In this blog, I talk about a lot of things every artist should know about recordings and how to release them. In all of these blogs, I use my 10 + years of experience in the music world in hopes it will help aspiring artists.
Music itself is complicated enough, but, believe it or not, releasing your recordings can also be complicated. Putting aside budgeting, writing, and planning, there are some basic things you should know as a composer or artist about sound recordings.
Who Owns The Recording?
Did you know that the studio you go to actually owns the recording of your song until they sign a release form? That’s right; you may have written and performed it, but the studio owns that particular recording that was produced there. Without a release form, you’ll need an agreement with the studio to release it. Typically a studio will either sell the release form to you, or share in revenue generated by the release (rarely).
A few years ago, I had an artist come into the studio here at Main Street Music to do some recordings. After recording here, I went home and edited the song, and I really liked the work we’d done. During a review of my work on the track, I presented the artist with a form that basically stated the recording was property of our studio until he signed a release form. I did this for his own benefit of knowledge. But the paper did allow for promotional use. Needless to say as an uninformed musician, he blew up on me. I still remember him asking me things like, “Did you write this song?”
No, I didn’t. In fact all I did was record it. However, that recording belongs to the studio. Unfortunately he refused to sign the paper (which included provisions that he only use it for promotional purposes) and released it anyway. He had a manager I got in contact with, and I wound up having a bunch of sites that had it for sale take the song down. Including iTunes.
If he had purchased the release form, he would not have had these problems. Not to mention if he had a better attitude towards me, I would have cut him a deal. In fact I even told them they can leave it up if they credited me, and they wouldn’t even do that…
This can also happen with instrumentals. Unless you outright buy a “beat” or backing track and have a contract or agreement with the author, you are violating their property rights by releasing it. I do a lot of work with rap and hip-hop artists who come in with beats they’ve bought or leased. It’s really important to understand if you’re leasing an instrumental track, you have no rights to publish it for any other purpose than promotion (if you get permission from the lessor).
Are you covering a song? On YouTube most artists have allowed Google to put advertisements on their compositions. Not only is a popular song’s recording copyrighted, but the original music is as well (including lyrics). Sometimes the original performer will share in the writing credit, other times not. Industrially, for you to cover a song that isn’t public domain, you must “clear” the licensing for it. There are several services you can sign up for online that will help you get permission to distribute a cover song.
Contracts, Contracts, Contracts!
Typically if a vocalist comes into our studios, especially to cut a demo, they would wind up hiring a band consisting of at least a rhythm section. Be sure that you have a contract with the performers on your track. If the performers draw up a contract for you, be sure to read it!
When bands, or studios for that matter, do labor, they usually take into account the purpose of the recording. Demos are one thing, but if a recording is going to be sold that will run into money. That’s because you’ll be making a profit off the song, versus a demo which isn’t for (direct) profit. The performers may have stipulations in their contracts about commercial releasing. For example, they may have a flat add-on fee to allow their performance to be sold, or share in revenue of sales. Be sure that before any recording is made all these details are sorted out. You may even want to have a contract with the studio.
If you plan to take any video documentation of the recording, unless it will ultimately be for your own use, be sure to get the studio’s permission, as well as the permission of all persons who will be appearing on film. You may want to include this in the contracts as well.
Whether you’re going to a big studio, or a small local studio, be sure that your recordings are to industry standards. In my younger days, I’d recorded at local studios who didn’t even have the equipment I needed. Even great looking local studios will make mistakes in mixing and mastering. Here are some basics you should look out for.
- Track Volume– is it consistent throughout the album/single? Does the volume meet industry standards? This will be important when you go to release your single/album on vendors like iTunes.
- Quality — is it mixed well? Does anything distort? Is it at the industrial sample/bit rate?
- Performance — has everyone involved in the project performed the best they can? Are lyrics clear? Could the guitarist take a better solo? Could you have used a different sound on the keyboard?
- Does it sound OK in a variety of settings? (i.e. car CD player, boombox, telephone speaker)
Don’t leave the studio unless the recording is exactly how you want it, especially if you’re buying the studio’s takes. Remember, the more time you put into a recording, the more you get out of it.
Getting Paid for Spins
Once you release your music, and it’s been given a UPC, it’s a great idea to register your original works with orgs like ASCAP or BMI. In my state of Connecticut, the “poor man’s copyright” is simply placing your original literature (i.e. lyrics, arrangement, sheet music) into the mail. After you mail it to yourself, do not open it. If you have any disputes that lead to court, you now have solid proof you are the holder from the date of the post mark forward. The acceptance of this evidence in courts may vary from state to state.
Once you have a publisher (and for most of us that’s companies like CDBaby), your publisher will collect royalties whenever your song is played on platforms like YouTube, Rhapsody, and other streaming services.
Promote Your Work!
Various companies offer “gifting” options. You can “gift” a DJ your best dance tune and they just may play it. Of course, in the past, it was hard to keep track of those spins. Typically because an artist would give a DJ a CD. Now, the DJ can stream your single or selections from your album online, and you’ll collect the royalties on those spins.
Remember, there are tens of thousands of people in this country who make good music. In previous blogs, I’ve talked about promoting your work and common mistakes talented musicians make. Here, we’re specifically talking about promoting your album. The easiest way is to get it on YouTube Music. Your listeners don’t have to sign up for a site, or spend money. All they have to do is follow the YouTube link you promote. They will have to sit through ads, but remember, those ads make you money!
Don’t be afraid to spend a few dollars promoting your album or single on sites like Facebook. Using ad targeting you can get a lot of hits. You can also use websites like Reverb Nation to promote your releases using banner ads.
I hope this helps you with your next release!