Music Artistry For A Living? Lets Get Legal!

Posted on October 24, 2010


So you think that releasing that disc on your own is going to make you star? A lot of bands have also thought that … and they were right! For all of the obvious reasons, they made it to the top, and along the way – the rock and roll attitude reared its ugly head, other deals came out and above all – there was money.

You can deny it all you want, but money changes everything! You know all the jokes in films about how a band is together but the label wants everyone except the drummer, or if they change the singer the label will sign you to a mega deal! This actually happens. The best bet is to take it as seriously as you claim your artistry is when you talk to the kids in front of the corner store. Make it all legal, or suffer the consequences later.

Start with this during a band meeting, outside of the rehearsal room! I say that, because people twanging strings and adjusting drumheads doesn’t provide for a good conversation. Meet up for a brunch and spend a couple of hours talking like the pals that you are. The key to this meeting is an AGREEMENT between all the actual band members, whether they wrote a song or just played along. If they are in the band that performs and tours, they are in the meeting.

Discuss all the silly potentials of how the money will come raining down and find an absolute agreement on how that money will be distributed between each member. If everyone says they agree, sign it on a piece of paper and file it with a legal office. If it’s in writing, you can’t go back on it later and it will reduce the mess you will have to clean up.

It sounds silly when you have a three song demo and 9 songs in the chamber, but when the singer claims he wrote the guitarists song, and the bass player says it was his riff, the judge is going to tell you to get your act together. Reduce the long-term pain and just do it. Write it, sign it and file it. Then have some extra bacon and a glass of champagne at the brunch.

Now, before you smile and call it a deal done, did anyone’s parents, wives or friends put in some money to get equipment or to record the demo? Make sure the first check pays back all the investing parties and then pay the band. The money will continue to roll in for you, but after the tour, you’ll need a couch to sleep on so make sure all the people who you might crash with get their money back first and foremost! Look at the long-term plan.

Believe it or not, in 2000 John Resnick told me that he was finishing up the Goo-Goo Dolls tour and going home to sleep in his mom’s basement. He said he didn’t have a car, his license expired and all the stuff he owns is in the tour bus. He has no living arrangement, no bank account and realistically, no money.  When on tour, it’s all paid for so they just play and live. He did say when he wrote the next hit song the label promised him the million-dollar check – and apparently he got it – but imagine if you needed that basement to sleep in and you never paid back the $1500 to your uncle. He’s not going to be too keen on seeing your feet on his coffee table. Make sure the band knows the money pays back the investors first.

Now, if there is no label involved, be sure that disc has no licensing fees attached or sampling work recorded on it. If for any reason you don’t own every note on that album, pay the fees for rights to artists, BMI or ASCAP right off so you don’t get taken down later for it. Even years after Led Zeppelin recorded all their music, people are coming out of the woodwork claiming all the songs that Jimmy Page stole from them. And while it’s factual and provable – the band never paid for it … however a three-year statute of limitations keeps the ban in the clear. In 1968 that worked, it won’t today. Remember that!

(As I write this, I am listening to online radio and remembering why I can’t stand Axl Rose).

Ahhh, another thing before you cash that check and buy a Ferrari.  Did you remember to pay any session players who agreed to work on the disc in hopes of cashing in on a song they knew was a hit later? Pay them, one day they are going to be famous too – it’ll be nice to meet them on the ladder going up and share a drink and talk about how you were the good guy who paid them for their work. They WILL tell people if you don’t and bad news travels fast.

Now, all the paying everyone else aside, be sure you have necessary charges covered too. This also requires an agreement between the artists in the band. Copyright Paperwork. Just browse the Internet and look at the favorites in your CD collection. Most times, all the members names are on the certificates, or for the most part, the people who you know wrote the songs are there. Make sure it’s listed properly for everyone who was involved. It will also help later when royalty checks get dispersed. Each dude gets his due.

Okay, so all the paperwork is right and everyone is written and signed, no trademarks are outstanding and you are going to print the CD. Pay the extra couple of bucks to get the package with the bar code and register the bar code with SoundScan. It’s a must for tracking your sales, and when you have sold enough, the big boys will come looking to see you play. It works, but not like the olden days when they came to see you after you ordered your second lot of 1000 discs. Some bands would order them and they sat in their basement. It was a good trick for a while, but that was 199o. Today it takes the sale of 96,000 CD’s to get a labels interest if you do it on your own.

Are you laughing? It’s true. As of a big ol’ label meeting back in 2008, the industry standard became almost 100,000 CD sales to make a label come to you, SoundScan proven tracking required! Ask yourself this, if you can sell 100,000 CDs – do you need a label?

Do this. Book a brunch with the band, get the members feeling good about all the financials and go do it. Get out there and perform, record, write and sell 100,000 CD’s and find out for yourself if you truly need a label that carries artists like Justin Bieber to come and offer you a deal to own your music.

Chances are …. well, you know what the chances are, but do it anyway! It’s all just rock and roll, but it’s a great ride!

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