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Music Licensing & Royalties

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Hello, it’s Warren Huart. Hope you’re doing marvelously well. In this week’s FAQ Friday, which is Frequently Asked Questions, we have some fantastic questions.

As ever, please subscribe, hit that notifications bell, and you’ll be notified when we have new videos up.

Okay, let’s get started.

How can I get my music into movies?

That’s an incredibly good question. You may have noticed we just did a video with Jon Skinner, who has a company called Music Gateway, and basically that’s what they do. They’re a music and film sync company, and we got to pick his brains. It was a really, really interesting and rewarding Q&A. There’ll be a link flying around here so you can check it out.

One of the things Jon was talking about, and it’s also been my personal experience out here in Los Angeles, is building relationships. Now obviously, if you happen to live in a big city, you can seek these people out, you can email them, you can take them out for coffee or lunch or dinner or whatever, and build relationships, but ultimately, one of the things he was talking about was going to some of these conferences.

I’ve always been a little skeptical of these licensing kind of events. However, I’ve got a couple of artists that I work with that have proven this to work. They’ve gone to these conferences, they’ve met up with music supervisors, they’ve shook their hands, they’ve got their email addresses, and they’ve followed through and they’ve built relationships.

So that is one thing you can do. Now of course, if you’re in Peru or something like that, it’s not going to be as easy to do that, to fly in and out of America for every one of these conferences, as I’m sure some people do. You do definitely need to get your music in front of music supervisors, you also need to just get your music out there regardless, because you’ve got to be discoverable.

I have an artist that I work with, who you all know, David of Workday Release, and we recently did a deal with a company putting his music into wedding videos, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s a massive growth industry. There’s a couple of songs that work incredibly well, and it’s fairly well paid, and it’s consistent, and the reality is they discovered him. They found his music because we have his music up on Spotify, on SoundCloud, on his webpage, on Facebook, he has a pretty active Instagram, you name it. Snapchat, all of the above.

He made his music discoverable.

So don’t underestimate the power of that, what you can do for yourself. Own social media reach. Grow your own social media reach.

So definitely build relationships, send music to film and TV music supervisors. You can go to LinkedIn and type in music, film, TV supervisor, music supervision, and you’ll see hundreds of people coming up. They’re going to hate me now because hundreds of emails are now going to be sent with music from these music supervisors, but just try it. It won’t hurt.

If they ignore it or they listen to it and love it or anything in between, it doesn’t matter. It’s called getting yourself out there, and you need to be proactive, but don’t underestimate getting your music out there yourself. Get it up, release it, put it on Spotify, put it everywhere you can possibly be, because people are looking for music.

If they find your Facebook page and play your songs, if they go to your SoundCloud, however they find you, you’ve got to be findable. You’ve got to make yourself discoverable.

How do I get paid when my music is played online or on the radio? Is there somewhere I should be signing up?

That’s a wonderful question. I think most importantly, you need to be signing up to a PRO. That’s a Performing Rights Organization. In America, those are companies like ASCAP, or SESAC, or BMI. In Canada, there’s SOCAN, in England there’s PRS, then all over the world, each company has its own Performing rights society. Its own PRS. You need to get your songs registered there.

Again, go and watch that video with Jon Skinner, he talks about a lot of stuff. Also there’s a FAQ sheet available. Please go to the page and download that. I definitely would sign up on a PRO. I’ve read a few mis-disinformation-y things saying don’t do it. I say do it once your music is out there. If it’s not out there, once you’ve got your music out there, you need to be signed up, just in case it does start getting played in film and TV and on the radio, because that’s how they will track it and how you will get paid.

I don’t have a preference, because I have a publishing company, so in my publishing company, we have relationships with BMI, ASCAP, SESAC. We have artists signed up with all of those companies. They all do great work and everybody has individual experiences with each one, but on the whole they’re all really, really good companies.

I highly recommend signing up to a PRO, registering your songs properly, then as you get played on the radio, you’ll get paid.

Also sign up for SoundExchange. SoundExchange is going to collect money in the digital world. So you want to be signed up to a PRO and signed up to SoundExchange.

How do split up song ownership if there’s more than one song writer?

There is a lot of opinions on this. I can only share my personal experience and my personal opinion. U2 is a great example of a band that’s been around forever, and I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, I believe Queen did the same thing that I’m about to say. U2 split their writing equally. It doesn’t matter that Bono may have started off an idea with a couple of chords on an acoustic, or The Edge may have a really cool riff.

They do that because — and a lot of bands do this. Not every band, but a lot of bands do this, because one of the biggest revenue streams in a band’s income in their whole career will be song writing. They might make — if they make 10 million dollars, 5 million of that could be from song writing.

So if you’ve got one main song writer that brings in an idea and the band spends a week fleshing it out and they don’t even get a small piece of it, that could be very unfortunate when they’re selling records but not profitable yet, or they’re touring but not profitable, or they’re getting a lot of radio play and making a lot of income on the song writing side, and only one person is being rewarded.

So my personal opinion is when you’re in a band, find a solution that everybody gets a piece of it. If you don’t want to do it equally, then do it so there’s a slush fund for the band members, so they get a chance of making some money from song writing.

It’s just my personal opinion, and the reason why I suggest that is if you’re in a band touring the world for years at a time, every body is going out every night playing those songs over and over again, they’ve been in the studios for a couple of months making the album, they’re putting in the hours to help generate that income.

Again, just a personal opinion. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of people debating me, and that’s fine, you can have your opinions on it, but I know a lot, not all, but a lot of the successful bands have a way where everybody shares in the income from the song writing.

Now, you can still have it if you’re the principal song writer, that you get the majority of it, but then there still should be a fund in my opinion where everybody else participates.

Now when it comes to just professional song writing, if you setup a song writing session with two or three people, so there’s three of you in the room or four of you in the room, if you come up with no ideas, no idea whatsoever, and you all sit in a room and brainstorm and bounce ideas off each other, it doesn’t matter, normally, if you end up writing more of the melody, or a bit more of the lyric, or a bit more of the chords, or a bit — the point is, when you’re in a room working together, normally you split things evenly.

The times when things get split unevenly is when you’ve got a completed song, and maybe a guy like me as a producer or you as a producer change a piece of the song. You don’t automatically become a 50% writer, but let’s just say I changed the chorus, which I’ve done many time. I’ve written the chorus or re-written the chorus, I might end up with 25% or 33% of the song, because I rewrote the chorus.

Now if I’d been in a situation where I was starting from scratch and influenced that song, I’m sure that would’ve been a 50/50 split, but you’ll usually find the differences are as simple as this. If you’re all in a room starting from scratch writing a song together, whether that be two, three or four people or more, you can end up being an equal writer of the song. You’re contributing. You’re pushing ideas off each other.

And even if somebody else comes up with the idea, it may be based off of something that you did that sparks another idea. That’s proper collaboration. If you’ve got an existing finished song that you’re then altering, it’s very unlikely that you’ll get 50% of the song, unless you rewrite the chorus and rewrite the verse and you’ve essentially rewritten the song, then yes, you’ll have a case for being an equal writer, but if you’re just changing things within the song, it usually just reflects the percentage of change.

People have come to me with verse and choruses, and the song is fantastic, but they’ll have no bridge, so I’ll write a new bridge for it, and I might end up with anywhere from 10 and 20% of the song, which I feel like is more than fair for writing a bridge.

If the chorus is the chorus, and the verse is the verse, and the chorus is a smash, me getting 10 or 20% of the song for writing the bridge is a very generous settlement for the amount of work and the amount of change to the song. Again, there are no rules.

I’ve heard of instances where people go line by line, and then attribute the percentage of lyrics to the percentage of the song. I’ve heard all kinds of things. I’ve heard, “Oh, you only wrote the chords for the verse, so you get this percentage.”

You could do all those kind of things. Personally, if you’re all in a room together, I feel like it’s a proper collaboration. And the other thing when it comes to my first piece of advice about bands and also about collaboration in a room, it’s never going to be the same dynamic all the time.

The reason why I like a band like Queen, who you hear me talking about all the time, is that John Deacon, the bass player, only wrote a handful of songs in his career. However, the songs that he wrote were, “You’re my Best Friend,” one of the highest played radio songs of all time, he wrote, “I Want to Break Free,” a massive hit, “Another One Bites the Dust,” another massive radio hit, and “Spread Your Wings,” which is one of their earlier 70’s massive incredible songs.

So if he only wrote those four songs in his whole career, he probably wrote up a massive percentage of their hits. So if they worked out a way of splitting the song writing, what it does is it creates a friendly atmosphere to come in with ideas, because there’s nothing worse than being in a room with somebody who’s trying to be a writer, but isn’t necessarily a writer.

What I mean by that is that they’re trying to insert themselves. I’ve seen producers do it with artists where they change things, and I’m like, “Why did you change that C to an A minor? I get it, it makes it a little bit sadder there, but that isn’t 20% of the song. It still worked with the C.”

It can get a little tricky. You might suggest a relative minor change. One way or the other. Take a relative minor, make it a relative major, take a relative major, make it a relative minor.

These are cool things to do when you understand it, but it’s not 25% of a song, it’s a small change, and I have seen people change things for the sake of changing them. So when you get an environment that’s friendly, and allows people to collaborate, they’ll bring in full song ideas, because they know that it’s a place — a safe place to collaborate, and I think that is what you should always be striving for when you’re writing, co-writing, collaborating with anybody is to make it feel safe, that all ideas are powerful, and inspirational, and great.

Should I be copyrighting my music? At which point should I copyright it, and how do I do this?

There’s quite a few places where you can copyright music. If you write copyright music into Google, there’s a few places that come up. You can do a number of things. Traditionally, the way was people would take a tape of a copy of their song, and then mail it to themselves. That was a proof of date to say when the song was conceived.

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These days, we have digital, so an mp3 mix of your song from August the 15th in 2011 is definitely enough proof when somebody comes and says, “Oh, I wrote my song before you,” and their date happens to be 2013, and yours was 2011. You understand my point, but you can professionally copyright things, you can use the US copyright office if you happen to be in America, whatever country you’re in, you can do it.

Now it is important to remember that music is a little bit more unique than maybe copyrighting a piece of software, or more importantly, a piece of hardware. If you make something that’s hardware and somebody copies it exactly, you have this piece of hardware. You’ve gone and you’ve painted it and all of this good stuff.

It’s a little bit trickier with music. I’m saying copyright it if you want, you definitely need proof of when you recorded it. You can copyright it, not a problem. Please do that, feel free to do it. However, in order to win a lawsuit, you have to prove access.

Now, you can look it up. The most famous case ever of course is My Sweet Lord by George Harrison, and My Sweet Lord was The Chiffons She’s So Fine. It’s the same chords, it feels like — it feels very similar. It’s basically the same minor feel, it’s got that same — it’s got the same rhythm and melody in the vocal. So it’s very close.

Of course, The Chiffons sued him and won the case, and how they won it was not only was it similar, pretty darn the same, but they also proved access. They proved the fact that it was a hit on the radio when George Harrison was there.

Now, why am I bringing this up? Well, I’m bringing this up because there is such a thing as coincidence when it comes to music. There is only, of course, 12 notes if you count an octave. Of course, there’s infinite varieties of that, but if you wrote a song, or let’s say, I wrote a song, and I lived in Kuala Lumpur, and I write a song, and I don’t put it up online, I don’t release it anywhere, and I copyright it. And then five years later, another artist in America, for instance, has a song which has a similar five note melody.

I could sue that person, but I probably — not definitely, but probably — my lawyer would say lose. Why would I lose? I’d lose because how the heck could those people, in America, have ever heard my song? They’re not copying my song, they’re not stealing my song. All the big copyright cases that we hear are always from songs that are popular, they’ve been on the radio, that are easy to find on Spotify, or SoundCloud, or Facebook, or YouTube. You know, the Robin Thicke song of course, it’s Marvin Gaye. It’s not hard to find Marvin Gaye.

And in that genre that they were in, it was very discoverable. But if your music is not discoverable and no one has ever heard it, they can make a case for coincidence. They will probably, not definitely, but probably will win.

So definitely copyright your music, but in able to win a court case for something like that, you do have to prove access.

So why do I say that? I say write a song, copyright it, register it with a PRO, then get it out there. Get it out there. Don’t be afraid to release your music. Release your music, put it up on Spotify, put it on SoundCloud, put it on your Facebook page, put it on your webpage, send it to people, get your music out there. Just get it out there.

I think regardless, you need to get your music out there. You need to — you also need to remember you need to be a worker amongst workers. So you just want to be somebody that’s always creating music. So be a worker amongst workers, and more importantly, don’t rest on your lulls.

I’ve met several artists over the years that have about four or five songs that they keep re-recording, as though something magical is going to happen when they go into the room with me, or Eric, or Jon, or Fred, or Ginger, or whatever. It doesn’t matter, you can go into a room with a different producer, and maybe they’ll produce it in a way that sounds a little bit better, but the reality is they’d be better off taking that energy and writing new songs. Re-recording those same four or five songs, they’re still the same songs.

A great song is a great song. As we’ve talked about before, one of the most revealing things about The Beatles anthology series was when you heard the original demos. I think in particular, George Harrison’s demos were spine-chillingly beautiful. He had these demos of him, a vocal, and an electric guitar.

[mimics vocals]

He’s singing the string line he wants on something. Here Comes the Sun demos. I mean, these are incredible. You hear it and you go, “That is an amazing song, and it’s just a vocal and acoustic! That’s an amazing song, it’s an electric guitar and a vocal.”

An amazing song is an amazing song. Yeah, if you want to produce it better than that, of course by all means, but my point is he wrote an amazing song. He went in with his band, recorded it, great. Take a lesson from that. Go and write another song. Just keep writing and keep doing stuff. Be proactive.

In the age of the internet, do I need a record label to distribute my music?

What a marvelous question. No, of course not. You can distribute your music so easily these days. There’s so many wonderful platforms that allow you to do that. We’ve recently been using Distrokid quite a lot. There’s — what I like about them is you can assign ownerships of the song, so you can give the producer his share, the song writer, whatever. It’s very easy to do on their platform, but ultimately, however you want to do it, you just need to get your music out there. You need to get it on Spotify. Spotify has grown so much over the last few years. It just hit another record year. It’s doing fantastic stuff, and it’s starting to produce more revenue than it’s lost. We had a massive dip in sales, now it’s starting to get to that place where it’s replacing the revenue pretty substantially. So there’s a lot of revenue being generated now from online streaming services.

So get your music up there. David, who we talk about all the time from The Workday Release, does very well as an independent artist from Spotify. I have other independent artists I work with that do very well, and it stops them from working every little crappy job under the sun. They can now make an income from Spotify.

It’s a really wonderful thing, and of course, playing shows and selling merch, and doing all of the other wonderful things. So no, you do not need a label, and to be honest, the biggest point about this is not only do you don’t need a label, you’re not going to get a label until you get some independent success. You need to show that you are a hard working artist that puts time and energy into your music, and with that in mind, getting yourself out there, starting to grow your income is going to do you a world of good, and a label might come across and go, “Wow, this artist has got 200,000 streams of this song. This artist has got this song in a movie or a TV show or a commercial. I like this guy or this girl’s voice.”

That’s the point. You need to get your music out there, and all of the things we’ve been talking about are all the same thing. Get it out there. We’re talking about copyrighting, yeah, copyright your music, but get it out there. You want it in film and TV, get it out there. Get yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to suck. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid — I’ve had artists that I’ve done songs with, and they’re like, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to release it,” and I’m like, just get it out there and then get new music made.

By sitting on the music and never releasing it, nothing will ever happen. So get your music out there, you don’t need a record label, but more importantly, if you want a credible record label, not just a person sitting in their bedroom, but a proper record label that’s going to give you a budget, pay you for your music up front, if you want a proper record deal like that, you need to prove to them that you’re an entity that’s worth signing or worth giving money to. So be proactive in your own career. You can distribute your music and you should.

If I’m producing and/or engineering an album, does that mean I own part of that music?

As a producer for a major label artist, I usually get three to four percentage points. So what does that mean? Well it means I don’t make any money until the album recoups, and that is something that you need to stand behind. As a producer, if an artist has paid you up front for your services, they need to recoup their costs before they pay you any additional royalty. Somebody comes to you and makes an album for $5,000, $10,000, whatever it is, and you’re lucky enough to get paid to do that album, and then they go off and sell 1,000 album, which they made $6,000 after costs, then that $1,000 that’s left, yes, maybe you can get a piece of that.

You have to work that out in front. Now, for independent artists, there’s all kinds of deals. Obviously, if they’re paying you handsomely up front, you’re going to get a darn sight less of a percentage than if you’re working for either free or very cheap.

If you’re working for free, then you need to work out the best possible deal for you. You need to say, “Hey, this would normally cost $10,000, I need $10,000 paid back, and then a small piece of it after that.”

That’s what we all do, everybody has those kind of things. The reality is there’s no one size fits all standard. There is not. Now remember, you don’t own the music. They own the music, they paid for it. They own the music. But you are entitled to a royalty unless they pay you enough up front that you’re happy not to take a royalty.

If someone comes to you and says, “Here’s $100,000 and I’m not going to give you a royalty,” you’re going to take the deal. It’s $100,000. Anybody would. Even the biggest producers in the world, at this moment, would take it, because recouping $100,000 is a lot of record sales. You get my point. If they’re giving you even $10,000, you might be like, “I’ll take the $10,000.” If they say, “I don’t want to give you a royalty but here’s ten grand,” you will probably take it.

But if they’re coming to you and they’ve got $500 and I want 5 days of your time, you’re like, “That’s not enough to pay my electricity bill. That’s not enough to buy my lunches and my dinners for the week.” That’s all goes.

So in that case you’ll say, “It should be $2,500, but you’ll give me the $500 up front, then give me $2,000 on the back end, the first $2,000 of every record you sell,” then ask for a small percentage after that.

There’s a lot of different ways of doing it. Now, I must address your question. If I’m producing, and/or engineering, there’s very, very, very few instances where somebody is hired as an engineer would ever get a point.

Now, it does happen, but it’s incredibly, incredibly rare. The producer’s role, especially these days, is massive. The producer is usually doing all of the work on the DAW as well, and even if they’re not, they should be booking the studio, they should be listening to your songs and getting opinions, they should be working on your arrangements, your guitar parts, your keyboard parts, your programming, your drums, your vocals, your background vocals, they should be helping you with everything. Every single piece of selection. That’s what a real producer does.

A producer is not just somebody that builds a track. They can be, but the reality is there’s a lot more to it. Production should be the whole business of making a song, an album, an EP. So if you’re doing all of that, you should be able to ask for a percentage. It could be very small, but a little residual income could be great if the artist becomes very successful.

You’re probably guessing from this whole conversation is it’s all about assessing your artist’s needs, what they can afford, and what works for you. It’s a balancing game between those things. You just need to get it right, and no one size fits all.

Who makes sure you get paid? Is there a program that watches the internet and listens to every radio station?

That’s where you need to — going back to copyrighting the music where I started talking about PROs, that’s where you need to get signed up for either ASCAP, or BMI, or SESAC, or SOCAN, or PRS, or whatever the one that you use in whichever country you’re in, and remember, as Jon was talking about, you can sign up for ASCAP for instance, then make sure that they administer world wide. But also for the internet stuff that you were asking about, that’s where you need to be on SoundExchange.

So make sure you’re signed up for a PRO, and make sure you’re signed up for SoundExchange. These are very, very important things. It’s not a windfall. You’re not going to suddenly see thousands and thousands of dollars coming in, but you are going to see income coming in from specific areas.

Now, my personal, personal opinion is you should definitely be signed up to these agencies. If you’ve got music out there, like I said, it won’t be a huge amount of money coming in unless you’ve got a massive radio smash, or tons and tons of internet radio station play, the point is you just need to be on it, you need to make sure you’re covered if something takes off in a territory you don’t know about. You may have a song that’s getting thousands of plays in the Netherlands.

As we were talking about with Jon, that’s a big deal. The Netherlands pays really, really well. So you want to make sure that you are getting your income through there.

I have a song recently, that was only being played in the Netherlands, and the check was pretty big. It was several hundred dollars, and several hundred dollars more than any other song I’ve got out there. I’ve got pennies here, a few dollars here, and this one song getting a few hundred plays making me real money, because the Netherlands in particular pays really well.

There are other territories that do that as well. So it’s definitely important that you get your songs registered properly.

So thank you ever so much for all of those amazing, marvelous questions. Of course, as ever, please hit the notification bell, subscribe, go to producelikeapro.com, sign up for the email list, and of course, check out the link above here where it’s going to have the cheat sheet, and a link to Music Gateway’s competition, and Jon Skinner’s Q&A. Check it out.

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.

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