is free and it doesn’t mean you have to fill up your day posting tweets.  You can simply follow someone who interests you.  Another person I follow is someone I discovered from another person’s tweet – the songwriter Bonnie McKee.  When I found out about her, Katy Perry was a week away from her number one hit with Bonnie’s song, “California Gurls.”  I love the way she looks at the world.

Those of you with smartphones probably don’t need any other tools to help manage and organize your tweets, but for desktop users like me, there’s  TweetDeck. TweetDeck brings Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace updates all together in one interface. It’s very easy to see what’s been posted, to add comments or Facebook “likes”, and to create new tweets and updates directly from the program.

There’s a terrific amount of living knowledge out there that you can tap into for free.  The Billboard list is a great link to tap into some of the best minds in our business.