By: Vera Leigh
I often hear musicians say, “you can’t make any money on your music.”
This defeated attitude breaks my heart. I enjoy a good challenge and, with a change in mindset and a heap of cunning, I like to align my clients with opportunities in each of the following area:
I must start this with a basic explanation of the US Copyright.
(Disclaimer: this is a super simple breakdown. This topic is covered in more detail in my Social Media videos.)
There are two documents related to the Copyright of a musical work – the PA Form and the SR Form. The PA (Performance Arts) Copyright is for the underlying composition. Simply, it is for the written music – what would be notated down on a piece of sheet music. The SR (Sound Recording) Copyright is for the actual recording of the song – the tone, feel, and dynamics of a written piece of work that is recorded by a musician on their particular instrument. Though that can cause for confusion, think of it like this: SR (Recording) and PA (Songwriting).
If you are both the writer and the recording artist, you are in a great spot and are entitled to the entire list of revenue generation methods with your music. In many genres, it is commonplace for the recording artist to not be the writer of the work, such as in Country and Pop music. If you qualify as one of the two, you are still entitled to your rights, but you will only qualify for some of the revenue generation methods listed below. They will be differentiated with a quick (SR) or (PA).
When one Copyrights their music (either through State/Federal registration or through affixing it to a public, tangible medium), they would be entitled to sign over or control the following rights:
The Mechanical Right is the ability to grant the right of mechanical (physical or digital) duplication – CD, Cassette, Digital Download, Vinyl, Hit Clip (remember those?), etc. – of a piece of recorded music. If someone were to want to take your song and place it on a Movie Soundtrack, not only would you be entirely ecstatic on the exposure, but you would receive a compulsory rate of $0.091 (9.1 cents) per copy. (Note: a song over 5 minutes receives the pay rate of $0.0175 per minute as of Sept. 2018).
Now, a Soundtrack would be awesome, but that may not be feasible to your current career. Where you may be already generating Mechanical Royalties is on the Interactive Streaming of your music. Say you submitted your album to CDBaby or TuneCore, you probably have music on Interactive Streaming Services such as Spotify or Tidal or Apple Music.
If you do, you will have to sign up with the service SoundExchange in order to collect these revenues. They hold an escrow account loaded with royalties that are waiting to be connected to the right recording artist. SoundExchange is the designated company (much like a Performance Rights Organization) to collect and distribute these royalties. It would be wise to ensure that they know who you are and the music you have released. There may be some mailbox money waiting for you as we speak.
Performance Royalties are paid to Songwriters (holders of the PA Copyright) for the public performance of their music. Should the song be played by a live band, over the radio, in a theater or on television, on speakers at a business, streamed on internet radio, played on non-interactive streaming (Pandora), or aired at a sports game (among others), you are entitled to Royalties for the use of your music – this includes Live Covers, as well. These revenues are collected from a Performance Rights Organization (PRO) – businesses and venues pay a license to these three groups in order to hold music in their business. The three prominent PROs in the United States are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC – there are others that serve territories outside of the US, though many work together to collect and distribute royalties internationally.
The PROs all have different ways to calculate who receives what royalty-portions out of the collected licenses, so it is wise to understand how each of them weigh the use of their catalogs and how your music fits into that formula.
In order to collect these royalties, one would need to sign up with one of the mentioned PROs (though SESAC is invite only) and register their work. They pay quarterly on a formula system based on number and types of uses in comparison to the ratio of artist work used, but each have their own, confusing computation process.
The PROs are advocates for Songwriter who provide resources, workshops, networking opportunities, and lobby on behalf of Songwriters when it comes to law changes. They take a very small percentage of the license fees in order to conduct their administrative tasks – there is little risk and more to lose by not signing up with a Performance Rights Organization than there is with affiliating. If you are a songwriter, sign up for a Performance Rights Organization – it is necessary and incredibly helpful to your career.
Derivative (SR) and (PA)
Derivative Works are new works (or songs) that were created in essence, or with parts of, another work. Sometimes qualifying as sampling, a derivative work often has parts of the original recorded work and/or reinventions of the underlying composition. The original songwriter and recording artist hold the right to grant another the ability to do so with their works and are able to negotiate a sizeable license fee, pending on who is creating the new works.
This license would be collected directly from the artist creating the new work (or their representation) and would be negotiated privately. There is no legislation behind compulsory rates for these types of licenses and are often weighted on the popularity of the original work in comparison to the popularity of the artist creating the new work. One would want to do their research and heavily understand the worth of their music before settling on a license fee amount – definitely consult with trusted, experienced individuals – and, have an attorney on hand to review the agreement before signing.
The licensor would need to get both the Songwriting (PA) and the Recording (SR) Copyright for the direct use of sampling, as it includes the actual Sound Recording in a new track – this would also hold the underlying composition in the duplication of the Sound Recording. Sometimes, the new work will feature parts of the old work, but re-recorded, causing only the Songwriting (PA) License to be required (more on this later). Derivative Works and Fair Use hold a number of subtle nuances – I stumbled onto this video breakdown that presented a clean description. Should you have any confusion, consult your friendly, local Copyright Law professional – they will gladly talk your ear off on the subject.
One of my favorite derivative works is Tech N9ne’s Strange 2013 – a rework and re-recording of the song Strange Days with the surviving (at the time) members of The Doors. Try to guess how many licenses went into the use of both the original recording (the lyrics), along with the new recording with the remaining members in this derivative work -
Sync (SR) and (PA)
The Sync Right is the right to license your music to be placed over a visual medium, such as film, television, video game, or internet video. Any song that you hear on a TV Show or Movie was licensed directly by the Production or Network. If you’re in the place to collect sync license fees, this could mean substantial exposure and a substantial pay-out. Here is another situation that would require research and an experienced attorney for negotiations and contract reviewing.
The rate that is paid is often dictated by the popularity of the work, the length and parts used of the song, and the placement of the song (opening credits, montage, main theme, background, ending credits, etc.). The more prominent and popular the song, the more you will receive, but one can find themselves in a better place for negotiation, pending on how well the song fits the needs of the scene.
The interested party would have to obtain licenses for both the Songwriting (PA) and Recording (SR) Copyrights – if you hold both, they may want to negotiate them in a package. If you don’t own both, they will have to reach out to both parties to get permission for use.
The Print Right is the Right to utilize one’s work for the creation and sales of Sheet Music. On a large scale, one can grant the right to a sheet music Publisher – such as Mel Bay’s – to be printed in one of their book series. As a songwriter, you would negotiate the rate directly with the book publisher for the use of your works. This could be a flat-rate, or a percentage of each printed book distributed. The amount could be just about any amount, as there is no set-rate for the royalties paid. Because of this, just like the other licensed works, one would want to do their research and have a good attorney on hand.
This would also qualify as the creation and distribution of one’s Tablature (Tabs). If you aren’t happy with a website distributing your tabs, you do have the right to ask them to take it down. Or, to pay a small license for the use –
This type of license would be obtained for the Songwriting (PA) Copyright only, as the actual recording is rarely included with the sheet music. Often, a re-recording or a polyphonic track is included in lieu of the actual artist recording.
Grand (PA) and (SR)*
The Grand Rights are the right to use and license one’s work for the sake of a Broadway Adaptation. This means you have the ability to grant or deny the use of your music in a Live Play. This is not a very common revenue stream for the contemporary rock band, for instance, but one can consider how they can harness this through “creative shopping” – finding out how to get it in front of the right people.
If you were to collect revenues for the Grand Right, you would be receiving a direct, negotiated license for your music from the Production. Like the other directly negotiated licensed: research, reading, and a solid attorney on hand.
Typically, this license would be obtained for the Songwriting (PA) Copyright, unless they are including the original recording of the work for the play. If the song is re-recorded or altered for the theatrical use, then the Production would not need to obtain the Recording (SR) Copyright. This is on a case-by-case basis.
I hope this somewhat lengthy online read shed some insight on the power that you hold as a songwriter and a recording artist. Know how you can make your money – it adds up and will, at the minimum, off-set of the of costs that are required of being a dedicated musician. It is no easy task and equipment, gas, time, and effort are no small expenses – but, knowing you are collecting from all the right sources and using your music to its fullest potential is a great way to grow your career.
And, if you still feel that there is no way to make money off your music, set an appointment here – I like a good challenge.