Music is one of the few things in the world that everyone loves, making it an eternally hot commodity. However, that means many artists have their work stolen or copied by greedy people who use legal loopholes and technicalities to become the music’s “owners.”
Here are five tips to help artists maintain ownership of their music and receive due credit for their work.
Pay All Studio Fees
Independent artists often pay studios for recording time, which creates an opportunity for studio owners to claim a piece of the finished product. If you record in someone else’s studio, make sure you pay for everything – the time, equipment and labor – to ensure they don’t have a claim over your work.
The recording still happened with the studio’s equipment and employees, but since you paid the full price for the service, you don’t owe them anything else. If you trust the studio, you could also negotiate a fair price and still keep the music’s master rights.
Record Your Music At Home
The more straightforward way to avoid untrustworthy studios is to record your music at home with your own equipment. All recording costs will come from your pocket, but you won’t have to haggle for studio time or deal with suspicious characters. The recording process will be 100% yours from start to finish, leaving no room for someone to claim ownership over your work.
Copyright Your Work
Once you finish a recording, the first thing you should do is copyright your work. If another artist tries to copy your work, you can take immediate legal action and solidify your status as the sole owner. Just make sure you register the correct copyright forms so
- Performing Arts (PA) Form: file a PA form if you want to copyright a song composition
- Sound Recording (SR) Form: file an SR form if you want to copyright a sound recording or if you want to copyright a recording AND its composition.
If someone violates your copyright, you can take the case to a federal court or a cheaper and more accessible small claims court. However, you can’t file a lawsuit until after your forms get approved, which can take up to nine months and prevent you from getting a large payout. Get into the habit of copyrighting your work shortly after its completion.
Take Advantage Of Music Licensing
Music licensing is a way for copyrighted music owners to allow others to use their sounds for a predetermined fee. Anyone who wants to use your music must sign a legal agreement to ensure they don’t abuse or steal the work. This agreement includes the PA and SR copyrights and any other stipulations you might want to add.
To make this legal agreement official, you must register your work with a performing rights organization (PRO). The PRO works directly with a publishing administration to collect and distribute your music’s royalties. These are the big three PROs you should focus on:
- American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)
- Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)
- Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC)
You must also register for the correct music license, depending on how you want people to use your recordings. There are three major types of music licenses:
- Synchronization (Sync) License: get this license for any producer or content creator who wants to use the music in a media format (film, television, social media, etc.).
- Mechanical License: you need this license if you want to re-record someone else’s music, ensuring that the original owner gets royalties if you sell the recording.
- Master License: this license permits unrestricted use of a recording, granting the new user “master rights” despite not being the original owner.
Another crucial part of music licensing is ensuring that a recording’s metadata is correct. The metadata (artist’s name, producers, song/album title, duration, genre, etc.) makes sure the right people get credited and paid for the work. You need to have your metadata organized before registering for a license.
Read The Fine Print Of Recording Contracts
If a record label wants to add you to its team of artists, don’t sign the first contract you see. You need to read all contracts carefully and watch for the following red flags:
- Extended rights periods: a record label might try to claim long-term ownership over your work.
- Control over future recordings: a record label can pay in advance and automatically obtain rights over future recordings.
- Exclusive recording agreements: every recording completed during the contract’s term automatically falls under the label’s ownership.
You might not be able to spot all the scams and red flags yourself, so it’s a good idea to hire an agent or legal representative with a trained eye for such tactics.
Maintain Control Of Your Music
The current music industry hasn’t been kind to indie artists, finding every loophole imaginable to steal and profit from their work. However, artists can maintain control of their music by choosing a trustworthy studio (sometimes their own equipment), copyrighting their work, acquiring music licenses and reading recording contracts with a sharp eye.
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