The Importance of owning your copyright
As an independent artist or a new label/publisher signee, rights management might not be the easiest thing to understand. Most traditional music companies work with little transparency, it is hard to know where your music is being played, how much revenue you’ve made from each stream and how your music is being pushed. For instance, why is there “Breakage” for digital streams in a lot of record contracts?
It is easy to understand why copyright management matters with piracy, but when someone else controls your rights, it might be just as hard to control what happens with your song and how it gets exploited.
What are my rights?
There are two main sections in music copyright
The rights for the master recording and the rights for the composition behind the recording.
When you own your copyright you have the right to
Issue, lend or rent your music to the public
Perform the song in front of a live audience
Communicate the music to the public (i.e. broadcasting it via TV, radio, Internet etc.)
If you don’t own your copyright then someone else will have these rights, this is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, someone who is passionate about your success and is adept at maximising the exploitation of your song will help your career moving forward.
What if everything goes wrong?
But, not owning your rights can be a major issue if something goes wrong, if you assign your masters to a label, you have no real control on how your music gets exploited, some artist has more say than others, but disputes over exploitation can be a real nightmare.
As explained by Helienne Lindvall:
“One of the main problems with labels owning recordings is that once artists are no longer under contract, the label isn't obliged to do anything with them. The label may have been bought by another, the people who cared about your music may have been sacked, or maybe the label is too busy focusing on "the next big thing". This is known as your music being in "the lock-up".”
There are a million things that could go wrong and you want to make sure you are protected.
A common deal to make with record labels today are what’s called a 360 deal because records sales are down the recording industry introduced a deal which takes from the income of other sources of revenue. These can be sponsorships, touring, sync and pretty much everything surrounding your music. They can be more or less involved in each process, so it is important to have these things in mind when entering a deal.
Exploiting your music
Did you know that you need your permission to record your song? It may seem extreme but because the right can be owned by several entities, multiple publishers, record labels and writers it needs to be cleared before recording. The same goes for if you want to exploit the rights you own if you are not the full owner, playing live, syncing and distributing the album all needs to be approved or a license/royalties needs to be paid.
The good thing about owning your music or having a small co-write is that you can clear it quickly, for synchronisation this makes it easier because of the sometimes short deadlines and the freedom the music supervisor would want over the track.
When you are exploiting your music you will also have more transparency over the revenue streams and depending on the service, also data about your fans.
This can prove valuable for knowing how to strategise your brand and position yourself in the industry.
Another reason why owning your rights are important is that you might lose your creative freedom otherwise. If the label or publisher has a strategy for your career then this may very well control how your music should sound and most major label contracts gives them the right to turn down albums which are not satisfying their vision. You may also be tied to this vision for a number of albums, in the case of Frank Ocean he was signed with Def Jam for 7 albums which is quite standard for major deals.
“Ocean described his deal with Def Jam as “a seven-year chess game” and used his own money to buy himself out of his contract and reclaim his master recordings.”
With these long deals it can be hard for an artist to reinvent herself or break out of a genre or image.
Indie or Industry
There are a lot of benefits when it comes to industry support, they will help promote your music to a large global audience and will help you develop into the best you can. Whether or not to go with industry support or not really comes down to your specific case, who’s the person and what the contract say. Keep in mind the things mentioned in this article and tread carefully, we see major artist suing their labels left and right. When you start out you have little leverage and this can be catastrophical later on in your career.
As an independent creator you own your music, how to exploit it and control over your brand. You are free to do whatever you want and however you want, but as most of us know this can be quite scary and a daunting task. Music is a creative process but to be successful it requires business savvy and dedication, sometimes it is best to leave this to someone talented who genuinely care about your music.
If you are going indie there is no better time than now, companies such as CDbaby and Tunecore provide worldwide distribution for artists flat fee or a high royalty percentages.
Music Gateway provides discounts for our members, so if you’re interested you can check out our members pack.
Owning your copyright is vital if you want to have a creative control over your music and if you want to be included in the business strategy behind the exploitation of your songs. It will be different for everyone on the importance of each section but be mindful and make sure you understand your rights before you give them away.
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