In the great words of the late Eazy-E, “before you do a record partner, handle your business.”
First of all, I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice. I’m an artist, label founder, and have some experience working with aggregators, distributors and major labels as a digital merchandiser.
This editorial is designed to help you grasp a strong overall concept and strategy for releasing your music, in a distilled, quickly digestible manner.
I want you to make the best decisions regarding releasing your music.. If you find contrary or better information, please, let me know!
contact [at] downbeatdojo.com
Why is releasing music so confusing?
There’s basically a lot of business people trying to get a piece of your pie. By making it more confusing for you, the artist, there is more of a need for administrators, agencies, “protective” organizations and bureaucracy. And, there’s the evolving technology thing.
It’s tough to track the usage of your songs. It used to be even more difficult. Artist rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI) formed to enforce the payment of royalties by nightclubs and radio.
The way we all consume music has drastically changed with the communications revolution of this new millennium. Business continues to adapt, positively and negatively.
The advantage you have as an independent artist is that you are agile, nimble and willing to adapt quickly. I recommend you take advantage of new, particularly unregulated technologies.
Cost of Doing Business
It will cost a little money to get registered with a distributor and to register your copyright. Expect to pay about $100 per release on the administration for copyrighting and distributing. This is usually deducted from your earnings by a label if they handle it. This doesn’t include the cost artwork and mastering.
Prepare your Release
- Mastered WAVs -44.1 kHz 16 bit and 48 kHz 24 bit versions
- Artwork – 1600×1600 pixels
- Metadata – Album Title, Track Titles, Artist Names, Composer, Genre
Register your Copyright
The second your write or record it, it’s technically copyrighted and yours.
You can register your work online to protect. It takes quite a while, so it’s a good idea to take care of it as soon as possible. You can actually upload mp3s to the government website.
The old rule of thumb is if you sell less than 10,000 copies, it’s likely not worth the legal time/expense.
These days, if you’ve sold 10,000 copies, that’s likely quite big exposure with YouTube and Soundcloud, so keep that in mind.
The main risk you run is loosing a majority of profits related to the work.
You can always contact the owner of the “master” (usually found via ASCAP or BMI) and make a deal before hand. Harry Fox Agency might be able help as well.
The Four Types of Music Royalties
Mechanical – rights for reproduction based on units sold – ie CD, vinyl (Harry Fox handles a lot of this)
Performance – live performance or broadcast (not video) (ASCAP/BMI)
Synchronization – TV, film, games (this is why you want to own your masters as they often contact you directly)
Print – sheet music
Register with Soundexchange for Digital Radio Royalties
Sirius, XM and other digital radio services are collected through Soundexchange. This only matters if you retain the ownership of your masters.
If you do own your masters you can now manage your repertoire through the http://soundexchange.com website now. It’s free and easy.
Register licensing/royalties with ASCAP/BMI/SESAC
PROs are performing rights organizations. Basically, any time your music is played/performed in public, they attempt to collect it for you. You can register with one organization to track down your radio and nightclub play. ASCAP/BMI are non-profit, SESAC is for profit. They are all kind of the neighborhood gangsters that go around and force businesses to pay up for playing your music in their stores/bars. It’s actually a bit of a weird/controversial scenario.
Submit to a Distributor
Online retail is has a lot to do with trust and convenience. In my label’s experience, we sell most of our music via Addictech.com. It’s a niche site, known for having great music selections of a certain style. DJs trust their top ten and play music from it. Find your niche.
If you’re into electronic music, you’ll likely want to be on Beatport. It’s a bit of a status thing…and it can be good for exposure. It’s not that difficult to chart.
I’ve listed these in the order in which I believe they are advantageous/affordable to the independent artist.
Sell Online Yourself
Bandcamp is awesome. You can also sell files via WordPress download plug-ins and totally maximize profits aside from Paypal and/or transaction charges. It goes back to trust, however.
People are fairly used to Bandcamp and trust it as an online transaction platform. They offer some other cool merch sales, too!
Why Sign to a Label?
Signing to a label has a grip of advantages. Paying yet another person to sell your music is lame, but it might be a good trade off. There’s a few things you should know first.
- It’s all negotiable
- Standard label agreements are 50/50 net
Labels are kind of like channels. If exposure in a style or sound that a label is developed is what you’re seeking, it might be a good idea.
Also, there’s quite a bit of “administration” when it comes to managing releases. It’s nice to have someone do it for you. You certainly want to be able to trust them, however.
Watch out though. Some labels don’t really do much to promote your music aside from the administration. Just because you signed it to a label, doesn’t mean you can just focus on making music. You need to manage the business of a release and promote it too. (unfortunately we can’t just make music all the time)
It’s a great idea to participate in as much of this business as possible. Indie all the way! Eff the suits!
So, basically, if you want to be part of something, release music with friends, etc. do it on a label. Otherwise, the tools are there to do all yourself. Maybe try both?
- Get the best “net” profit agreement possible. Most agreements are 50/50. Negotiate the best offer you can get.
- Make sure there’s clear limits and guidelines to the label’s promotion and fee budget. ie ISRC codes, administration, advertising budgets
- Make sure your payment schedule and reporting is clearly outlined
- Retain the ownership of your masters if possible
- Assure the contract outlines the promotional and distribution efforts clearly
It takes some work and administration to get your music out there the right way.
If you devote a day to the administration of a release, you can probably finish the administration duties within 8 hours. If you’re blessed enough to have a label help you with it, that’s awesome. Hopefully, you can find a fair agreement.
Cheers to getting the best deal and understanding the different ways to make money from your music!