I know how important copyright is, and I know that it can also be completely confusing and overwhelming… so I’m breaking it down and going through it, bit by bit.
This is the third article in the Copyright series. If you missed the first and/or second article, please take a moment to go back and read them before continuing this one.
Stream Digital Versions (Audio only)
You know some of your fans are all over the streaming services, such as Pandora, Spotify, and XM radio. While you don’t want to put all of your music on there (since they won’t buy it if they can stream it for free or almost free), you are interested in offering two songs off of your newest album—one is an original, and one is a cover.
But streaming is a bit more complicated than it seems, and you might have no idea what rights are involved with putting your music out there. The good news is I’ve done some digging for you.
Streaming companies gain a license from musicians to play the recordings; the particular license depends on whether the streaming service is interactive or not. An interactive service—such as Spotify—allows the user to select the exact songs they listen to. In that case, the company would have to obtain the right to “digital performances of sound recordings” from the copyright owner. On the other hand, non-interactiveservices—like Pandora or XM Radio—provide a pre-programmed or semi-random combination of tracks; with these services, users cannot control exactly what song plays or when. These services need a “statutory license.” SoundExchange is a service authorized by Congress to administer statutory licenses.
Additionally, streaming digital music is considered a public performance, so the services need to obtain performance rights to perform underlying musical composition.
So, to stream music online, you will likely need to transfer the underlying performance rights in the musical composition and the right to the digital performances of your sound recording to the service providing the streaming.
Unless you have given up some of your rights, you have the right to place your own music online or on the radio.
If you have not already created a digital version of a song someone else created, you will need a mechanical license to create that sound recording in digital form and to stream that song. Again, most copyright owners use the Harry Fox Agency to manage this interactive streaming license. Additionally, you will need a public performance license for the musical composition, and you will need to pay the performance fees to the correct PROs. After acquiring the proper rights from the original song owner or publisher and creating your version, you will need to give the service the right to the digital performance of your sound recording.
Creating a Music Video
In an effort to promote your new album, you’ve taken the best songs—the one with the killer hook, and the crowd pleaser—and come up with crazy-awesome concepts for a music video. You’re ready to start production, but you want to make sure you cover all the bases first.
When you create a music video of your original songs that is not being live streamed, your reproduction, distribution, and synchronization rights come into play. “Synchronization” is a special kind of right not precisely defined by law; that said, it is generally understood to be part of your reproduction rights and comes about anytime visual images are placed with your music.
To get your music video online or on TV generally requires you license the company or service a portion of your rights. To start, this will include both some sound recording (because you are not performing live) and musical composition rights (because your music and lyrics are still being played). Since companies will want to cover all their bases, the contract you enter with the company will likely be over-inclusive for what is actually required. Often this will include the right to reproduce the video, distribute the video, display your band name or CD cover, perform (or “play”) your work for public viewing, and derivative rights, to prepare derivative works. You may be thinking, “what are derivative rights, and why do they need them?” Derivative rights allow the company to adapt or change the music video—usually to fit their programming and produce the show for viewing—without infringing your copyright. It is more common with television programs than online services.
In terms of songs someone else created, you need two things to legally distribute your music video of a cover song: a mechanical license and a synchronization license. Why do you need two licenses? Your music video has an underlying audio track that exists as a separate file from the final video. That audio track technically requires a mechanical license (to create the recording and distribute it; the Harry Fox Agency handles mechanical licenses. But, in order to make a music video and align that recording of someone else’s song with any moving images, you need a special license called a “synchronization license.” This is obtained from the musical composition rights owner—likely the artist’s publisher. To find the publisher, you can look the song up on the PRO’s (BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC) website; find and contact the owner/publisher; and request to negotiate a synch license. One thing worth noting: since you can also obtain the mechanical right from the owner/publisher, you might be able to obtain a “sync license” that includes all the necessary reproduction and distribution rights you need for your video… meaning you wouldn’t need a separate mechanical license.
What does this mean, practically speaking? That hit song that everyone and their brother is covering online—those artists either obtained the proper licenses (which can cost a pretty penny, depending on the song) or they did it illegally. And doing things illegally has a range of repercussions ranging from your account being penalized to legal action. Even if everyone else seems to be doing it the wrong way, is it really worth risking your reputation, your online presence, your finances, and your career?
Song Placement: TV Shows, Movies and Commercials
Your music videos’ view counts are climbing by the minute, and your new album is trending on social media and climbing the charts (congrats!). You’ve had two emails come in—one from a company wanting to use your cover of a song in a television ad, and one wanting to use your original song in a movie.
Let’s start with your original song and the movie. The rights you might have to give up depend on whether the movie company is using a pre-recorded version of your song or is asking you to record a new version for the movie.
If they want to use a previously recorded version of your song, they will have to obtain a synchronization license and the sound recording license (called a “mast use license”). The mast use license is acquired from whomever owns the rights to the sound recording–likely you or your record label. Anytime your music is placed with moving images, a sync license is required from you and/or your publisher. The sync license should cover your performance royalties from the showing of the movie; this means the producer will submit a “cue sheet” to your PRO and the authorized broadcasts will be granted only to companies registered with your PRO. The license might also include a mechanical license, since they will likely want to release, reproduce, and distribute a soundtrack with copies of your song… and you want to get paid for those copies!
If you are recording a new version, you will likely have to give up sound recording rights, display rights, distribution rights to the work that results, the right to reproduce copies of that recording, as well as any derivative works resulting from that recording. Seems like a lot to give up, but it is pretty standard.
This is important: if you have already recorded a version of your song with a record label, be sure you do not need their permission to use the previous recording or to record a new version of the song for this new use.
Now, for licensing the cover song. Whether it’s a movie, a music video, or on television, anytime you want to place someone’s music with moving images, you need a synch license. If you already have a music video and obtained a synchronization license from the artist’s publisher, you might think you’re covered. Think again. Since this is a different use, the sync license will most likely need to be negotiated again. Additionally, performance rights to the underlying musical composition need to be obtained from the proper PRO and fees paid accordingly. Hopefully, the ad producers will take care of this for you!
So far, we’ve covered the most common Copyright issues. Let me know if there are additional topics you’d like me to address by leaving a comment below… and be sure to check back and find out more!
Disclaimer:The above article is not legal advice; is it not intended to, nor can it, replace professional legal advice in any way. It is only intended to provide a short guide to basic legal terms and practices in the music industry. In your own interest, consult with a copyright attorney before entering into any contractual agreement or taking any action against copyright infringement.
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 11 minutes
Two months ago, Meghan Trainor was an unknown songwriter. Even today, she isn’t a big, established artist… at least, not yet. But, if her first single’s smashing success on YouTube is any indication of the future of her career, she will be.
Trainor, a 20-year-old singer-songwriter, is the artist behind the single “All About That Bass.” The catchy pop tune stands tall on its own merits, but the accompanying music video is pure brilliance. And audiences seem to agree. The video, which was released on June 11, already has over 21 million views. Not too shabby for an artist’s first single.
So, what’s the big deal?
You Could Learn a Thing or Two from Trainor
This performance stands out because it has hooks in the video as well as a social message that connects with a large number of fans, not to mention that it also creates a little controversy. The hooks have to do with the unusual way that Trainor portrays herself and the other performers in the video. Not just the fact that they are happy with their size and shape, but some of the unexpected things that happen in the video. They also turn the tables on “skinny” people by using humor, casting, and choreography to make their point.
Done? Good. I bet you noticed Sione, an example of casting brilliance. He is over the top with his dance moves, and he adds a dimension of depth and fun to the video that has helped to propel it into a huge number of views.
After viewing the video, are you compelled to share it with someone else? If so, then you begin to see how a video can go viral.
Note that it does not matter why you want to share it, just the fact that you do. This important point is quite often lost on musicians who make their career in music. Launching a video that is well done, but not compelling, is not enough. By compelling, I mean: what does the viewer feel compelled to do after seeing your video? If the overwhelming answer is to share it with friends, then you have a winner. Otherwise, as a good friend of mine would say, “You have a double handed death grip on a loser”. The world is full of music videos that go nowhere, and they cost just as much to produce as a compelling video. Learn to let go of the loser before you start… or do what it takes to turn it into a winner and then hang on tight.
The song “All About That Bass” by itself probably would not create the kind of buzz necessary to get 21 million listens. It is the entire package—the song combined with the video—that knocks it out of the park.
But let’s face it: video can be expensive. It would be fair to say that an inexpensive songwriting/performing/video-creation endeavor could easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. On the other hand, indie musicians are a very creative group used to working with very few resources. So, why not figure out a way to write and shoot a compelling video without a huge budget? It takes a combination of talent, flexibility, planning, funding, and desire to make all the parts work together smoothly, even more so on a small budget. It is not for everybody.
Let’s take a closer look at Trainor and her video; then, we can explore what indie artists might do to leverage their music in this same way.
What Trainor Does
Trainor writes about a very of-the-moment issue (body image) and has a positive message.
Body image issues are nothing new, but they have become a much more public issue in recent years.
Social media sites have turned into a battleground over women’s bodies. Memes proclaim that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, incredibly thin models are lifted up as ideals (after being photoshopped into even more idealized versions of themselves), and women with “extra” weight are publicly ridiculed for their weight and their choices (in clothing, in food, in living). On the other side, there is backlash against “thinspiration” and excessive photo editing, heightened awareness about the dangers of eating disorders, and encouragement to be healthy and to love yourself as you are.
And that’s where Trainor’s message lies. She sings:
“I see the magazine, workin’ that Photoshop. We know that shit ain’t real. C’mon now, make it stop. If you got beauty beauty, just raise ’em up, Cause every inch of you is perfect, from the bottom to the top. Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size… I know you think you’re fat. I’m here to tell you every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.”
Now, Trainor is, admittedly, not a size two. The girl has some curves. She also doesn’t appear to be unhealthy or overweight.
But her weight and shape aren’t the issue, nor are they the focus of her message. Her message lies in her acceptance of her body for what it is. It’s not a skinny beautiful body. It’s not a fat beautiful body. It’s simply her beautiful body. And that message is something that girls everywhere—maybe people everywhere—need to hear. And, as an artist, Trainor does a good job of leveraging this topic by producing a compelling song/video combination.
She stirs up a little bit of controversy.
If you read the public comments on Trainor’s video, you know what I’m talking about. There are a surprising number of hateful comments on a video that has such a positive message. (Well, maybe not surprising, if you’re used to the internet.)
But don’t assume that some negative comments mean Trainor and her message are unpopular. Less than one tenth of one percent (0.001%) of the people viewing the video have taken the time to comment on it publicly—some comments are good, some are not. And for every “thumbs down” on the video, there are almost 22 “thumbs ups”.
Most importantly, a huge number of people have been compelled enough by the video to share it with others. That is all that matters.
Every part of the video—the concept, the casting, the styling, the shooting, the editing—is extremely well done.
The video’s concept is simple: reinforce the song’s message by showing people comfortable in their own skin having fun and loving themselves—regardless of their size, shape, or age. There’s no complicated storyline to confuse the viewer, nor is it simply just another music video of a performer singing their latest release on a stage.
The casting is impeccable. Trainor’s message isn’t limited to one group; it’s for everyone. It’s appropriate, then, that the people in the video are different sizes, shapes, ages, and genders, and they all look like they’re having fun, dancing and shaking whatever they have (or don’t have).
What This Means For You
Trainor is 20, and she’s new. She seems to be pretty talented (especially considering she had a songwriting contract at 18 and an artist contract at 20). She has a label that is obviously willing to invest in her, and she has an extremely talented team working with her.
Your situation is probably different. You might be starting your career in music, or you might have been at it for a long time. You’re likely talented and creative and have music ready to release or that could be re-released with better promotion. You probably have a loyal local fan base, but you’d love for it to be bigger. You’re probably wondering how to branch out—how to get bigger and better gigs along with more visibility.
Given that you’re in a different situation than Trainor, what on earth could she and her video possibly teach you about your career? Plenty.
Songs that strike a chord with you will probably strike a chord with others.
In a behind-the-scenes video, Trainor says, “My producer and I wanted to write a fun song… Why not do a song about loving yourself and loving your body? Because I don’t think girls love themselves as much as they really should. I think girls will really relate to it.” In an interview with the Today show, Trainor says that this is an issue she has struggled with personally. That personal experience and conviction help Trainor come off as a credible source on the subject, which means it’s easier for her fans to relate and connect with her.
What does this mean for you? Well, first, you don’t need a team of professional, award-winning songwriters to write a good song. You can leverage your own life experiences, just like Trainor did, and create music that reflects who you are.
Second, you should try writing about something that resonates with you on a personal level. Pick a topic that moves you, or an experience you’re intimately familiar with, and tell the story in a way that takes listeners along for the ride. If you connect with the song, it increases the odds of your listeners connecting—both with the song and with you.
Most importantly, consider whether that connection will cause your viewers to share the video. Get creative with the process, and be sure to create a hook, something in the video that will make fans take action. Without a hook, it will not work.
If you want a second opinion, try playing the song for the rest of the band, an impartial friend, another musician, or a songwriting group. Be open to their feedback and criticism, and genuinely consider what they have to say. Even if you don’t make the changes they suggest, the advice might come in handy on future songs.
You don’t have to be a superstar to get lots of good attention.
Before this release, Trainor was relatively unknown. She might have had a small local following, but she certainly wasn’t a household name. So, how did she get so many views?
Simply put, Trainor thought outside the box—with her message, her styling, and her casting. Her positive message is on a topic that few artists address. The styling of Trainor’s video is surprising (in that it’s rather different from most other videos out there), but it’s wholly appropriate for the song. In Trainor’s video, Vine sensation Sione makes an unexpected appearance, which helps create a hook for fans of the video because of his unique style. Sione’s 440,000 fans (yes, you read that correctly) on Vine probably headed over to check out Trainor’s video, and I can guarantee that some of Trainor’s viewers headed over to Vine to find out more about the dancing man. Both artists benefited from the collaboration.
That type of collaboration doesn’t take a label or tons of money. More importantly, thinking outside the box doesn’t take a label or tons of money. To be a successful independent artist, you must be creative, flexible, and resourceful; a ton of money to fund your project is not required to make this work.
This might mean you tell your song’s story from an unexpected angle. In Five Seconds of Summer’s video for “She Looks So Perfect”, the characters in the video strip down to their underwear. This in itself is a little surprising (but fits with a line in the chorus). What is unexpected is the type of people who strip down: highschoolers, a store clerk, a middle-aged mom, a cop, a grandmother, a pair making eyes at each other in a diner. Basically, everyone but the young and fairly attractive band members. It’s not just young, fit, beautiful people stripping. It’s everyone. This is the hook for an otherwise unremarkable video that now has over 67 million views.
As I said at the very beginning of this article, Meghan Trainor isn’t a big, established artist… yet. I think she’s incredibly talented, and I think she has a talented team helping her. I’m extremely curious to see how she follows up on this first single. Only time will tell.
As for you, the indie musician with your own style and talent and career, I want to know what you think of Trainor’s video and what you’ve learned from it to use in your own career. What’s your next move?