Top 10 Business Things You Should Do Once Your Music Is Finished
As a so-called music industry veteran, a record producer, studio owner and engineer, I have come across hundreds of up-and-coming artists looking to make it big in music. I’ve worked with many great musicians (and some really terrible ones) and I see a recurring theme far too often. Artists often have little to no idea what to do with their music once it has been recorded, mixed and mastered. For many, it is difficult enough to convince them to actually go to a professional to get this work done. There are many possible reasons for this. Sometimes artists are misinformed by the “reality show” they see on TV and social media. They hear things like “50 Cent got his break off mixtapes” and think making a mixtape of their own will earn them similar opportunities. What they forget, or don’t know is Curtis had been signed to two labels, had been mentored by some of the best minds in the culture, and did a ton of ground work on the street before his music landed in the lap of Marshall Mathers.
Sometimes artists are delusional in the “if you build it, they will come,” Field Of Dreams kind of way. Some are just unmotivated to commit themselves to the far less glamorous endeavors of their own business and administration dealings that ensure they will have any chance of success in the music business…and then sometimes they just don’t know what they don’t know.
During my time working with artists in the studio environment, I often take time out to chat and inquire on an artist’s plans to publish their work. Then, when I notice the all too familiar tinge of uncertainty on their face, I share what I know. Below are my top 10 most important things to do after the music is done.
1. Think Like A Business
What does it mean to think like a business?
As a general definition, businesses sell products or provide services which generate revenue by way of sales. Being an artist, you have to appreciate that you are indeed a business. You sell products and services which will generate revenue by way of sales. It is not emotional, it is not artsy. It is calculating and scientific.
Thus note, as an independent, self-releasing artist, your music IS NOT THE BUSINESS — monetizing it is. You are not in the business of “making music,” you are in the business of selling it. The music is the product. In fact, in this new version of the music business, post CDs, tapes, and vinyl, your music is basically a sub-product, or a commercial advertisement in some respects. Your music creates opportunities to actually make money selling other, often more lucrative products and services, like live shows, merchandise and brand deals. This is not to say that you shouldn’t care about your artistry and creativity, but you should never get it confused…they are two completely separate things and are both equally important.
So long as you, as the artist, aren’t looking at your career as a bonafide, serious business, none of the following information will work to your benefit. If your goal is to be able to sustain yourself, and potentially your family and friends, you MUST consider looking at your music and career as a business – else go grab some lottery tickets. Your chances at success without a proper business mindset will likely be similar.
As one of the greatest, Jay-Z once said, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a BUSINESS, man!”
2. Plan Like A Business
If you’ve made it past the first step and have embraced looking at your music and career as a business, it’s time to put in place the mechanisms for you to earn. Think of it this way, if you want to start a baking business because you bake the best apple pies in town, does your work end after you bake the pie? Of course not! Setting up the mechanisms to make money from baking pies means setting up a place to sell your pies, creating a way to tell people you’re selling pies, and perhaps a way to accommodate the customer experience. From this, you might get yourself a storefront or a food truck, distribute flyers or sidewalk signs to get the word out, carry extra cash on hand to give people change, and keep a supply of napkins and shopping bags for your customers. There are so many different things to think about in order to make the overall experience successful. It’s about being properly prepared and organized so when the pies start selling, all you’ll need to think about is collecting the money and how to spend it.
With music, it is no different; you need to be properly prepared and organized, so that you can rest assured whatever strides you make in selling your music, the money is getting to you. This means making sure you have protected your music and claimed and registered every possible stream of revenue your music generates, whether by direct sales, streams, or airplay.
Let me be the first to say, there is always more than one way to skin a cat. The same applies to releasing music. For every so-called rule some “expert” gives you, there is some example out there that defies that rule. I could say you need to make good music to make gains in this business…but then I’d have to contend with someone mentioning JJ ICE Fish. I’m being intentionally sarcastic for comedy’s sake but you get the idea. Just search JJ ICE Fish on YouTube and look at his numbers after you hear the music. So, all said, I do not offer these tasks as hard core “rules,” but more so as very important areas of concern. There isn’t necessarily any particular order for these tasks, but if you want to ensure your music is protected, registered in the right places to receive all money due to you from the system, and tracked for the sake of proper credit and accolades should you make waves with your music, I would not suggest taking any of these steps lightly.
3. Copyright Your Music with the Library of Congress
Fair disclaimer, this article is for the most part USA driven. However, every developed country participating in the global music market has a governing body for establishing ownership of creative works. In the United States, that governing body is the Library of Congress. Registering your work there codifies your musical work as your own and simplifies the legal process to go after individuals who intentionally or inadvertently use your work without your express consent. You may have heard people say, “the moment you create the work, you are protected by copyright law.” To a very large extent, this is absolutely true (in the USA). Copyright law provides that what you create is your property. The problem comes in proving and or litigating it. Registering your music with the copyright office is your worldwide proof that those works belong to you. It makes things much easier in the event someone infringes on your rights by using your music without your permission and without due compensation for doing so. It just makes it easier to sleep at night. So, in short, bite the bullet and copyright your songs.
The filing fee for copyright registration ranges from $45 to $65 depending on the type of copyright you choose and there are some nuances one can leverage to save bank on registering multiple songs at the same time. The great thing is that today you can actually register your works to the Copyright office online…this wasn’t always the case.
Link: US Copyright Office – https://www.copyright.gov
4. Upload Your Music to an Aggregator
What is an Aggregator you say? Well it’s not someone who makes you mad lol! (bad joke). An Aggregator is a entity that will take the music you upload and distribute it to digital streaming platforms, i.e. Apple, Tidal, Spotify, etc. Examples of Aggregators would be TuneCore, DistroKid, United Masters and many others.
This part may sound obvious to some, however there are many (MANY) artists who walk out of the studio with their finished music and later that day or night upload it to SoundCloud or Youtube and rub their hands together…foolishly waiting for something to happen. If you are going to be serious about being an artist in the marketplace, you need to put the music IN THE MARKETPLACE. I hear many excuses why artist don’t upload their music for distribution to the DSPs such as “I’m just trying to build up some buzz”, or “this is just a throwaway record” or other similar excuses that just says to me “I’m not taking my business seriously”.
For the record, you will miss 100 percent of the shots that you don’t take. Period.
So with that, make the effort do the research on which Aggregation Service is best suited for you, and your budget. Each of these services has a little bit different to offer, and the fantastic thing is you are not exclusively bound to put out all of your music with the same service. Maybe for one song you use TuneCore and for the other you try United Masters or some other service. See what you like about how they report to you, pay you, what extras come with your fees for their service, how they provide those services and whether or not you can get a decent level of customer service engagement out of them. At the end of the day, you are spending your hard earned dollars with these companies and they are, or damned well supposed to be, accountable to you on some tangible level.
Also, for the record, there are many more Aggregator Service Companies than the three mentioned above and this is in no way an endorsement of any. I myself have accounts with all three and they all have their pros and cons. For whatever your situation might be, any of these may be fine. Or none of them. If you do a Google search for “music aggregators” you’ll see just how many are out there as well as some pretty detailed reviews of most of them to help you decide what’s best for you.
5. Join & Register Your Music With a Performance Rights Organization (PRO)
What is a PRO, or a Performance Rights Organization? In the US, when speaking of PROs people are generally referring to one of the three government-designated bodies empowered to collect performance royalties: ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.), and in recent years, SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers) more on SESAC below.
PROs collect fees from companies anywhere there are public performances of copyrighted material, such as terrestrial radio (i.e. AM & FM radio stations), concert halls, clubs, and even jukeboxes in your local diner. Streaming companies, such as Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music, also pay these fees collected by the PROs. These companies and establishments report the music they’re playing and pay their fees to PROs for playing those songs. PROs collect and redistribute the monies proportionally to the owners of the composition, copyright and publishing. These monies are NOT included in the revenue you get paid from your Aggregator companies like DistroKid or United Masters.
Streaming services pay PROs directly for these fees, then the money flows down to you through payments made to you by the PROs. So if you’ve ever released music and received a check from TuneCore but you haven’t joined a PRO and registered your songs with them, you absolutely missed out on some cash. Also be aware, in order for you to collect the full monies owed to you via public performances and streaming, you need to sign up to the PRO as BOTH a writer AND as a publisher. So many artists I talk to who have joined a PRO often only sign up as a writer because the fee is lower or free (depending on the PRO). This is a big mistake. Performance royalties are split between the writers and the publishers of the song. As a writer, you are also a publisher, unless you have transferred that right through a publishing or recording deal. Thus, if you are a self-releasing artist writing all of the lyrics and music to your songs, and you solely join a PRO as a writer, you will only see 50 cents of every dollar your music makes from performance royalties. Are you willing to leave half of your hard earned dough on the table?
The fee to join ASCAP as a writer and as a publisher is $50 per application. Joining BMI as a writer is free, while joining as a publisher starts at $150 for individuals and single-owner companies. As for SESAC, in the past they were solely an overseas PRO, but at the turn of the millennium they entered the US market. Although SESAC has since then become the third government-sanctioned PRO for writers and publishers, they only take in new members by invitation, so until your music is hitting real strides, SESAC is not an option for you (but for the sake of thoroughness, I wanted to mention them).
Link: ASCAP – https://www.ascap.com
Link: BMI – https://www.bmi.com
Link: SESAC – https://www.sesac.com
6. Join & Register Your Music with the Mechanical Licensing Collective & (possibly) The Harry Fox Agency
What is the Mechanical Licensing Collective? The Mechanical Licensing Collective (the MLC) is a non-profit organization designated by the U.S. Copyright Office under the Music Modernization Act of 2018. They are tasked with administering blanket mechanical licenses to streaming and download services (known as digital service providers, or DSPs) in the United States. A mechanical license is a fee paid by distributors to publishers of copyrighted material for the duplication of copyrighted works. In the ancient days of the Music Industry, B.S. (before streaming), this was very straightforward. Record companies had to pay a statutory fee set by the government each year, (currently, that rate is 9.1 cents per composition 5 minutes or less) for every “mechanical copy” created and distributed of a Tape, CD, or Vinyl (get it?).
Today, in this new streaming environment it’s a little more complex to associate a digital stream with the word “mechanical,” but the fee must be paid all the same, and it’s a lot lower. If we break down the mechanical license on a DSP like Spotify per stream, it would be about $0.0001992290.
The MLC collects royalties due under these mechanical licenses from the DSPs and pays songwriters, composers, and lyricists, via their publishing entity. As of January 1, 2021, the MLC began granting licenses to DSPs and collecting digital mechanical royalties on behalf of its members in the United States. Every time a song is streamed on a DSP, a mechanical copyright royalty is generated. That said, DSPs pay these royalties directly to the MLC, which then distributes that money down to its publisher members.
Membership in the MLC is mandatory if you want to collect mechanical royalties from digital streams. There is no fee to join – so outside of some additional “paperwork”, not creating your membership is simply leaving money on the table once again.
Before the MLC, the Harry Fox Agency had long been the sole collector of mechanical royalties, which were once solely for physical works, prior to the streaming age. Today, they work with the MLC and share their catalog and publisher data to help the MLC accomplish the mission of collecting digital mechanical royalties. The Harry Fox Agency, however, still manages mechanical licenses for PHYSICAL works (i.e. CDs and Vinyl, etc). The HFA also offers other benefits, like providing opportunities to leverage your music through business development deals for things like ringtones, digital jukeboxes, digital tablature, background music services and music apps. If you don’t plan on doing any physical iterations of your music, I would say joining the HFA doesn’t need to be the highest on your priority list, but it’s definitely worth a hard look. The fee to join the HFA is $100.
Link: The MLC – Mechanical Licensing Collective – https://www.themlc.com
Link: The Harry Fox Agency – https://www.harryfox.com
7. Join & Register Your Music with SoundExchange
What is SoundExchange? SoundExchange is a non-profit, music rights organization founded in 2003. It was designated by the U.S. Congress to collect and distribute digital performance royalties for sound recordings. What is very different about SoundExchange is that they collect performance royalties on behalf of the owner of the sound recording and the artists and musicians featured on it. Currently, they only have the ability to collect from entities designated as non-interactive digital music services. A non-interactive music service is any streaming entity in which the listener is NOT able to choose the songs being played, such as an internet, satellite or cable radio stations, like SiriusXM or Pandora. This is quite different from the performance royalties PROs collect. However, like most of the other collection organizations discussed, DSPs pay these royalties directly to the collection organizations (SoundExchange, in this case) who then pay you. See a trend here? If you’re not at the table, you don’t get fed. There is no fee to join SoundExchange, so there’s nothing to lose here.
Link: SoundExchange – https://www.soundexchange.com
8. Register Your Music with Trade Analytics & Tracking Services
If you have made it this far, you have now ensured your music is properly protected from infringement, and you can rest easy that you will receive the overwhelming majority of money due to you from the sale and streaming of your music. Now you want to ensure that whatever successes you achieve from the world consuming your music is properly attributed to you as an individual, a company and a brand. Thus, the next step is to get your songs encoded by Mediabase, Nielsen BDS and Nielsen SoundScan.
Mediabase and Nielsen BDS are services that monitor and track music plays on terrestrial and internet radio and television. Collectively, they power industry trade radio charts like Billboard’s. They use a method of fingerprinting your song files, making them identifiable when played on radio stations. There is about an 80 percent overlap in the stations they monitor so it is important to do both so that you cover all of the radio market.
Nielsen SoundScan is different from Nielsen BDS and Mediabase in that it tracks record sales, like when folks buy directly from iTunes or a similar digital record store. Additionally, SoundScan monitors and tallies up the aggregate sales generated by streams on the DSPs. If you should ever have the good fortune to have your song streamed enough times to go Gold or Platinum, this would be how you get the proper credit.
Having your music encoded with each of these three entities can open up a world of opportunities should your music grow legs. There is no fee to use any of these services, however there is a process and a lead time. The key is to plan out your release properly, to make sure that the moment your song hits the public, it’s being tracked.
Currently, Mediabase has an online workflow to upload and register your music for encoding. Nielsen BDS has had several changes in ownership over the years and there is a slightly manual process to gain access to their Virtual Encode portal.
Here are the steps:
To get a free Virtual Encode account and login info, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Please include Virtual Encode in Subject Line and the below info in email body:
First and Last Name
Link: Mediabase Song Registration – https://www2.mediabase.com/mbapp/NewMusicNotification
Link: Nielsen SoundScan Song Registration – https://titlereg.soundscan.com/soundscantitlereg
*Note for Nielsen BDS registration see steps above
9. Upload your Song Credits to Sound.Credit
The other side of the tracking and monitoring coin has to do with credits. Again, if you think of your music as a business, when opportunity comes knocking (i.e. paid features, songwriting opportunities, production, recording deals) people will be looking to find your “stats” in the marketplace. These days, sites like AllMusic.com, Discogs.com, Jaxsta.com, Muse.io and others are the industry sources for finding credits. I can remember countless times, while working at various labels, when A&Rs heard a song and went to look for the credits to see who the artist was, who produced the song, wrote the song, or all of the above. There was typically a check to be had for the people behind it. Ensuring your credits are out there in full and published across multiple platforms is key. Additionally, giving proper credit to the personnel (engineers, producers, writers, etc.) that worked on the song is great karma too. Not to mention, on Sound.Credit you can add publishing companies, gear and instruments used, as well as uploading artwork and lyrics — it is the one all-inclusive method for publishing deep credits and metadata I’ve come across thus far. Getting a Sound.Credit profile is free, and great to use to quickly share your PRO information in studio sessions, however there is also a publisher app which is used for publishing just about any credit or metadata you can think of. The publisher app subscription is $99 a year. My suggestion is to find a studio or company that offers the service (like ours 😬).
10. Make A Release Plan
While this is probably the most obvious of all of the tasks suggested in this list, you should proceed with caution (or at least A LOT of thought) before uploading your music to your aggregator. As I mentioned earlier, you must plan like a business. In the example of starting a pie business, you wouldn’t want to take an order to deliver 50 pies next week if the boxes used to package the pies were on back order for three weeks, right? You would have a calamity brewing. Since most aggregator services like TuneCore, DistroKid and United Masters allow you to set the release date in the future, you want to make sure you put all of the tasks you need to complete on a timeline so they can be completed by the time your release goes live. That said, some of these tasks, like registering your music to the various agencies mentioned earlier, will require you to provide an ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) or the UPC (Universal Product Code), or sometimes both, to complete the registration of your music. When you upload your music to an aggregator, they generate these codes for you as part of their service. You typically receive this information from the aggregator within a day or two, well before the release goes live, thus enabling you to use those codes everywhere they’re needed. So plan wisely, make a list…and check it twice!