Your songs are your assets. Now act that way!

Reading that headline, you may have the reaction, “How can you refer to something so intensely personal and creative as MY music as an ‘asset’? How clinical!”. Or, maybe you find the idea of songs as assets to be a little provocative?

On some level, it could give you a warm, fuzzy feeling to think that your labour of love actually has a bankable value that can be considered just like anything else in your portfolio – like real estate or gold.

Whichever side your reaction to that headline falls on, I find that when it comes to how songwriters and artists view their art, there are really two types:

TYPE A: Those that believe and act as though everything they produce is nothing short of a masterpiece that was channeled through them via divine inspiration from heaven itself. They are ultra-careful about who they play their “sure-thing #1 hit” for in fear of their music or hook be stolen or copied by somebody else. They believe that the stories in the news about such-and-such recording artist being sued for copyright infringement from an unknown writer, are a) generally true, and b) typical of an industry that is full of unscrupulous sharks prettying on poor, unsuspecting writers.

TYPE B: those that have the opposite viewpoint and will essentially carpet-bomb every DIY licensing website, music library and publisher they come across; desperate for an ounce of attention, and with no regard for the how they’re cheapening their work. And when any low-grade publisher offers them a deal, they immediately drop their drawers; give up any share of licensing, up-front fees and their copyright, in favour of the promise, “you’ll get a piece of the backend”, or “it’ll be good exposure for your career”.

Both of these types are obviously extreme examples, but both also offer a kernel of truth. If you wish to be successful in music today, you certainly need to let go of a little control and just understand that putting your music in front of as many good opportunities as possible is critical. At the same time, your art has measurable value that is worth protecting – much like inventory in a store.

Let’s first take a completely practical look at it, removing the emotional investment you have. A typical song that is reasonably well-written, recorded and produced probably represents about 100 hours of hard work by a skilled craftsman (you) to create something marketable. Fair?

Now take that same 100 hours of blood, sweat and tears, and pretend you build custom-made furniture for a living. In that time you end up with a beautiful coffee table or wall unit, worthy to be sold in any local furniture store.

How willing would you then be if a wealthy client asks you to give it to them for free, because of the “good exposure” you’ll get from people seeing it in their living room? Seems absurd, doesn’t it?

Your songs are your assets. Your music catalog is your product inventory. It deserves to be insured, protected, and monetized. In short, you deserve to be paid! So, how do you walk the line between being a good steward of your music catalog, but still releasing control enough for your tracks to get out there in front of people?

Protecting your music

Here are FIVE must-do’s to properly protect your music, without having to lock it in a box encased in concrete:

  1. Register every track with your performing rights society: Unless you’re working closely with a publisher (who will typically register the completed tracks as soon as you deliver them), make it part of your regular routine that you register the track immediately once it’s done under your own publishing company and writer handle.
  2. Have thorough and accurate metadata: One easy but often-overlooked way of ensuring your music gets properly connected to you as the writer is to make sure all recordings have your metadata burned into the ID3 tags and include your name, performing rights society and CAE/IPI number (your PRO member number).
  3. Get your tracks digitally fingerprinted: “watermarks” as they’re commonly called is a fairly recent, and exciting technology. This essentially burns an identification mark into the audio file itself that cannot be heard, but can be detected by decoding technology that monitors broadcasts constantly. Digimarc and Tunesat are examples of these services. With Tunesat, it’s easy – you upload a bunch of tracks, and they monitor all uses of it in the territories you pick. This is the one option in this list that will cost you money – based on the number of tracks they’re monitoring. However, the payback on that investment can be staggering.
  4. Keep track of where and when you pitched your music: This may not seem obvious, but having an audit trail of exactly who has heard your music and when, not only helps you to retrace your steps if (heaven forbid) something goes sideways, but also is just helpful for relationship building with publishers, labels and industry people. Whether you log it in a simple spreadsheet, or use a full-fledged system like Magnetracks (www.magnetracks.com), knowing that history will inform better conversations, help you target your submissions better, and will prevent you from embarrassingly pitching the same track twice.
  5. Make smart choices about who you work with! Particularly in recent years, there’s been a proliferation of music libraries that range from huge ones owned by major labels and are very reputable, to ones that… well… aren’t. There are pro’s and con’s to each, but one decision factor before signing your music to a library is, ‘how well do they monitor their uses and care about fairness to their writers they work with?’. The deal they offer their writers will play into this decision as well. Fairness can’t be easily defined, but you’ll know when a company doesn’t seem to be practicing it!

By taking care of these basics, you can boldly proceed in the direction of your dreams; safe in the comfort that – at least to a practical level – you’ve covered yourself. And rather than obsessively worrying about your track being stolen, misidentified, or mistakenly used without your permission, you can instead focus on giving your music the exposure and opportunities it deserves!

This article was written by Eliot Pister of Magnetracks (www.magnetracks.com), a division of Greengate Media Ltd in Vancouver, Canada. Eliot has hundreds of published works for television and other media as a writer, and is a songwriter/producer with a 25 year discography.
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