Let’s see, we’ve covered a few subjects lately and last week, we got into copyrights and performance rights in our discussion on the PRO’s. These things can get awfully confusing and leave you mucking about trying to figure out the details for weeks, so I will do my best to fill you in on the balance.
Let me preface this by saying that I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV or Radio. This subject, by nature gets into legal matters, and I advise that you have an attorney advise you throughout your musical career.
We have already learned the importance of the PRO’s when it comes to legally performing a musical show. Including that by joining a PRO, you can receive a blanket license to perform just about any song by anybody without worrying about the copyright police.
Now it is time to cover covering your butt for the record. Not just the legal record, but the record you are about to put out to the public.
You need help!
If you are completely, one-hundred-percent, absolutely independent in every facet of your music, you can quit reading here, unless you hope that someday someone else may want to put your song(s) on a record of their own. This could be something as simple as getting a song included on a fundraising album for charity or as complex as a group or group of groups doing a “best of” style cover record of your songs. I was surprised recently when I was contacted to share a song for a cancer benefit.
You are also going to want a bit of help if you wish to release a record with even one cover song on it. Or if any of the material on the record does not belong to you in entirety! That’s right! If you hired a publisher for your works, or anyone else may own a piece of the copyright, you have to get a license to cover your own song, even if it is not being sold!
Yep, more paperwork…
“Bret, just what are you getting at,” you ask. Ah, just another oft forgotten piece of the puzzle, Mechanical Rights. Mechanical Rights are the rights to put a recording into public circulation via records, tapes, cd’s, permanent digital downloads, ringtones and other means. The term originated in the era of the player piano, and the practice of copyrighting and publishing music in America dates back to John P. Sousa and Stephen Foster.
So, as I said, if you are self-publishing your own songs, with your own copyrights, and producing copies for distribution, you don’t necessarily need to bother, but it may be a good Idea to register your work, just in case some big star wants to record it. This is the music business; stranger things do happen.
If you need to use a music written by others, you have a few options:
- You could just do it and hope nobody says anything, you will want to keep around $150,000 in the bank, just in case…
- You need to find out who holds the rights (all parties) and get a license from them, then keep track of all the numbers and figure out who gets paid how much, at what times, and all manner of other fun stuff.
- You could also use a “compulsory license“. It will save you some paperwork, but still leaves a mountain of responsibility on your shoulders.
- You could let someone else take care of it for you, and at a very reasonable price.
Trust me choose option four.
Harry Fox to the rescue!
Since 1927, when the National Music Publisher’s Association established the Harry Fox Agency “to act as an information source, clearinghouse and monitoring service for licensing musical copyrights”, it has been the go to agency. They are simply the best at providing mechanical licensing services for publishers, licensees, and a broad spectrum of music users.
[Excerpt from Harry Fox website]
The Harry Fox Agency represents music publishers for their mechanical and digital licensing needs. We issue licenses and collect and distribute royalties on our affiliated publisher’s behalf. This includes licensing for the recording and reproduction of CDs, ringtones, and Internet downloads.” (read more)
HFA can help you with a “short run” deal also, for producing 2,500 or fewer copies, they can expedite the process and move you right along through their “Songfile Service“.
Recently they entered into a relationship with the music service Spotify (as reported by Billboard), which looks to me as if it could be a great thing for everyone. I imagine it will be helpful for easing the overall burdens on successful independent artists. By working closely with Spotify and other on-line services, they should be able to greatly expand what is already the largest library of licensing information in the US.
The dotted line
I would highly advise that in your studies of copyrights and licenses, you visit the Harry Fox website. It is chock full of information on the subject. I have given you a brief introduction to get your curiosity up, and after scouring the intenet, I found no better source for information on the agency itself.
In my next bit of rambling, perhaps I’ll try to explain the basics of the licensing system. At this point I feel a discussion on performance, mechanical, synch, and other publishing licenses is in order. So, until then, study well, work hard, and be well.