Demystifying Music Rights: A Guide for Emerging Artists.

Piano synthesizer
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Today, we’re tackling a topic that’s different from my previous journeys to Tomorrowland Winter and A State Of Trance. It’s no less significant, and it’s one that artists often encounter. When starting a music career, there’s a naive belief that all it takes is to create sounds, get signed by labels, and quickly earn income from them. Well, it’s more complicated than that. Music Rights are relatively complex and can be quite headache-inducing!

Especially if you live in a country like France, where there’s a tendency to make already challenging concepts even more complicated. Fortunately, as an artist, your role isn’t to become a legal expert. That’s more the job of your manager, to ensure that contracts are in order and that you’re receiving the earnings you’re entitled to. Nonetheless, an introduction to these concepts will always be beneficial to you.

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Introduction to Music Rights

There’s a vast array of legislation in the music industry, which can vary from country to country. Here, we’ll focus on the essentials so that you have the necessary tools to understand the stakes and prepare accordingly. To properly grasp this subject, it’s important to recognize that a musical work has two aspects. There are publishing rights and recording rights. But what do these terms mean? And what about synchronization that we often hear about? It’s time to delve into this topic and shed some light on these obscure terms.

The publishing rights

These rights are related to copyrights, which are effective immediately upon the creation of the work. No formal procedure is necessary to acquire the copyright of your music. They pertain to authors and composers, who typically share the copyright of the work equally (50% for authors and 50% for composers).

In France, these rights are managed by SACEM (Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Éditeurs de Music). Its counterparts in the United States are ASCAP and BMI, and in the United Kingdom, it’s the Performing Right Society. These societies are responsible for collecting revenues related to the exploitation of your musical compositions. To do this, they must be declared to the management society, detailing the percentage share of copyright between the author and the composer. The society will then enforce your following rights:

  • The public performance right: when your music is played on TV, radio, bars, clubs, or performed during concerts and festivals.
  • The mechanical reproduction right: as soon as the music is reproduced on CDs, listened to via streaming (Spotify, Apple Music…) or downloaded (Beatport, Bandcamp…).

All this may seem straightforward at first, but the administration of these rights can be time-consuming. As an artist, even if you might have an interest in the business aspect of your career, your primary focus should be on expressing your talent and creating music. This is where publishers come into play. By assigning a portion of your copyright to one of them (usually 50%), they will take on the role of generating revenue from the exploitation of the work. They will handle the registration with the publishing society. They may also participate in the promotional work related to the dissemination of the work. Of course, you can manage publishing yourself, but if you want to mess up with your career, there are quicker ways 😅.

The recording rights

When you record your music, you always have a master recording, known as Master. This master tape contains the arrangements made by the producer (mixing, mastering, etc.). Therefore, this recording is the property of its producer, who has rights over the recording. These rights also have value and can bring you money if they are properly declared.

Music Production
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Now, it’s time to distribute your sound recording so that it can be heard and generate money. Whether it’s on streaming platforms, downloads, or via CDs, vinyls, it’s appropriate to call on a distributor. They will act as the intermediary between you and the players in the physical and digital distribution. In exchange for a commission on sales or an annual fee, the distributor will pay you the revenues that are due to you as the owner of the master. Among the most well-known, you’ll find Distrokid, CD Baby, Emu Bands, Amuse

Neighboring rights

Let’s quickly touch on neighboring rights. It may seem somewhat complex, but it’s actually quite straightforward. Producers and performers also have ‘neighboring rights to copyright’ that come into play when recording a musical work. These neighboring rights aim to protect the work of producers and performers due to their financial and artistic contributions to the composition. Neighboring rights are split 50/50 between producers and performers.

Just like copyright, neighboring rights are claimed by declaring your recordings to a neighboring rights management society. As a producer in France, you would address the SCPP (Société Civile des Producteurs Phonographiques) and the SPPF (Société Civile des Producteurs de Phonogrammes en France). In the United States, Sound Exchange and AARC handle these, and in the United Kingdom, it’s PPL.

As a performer, you need to register as either a ‘featured’ or ‘support’ artist with ADAMI (Administration des Droits des Artistes et Musiciens Interprètes) or SPEDIDAM (Société de Perception et de Distribution des Droits des Artistes-Interprètes) in France, Sound Exchange in the United States, and PPL in the United Kingdom.

The role of records labels

After reading these lines, you might think that all it takes is to register with the appropriate organizations, distribute your music online via Distrokid, and you’re all set. But what then is the role of record labels? Are they really necessary? Historically, yes, labels opened the doors to the music industry for artists. A large organization provided the significant funding needed to handle the manufacturing and distribution of CDs to various stores. Today, with the rise of streaming, the role of record labels has greatly diminished. So, should one forego a label and venture out solo?

Spotify app
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That’s the one million dollar question. The only right answer is: it depends. It depends on your current situation, your musical style, your strategy, your audience, your social media presence, and so on. Of course, you can handle your own distribution. However, this will put you in competition with millions of artists who have access to the same tools as you. If you want to stand out, you’ll need to be creative and cutting-edge in your promotion.

Signing with a label can be a turning point in your career. They will invest in you, ensure the promotion of your tracks, fund your projects, schedule you for their events, and open many doors. On the other hand, it will bring its share of constraints. Some contracts may span several years and deprive you of some of your freedom. You must follow the label’s rules, respect their release schedule, agree to grant them exclusivity, and give them a significant portion of your income. As I said before, the choice will depend on your situation and the label in question! This is a topic you should discuss with your manager and team.

Synchronization rights

Also known as ‘clearing’. Synchronization rights involve the action of releasing the rights of a work or recording in exchange for a fee, the ‘Sync fee.’ This allows, for example, the use of pre-existing music in an audiovisual production.

Summary of music rights

So, in summary, for a piece of music, we have two sides. On one side, the publishing encompasses the lyrics and the composition. On the other, the recording corresponds to the master of your track, including the production and the performance.

To assert your rights, it is important to register with copyright management societies (SACEM in France). If applicable, you must also register with neighboring rights management societies.

To help you receive the sums due to you, several players come into play:

  • The publishers, whose role is to collect revenues from the publishing rights.
  • The distributors, who allow you to distribute your music and collect revenues from the recording rights.

Then we have the record labels, which can be a real career accelerator, but can also block your ambitions and projects. It is important to weigh the pros and cons before committing to a label.

I hope things are a bit clearer now. It took me several years to understand these concepts. Probably because in electronic music, the composers are also producers. The composition is generally created on the same software as the production and arrangement. All this became very abstract. It makes more sense when, for example, a singer-songwriter calls on a producer to master and record the title. I didn’t understand, for example, why record labels also had to ensure distribution and publishing through a different structure. For example: Armada Music offers its distribution services and also owns Cloud9 Music for the publishing aspect. It is essential that distinct rights apply to the different stakeholders.

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