READ THE CONTRACT or T&C PAGE!!!
This is the first in our series of guides for musicians on the subject of how to maximise your returns from your music online.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of the how, why and what, I thought we’d start with reference to a salutary tale indicating the importance of checking your contract or T&C’s BEFORE you sign up to anything. This particular story concerns the Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo although there have been countless others along similar lines.
It turns out that (according to Lombardo) the band signed a deal which signed away 90% of their tour earnings over to their management with the remaining 10% having to cover everything else including the band split. Lombardo released a statement – the full gory details are here – after (amazingly) he was kicked off the tour for raising his fears about the skewed arrangement. One can only assume that the rest of the band are happy to be a party to such a one sided deal.
The moral of this story and countless others is that however boring it may seem, you just have to take the time to read your contract or terms before you sign up to any deal or online service. The industry should be about making money for musicians and not lining the pockets of industry executives.
What to Look Out For
Make sure any percentage splits give you between 50-95% of all sales monies. For audio sales you should be looking for at least 80% and for sync deals at least 50%. Often where services use 3rd party distribution companies you’ll need to check if your percentage is net of the proceeds received by the company you sign up with because 3rd party distro fees can water down your final share.
It is really important to ensure the company you sign up with have non-exclusive rights to your music. If you sign up for exclusivity you are signing away all control of your music to one company. Most record labels who offer recoupable advances will want exclusivity. Consult a lawyer before signing such a deal.
The Myth Of Advances
Many stories abound about large money advances from Record Labels. Advances are just Loans. Any monies advanced for recording, manufacturing or Promotion will all be recoupable by the record company before you even get into the money that you may get a split on. In truth a band or artist signing up to a 2 or 3 year deal with a record label is unlikely to see any money come their way aside from possible publishing royalties.
Don’t Get Locked In
Make sure you can leave any service you sign up to without any tie-in or penalty clause. If you are using a service that is FREE then make sure they don’t have any rights over your music once you leave. Music platforms which offer a monthly paid service (or subscription) will often give you promotion or added extras like barcodes and ISRC codes so that your music can be distributed worldwide. These types of service may ask that you keep the releases active for 3 or 6 months after you terminate your contract. This can be a valid request as the major distribution platforms (such as iTunes) don’t like content being continually removed and uploaded.
Look for instant or monthly payments
Many services will keep your money until a certain threshold is reached. Others, even then, will only pay you quarterly. We’ve even seen services where you have to request payment before any monies are paid.
There are services out there that will pay you instantly, daily or weekly, so look out for those first. (The next part of our guide will compare services available). Your money is better off in your pocket instead of making interest for someone else.
Make sure your publishing is sorted and your metadata is correct
If you don’t have a publisher (Most musicians don’t) make sure you are registered with your country’s performing rights society. In the UK this is the PRS and in the USA it is ASCAP. These organisations will usually charge a very small fee for membership but can collect royalty payments for you automatically. These royalty payments can be for live performances, radio plays etc so it is important to get registered.
This leads on to your metadata. Don’t forget to include songwriter and lyric writer information along with a barcode and ISRC data. This is important because it helps the relevant organisations track sales and plays of your music. Most online music platforms will suppy Barcodes and ISRC’s for a small fee.The ISRC code is different for each track where as the barcode is fixed for the ‘release’, be it single, EP or Album.
Check that nobody is selling or torrenting your music apart from the ones you have authorised.
A simple Google search for your music will often reveal bogus or pirate web sites that are selling or torrenting your music illegally. You may want to consider copyrighting your music officially. In the US the copyright office is the place to go. In the UK then the Intellectual Property Office is the way to go. If you have copyright you are protected by law and theoretically you can sue anyone who is selling your music without permission.
In reality many musicians would not experience a loss that would cover the legal costs of recouping said sums and so we are left to the ethical policy statements and policing of the internet by Google and others to try and stamp such practices out. It seems Google have some way to go on this issue as referenced by this recent article.
By Ken Foster