A Must BEFORE Signing with Anyone, Or Releasing Any Product...
"Everything You Need To Do, to be Prepared For Anything You Want To Do, In the Music Business"
© 2017 David J. Spangenberg
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Whether you want to go with a Major, or "Do It Yourself", or anywhere in between, it pays to be prepared for anything, so that no matter which direction you choose to go, you will retain more creative, business. and financial control of your career, no matter what style of music, or whether you are an Artist/Band, Producer, Manager, or if you're 18 or 65...
Now, if you follow these steps, and put a good deal of directed effort into them, you will receive a reward: You will then attract the people and Companies you want to attract, and deal with them more on Your terms - and only if you really want to or need to...
Overall, in effect, you are starting a "Small Business".
Yeah, I know a lot of musicians are wary of such animals, but get over it, and get it over and done with - believe me, youíll be glad you did!
You want an incentive? It is a fact, nowadays, whether you wish to attract an Investor, or a Label, or a successful Manager, or any legitimate and successful entity, you must show them that you are an up-and-running professional business.
Simply put, if you, as an Artist want to sign with a Major or one of their "Subsidiaries", you must understand that the Companies will most likely sign Artists that they believe know what they are doing. Meaning, those Artists who have their biz/legal together, along with drawing a large amount of fans to their concerts, creating, at least, a large buzz regionally, and selling at least 25-50,000 downloads and/or CDs on their own, with a great amount of YouTube views.
Then again, maybe you just want to DIY (do it yourself), and keep a good amount of control of your project. You can DIY with a good deal of persistence, work, and at least a good, basic knowledge of the Music Biz and the Internet. And actually, you may eventually profit money-wise and otherwise way more than if you were with a Major!
Or, maybe you want to aim somewhere in-between, say, going with an already established Indie Label, at least in the beginning.
No matter what, before you even decide to move ahead with any route through the Music Business, you should take care of your Own Creative, Business and Legal situation. This includes those of you interested in dealing with the Major Labels, doing it yourself, or anywhere in-between. That is, if you wish to succeed AND make money - AND be protected!
Overall, in short...
1. You are going to Own, on Legal Paper, Everything: the Songs, the Recordings - the works - unless and until You want to make a deal with some person or Company - and it should be more on Your Terms...
2. You will be able to keep a good deal of creative, as well as Business and legal power.
3. You can make and keep a much greater percentage of the financial rewards...
But 2 things you must keep in mind...
1. It's going to take some real effort, and
2. It's going to cost you a few dollars to set up properly.
But, think of the alternative - working for someone else, doing what you don't want to do - with them owning You!
And, the great thing is, with one large breakthrough, like one hit song, for example, you instantly turn your small business into a more powerful and more profitable business.
Yes, it may sound a little scary at first, (if it ain't at least a little scary, you're not aiming high enough!) but when people see you know what you're doing, you'll start attracting the right people to your camp who can then help make your ride much smoother...
Now, there are things that you should at least know about, or better yet, do, before you even think of signing with a Manager, Production or Record Company as an Artist; or setting yourself up as a Management, Publishing, Production Company or Indie Label.
These items will allow you to retain at least some of the Creative and Business, and therefore, Financial Control - plus know, (or at least look like you know) what you are doing! This way you also have a much better chance of attracting the legitimate, professional People and Companies, including Investors, instead of wasting time and energy attracting those who have no idea about how the Music Biz operates - or people simply trying to take advantage of you and/or your products and/or projects.
In other words, you should prevent yourself from wasting time, money, effort, as well as your sanity - while youíre being ripped off.
What I recommend, that many of my clients adhere to, is the following 3-Step plan of action. I highly recommend following this plan when you believe you are ready musically, and it's time to get your career off the ground.
The best time to set this in motion would be before you are recording your music you wish to release, (and definitely before you are thinking of signing with ANY Person or Company). This way, when you're ready to move ahead, music in hand, you are actually completely ready to move ahead, profitably, and safely...
Important Note: Sorry, but I really must impress upon you the old saying, "You Only Get One Chance To Make A 1st Impression!" There are tons of "Good Artists" and "Good Songwriters" and "Good Managers" and "Good Producers", etc. You want (need!) to Stand Out From the Crowd! You and/or your Product or Project need to be GREAT!
Now, in Step 1, we will be making sure that we have set ourselves up legally and business-wise, so that we're prepared to go in any direction we wish to go in the future - while showing the people that matter, that we are serious about our careers, and it's not just a hobby...
The 1st items (1. a. & b.) can be very important nowadays, for many reasons, and should be taken care of first, if you wish to, not only attract a a highly successful Manager, or an Investor, for examples, but just as importantly, protect your butts, including any valuables, such as property, equipment, etc.. This definitely should be handled, if at all possible, before releasing any Products to the public, if you wish to feel fully protected:
1. a. Form an LLC. If set up correctly, this protects You and Your Products and Property from legal concerns. Simply go to your State Website, and find and fill out the form, or speak to an Entertainment Attorney.
Once set up...
b. Go to IRS.gov and get an EIN# (tax ID number). It’s Free! You’ll need this for some of the following steps
2. a. Business Partnership Situations and Agreements
If you are working with anyone else in some form of a sharing or partnership situation, you need to have an agreement spelling out the needs and protections that fit your situation.
As I state on my Site describing Partnership Agreements:
"The contract people don't think about until it's often too late - an agreement between the people sharing the money and responsibilities of running one or more company(s) - including offshoots! (E.g.- 'Management Company' and/or 'Production Company' and/or 'Publishing Company', etc.) - whether it's 2 partners to 50! This type of Agreement (should) distributes responsibilities, shares, money, protection to each partner, etc., etc."
(The one I write averages around 6 -10 pages long, and covers present and future situations - and there's a good chance you'll be surprised how many exist. or may occur in the near future)
Too many times I've heard, "I thought I knew this person!" or "They're family!" or "I grew up with them!" And then...
Simply put, people change, or their situations change, including outside influences, including people in their lives. It's better to have your situation spelled out clearly in entirety before you enter into a situation, so that everyone feels comfortable and knows what they are getting their selves into.
b. Band Partnership Situations & Agreements
If you are in a Group/Band, or you are a Manager, the Band needs to have a Partnership Agreement between the members of the Band.
A properly written one covers everything, including: splits of ownership of Publishing, Recordings and the Band Name, etc., splits of moneys on all accounts, what happens if you add or drop a member(s), sharing of responsibilities, what happens if..., etc., etc., etc. That is, anything that can possibly come up. Now, or later.
Note: Before I go ahead, I must clearly state, and you must clearly understand and accept the following factual statement:
The underlying Song, (that is, the words and lead melody), and the Recording (the finished, ready-to-go Product), are 2 totally separate animals! They have different copyrights and registrations, as well as types and sources of income, etc...
3. If you are a Singer or Musician in, or a Manager of a Group or a Band, there are 2 things that must be 1st agreed to before going any further:
a. Artist/Musician Status:
Is any musician(s)"more important" than any other(s)? That is, for example, are all singers/musicians considered equal, or are some "paid employees"?
Another example might be if 3 in the band were together for 5 years and one just joined, maybe the new person would start off at a lesser percentage.
b. Songwriter/Publisher Status:
Picture the Songwriter as the Creative entity who creates the Songs, and the Publisher is the Business entity who owns the Songs and handles the business for the Songwriter.
(By the way, "Beatmakers," who really are more like "Arrangers" than Writers, often receive some of the Songwriter and/or Publishing share, especially in Rap & R&B.)
There should be a 50-50 split of all income between the Songwriter(s) and Publisher on all sources of income!Some Songwriting/Publishing options are:
i. The actual Songwriters responsible for the lead melody and words receive all the financial benefits of the Songwriting & Publishing ownership and income.
ii. The actual Songwriters receive the financial benefits of the Songwriting, but Publishing ownership and income are split among the members of the Band/Group.
iii. All of the members of the Band and Group split the benefits of the Songwriting & Publishing ownership and income equally.
iv. Different variations of the above three options, such as, different percentages to different members, etc.
I also recommend that the contract state (I'll speak more on contracts, later) that it only includes songs performed and/or recorded by the Band, and not necessarily for work outside of the Band. This makes it fairer for members, for example, who may not have as many songs used by the Band, but can still make some money on Songwriting by writing for other people outside of the Band, without being "penalized."
Once the previous situations have been resolved:4. Songwriting & Publishing – Protecting yourself and getting paid for your Songs.
a. All Songwriters should join one (only one is allowed at a time) Performing Rights Organization. In the United States, your choices are: ASCAP (ASCAP.com), BMI (BMI.com) or SESAC (SESAC.com)./p>
b. At the same time, I recommend you also join the same one as a Publisher.
When you pick one of the PRO's, go to "join" on your chosen Internet Site, and fill out both the Songwriting & the Publishing Applications.
c. Sign a Songwriter's Agreement to Your own Publishing Company! Why? In short:
i. In case you ever sell your Publishing Company you'll still receive your Songwriting Income! (I can tell you horror stories on that...)
ii. It is a fact that, sooner or later, you'll probably have to split your Publishing with someone else. When you do, you want your Publishing Company dealing for you, the individual(s), plus, who is going to give you a better Songwriter's Agreement? Them, or someone representing You!
d. Register Your Copyrights In Washington! With Your Publishing Company as the Claimant (Owner).Note: See professorpooch.com, in the "Free Library" section for info on all the why's and wherefores related to "How to... Copyright Your Work."
5. I highly recommend you research your name and "Trademark" it (™). If you don't, there's a reasonable chance someone else might already be using Your name, or Company or Band name.
I have known Managers that have owned well-known Group Names, and they'll have 3 to 5 groups of people claiming to be that same Group playing in three different places the same day!
To do a Trademark search, go to:
...and click on "TESS" and follow the directions. To do a rough search.
If no one is using it, and you wish to Trade Mark (protect) your name, or any logos, for example, you can file for it in the middle Column where it says "TEAS."
Simply put, you want to own your name since you are putting time and energy into promoting your name. And, if you don't own the name, and you become successful, some other Person, Company, Band, or even your Record Company or Manager may be tempted to own it themselves!
6. Form Your own Indie Record Label. if you own your recordings, why not form your own Record Company? How? ::Poof:: you are a Record Company! Congratulations!
If you are paying for your Recordings, or record them yourself, somehow - you own them!
Note: Did you ever notice the (P) on a CD or wherever. That stands for the Ownership of the Production (Sound Recording) Copyright (SR form), and will normally list the Record Company after it. [The (c) stands for the ownership of the underlying song - Published or Un-Published.]
And, but yes, you should also sign a Production Company/Recording Contract with yourself! That way, if you become even moderately successful on your own, they may have to deal with you as a Production or Record Company - and not just as an Artist.
Again, it shows you're serious about your career, and you want to Copyright the owner of the Recordings, as the Company, and not any individuals. Again, protection against lawsuits.
Also, without going into a ton of detail here, you may earn a lot more creative and legal control of your situation when dealing with a larger company - including receiving a bigger piece of the financial pie! And, to take it one step further, you can even sign other Artists/Bands to your label...
7. This is a Multimedia World. You're going nowhere without Videos!
2 Contracts are "Musts."
a. An Actor's "Release Form" for all individuals appearing in a video, that are not the Artist, or signed to the company
b. A "Videographer's Release" for anyone shooting your videos, where ownership of All footage, plus many other factors, are covered
Note: There are other individual issues that may come up in Step 1 depending on other involvements, such as with Producers, Studios, Studio Musicians, etc., etc., that must be covered.
1. Publishers (Re: the Songs): You must "Register Your Work" with your Performing Rights Organization for every Recording or Version of Your Song(s), as they are ready to be released.
This Does Not Protect Your Song! This is so they can keep track of your recordings, so you can be paid for live and recorded usage.
2. Artists & Labels (Re: the Recordings): You should Sign up with "Sound Exchange" (soundexchange.com). They will pay you royalties for your Internet, Satellite, and other digital transmissions.
3. Distribution: To list all the people and various types of digital and/or physical distribution companies would be insane, but there are many, such as, Tunecore and CD Baby, and other variations, that will place your recordings on all places possible for Selling, Streaming, etc. They, and many others, also handle the Publishing Administration (collecting money, handling the paperwork, etc.)
Without a plan of attack you are going nowhere. However, there are a ton of variables depending upon the direction you want to go, in every which way, including styles, genres, etc., etc.
What I do with my clients: We get together and listen to the Recordings and watch the Videos. For people outside the Philly area, (I work nationally and in several foreign countries) we use Facebook Video or Skype. The Music & Videos (which portrays your image in several ways) will normally spell out their possible plans of attack.
We then brainstorm, under my direction, and lay out a complete plan of action, including in person & social media, Public Relations (PR), promotion, performances, presentations, etc., etc., etc.
One automatic need for everyone: An Email List - 1st names & Emails of as many real fans you can amass. This will turn out to be your money list! Always have a fill-out form with you - especially at gigs and appearances.
Simply Put: If you have taken care of the 3 Steps above, You are ready in every way possible to move quickly & Safely... So Get Going!
Other Very Important Points
1. Check Out all People and Companies
Thoroughly Investigate in all ways possible Any person or Company you are going to deal with in Any and Every way related to your career! Especially check them out through the Internet and people that are presently dealing with them!
The people you deal with can either help your career - or hurt your career, even if they don't mean to, by not knowing the music business and how it operates, or actually are in good graces with the people that can further help you. Remember, it's not only important who they know, but more importantly, Who Knows Them!
(I invite you to put "Professor Pooch" or my legal name, "David J. Spangenberg" into the search engines, besides checking out my site that has my resume, along with my teachings - professorpooch.com.)
2. Contracts, Contracts & More Contracts...
Yes, to become successful - including making and keeping your money and sanity - you'll have to deal with Contracts, whether you want to or not.
Letís first start with the ways NOT to deal with Contracts?
a. DON'T write one yourself
Unless you know Entertainment Law and contracts, and the Music Biz, inside-out, and are totally up-to-date on all the changes going on - don't waste your time! You're Playing Dangerous Games with Your Career!
b. DON'T: Get a Sample of one off the Internet or from a friend.
What people don't understand is that, too often, what has been left OUT of a Contract, is just as or more important as what's IN it. And if the person who wrote it doesn't fit it to you and your exact situation, wants and needs, there's no way you'll be safely covered.
I've seen way too many Music People waste too much time, energy and money dealing with poorly written or inaccurate contracts. And it's much easier, time efficient and less expensive to prevent a disaster, than to undo one.
c. You don't put the deal in writing with all parties signing it.
Simply, I've run into way too many people that didn't put the agreement in writing before they'd started a project, and have been screwed!
Now, how SHOULD you deal with the Contracts listed or inferred to above?
It's simple: either go to an Entertainment Attorney who specializes in the Music Business, or to someone like me, an Entertainment Contract Specialist with 30 years of experience. And yes, I work nationally. Ahhh, the wonders of the Internet...
Let us know your exact situation and any concerns you may have. Then we'll be able to protect you by personalizing an agreement that will allow you to safely move ahead!
One last thing: If someone tries to pressure you into signing an agreement without letting you take time to look it over and/or allowing someone who knows the business really well to negotiate the contract for you, run away as fast as you can! Not only is the contract most probably no good or worthless, but the person or company offering you the contract, is too! Keep in mind that, contracts are only as good as the people entering into them.
3. Learn The Music Business! For what reason? WHY should you be knowledgeable about, and be concerned with, all of the above and below?
To the point, if you have all your bases covered, as I have described in my Free Library at professorpooch.com, and my Books & Courses, then you are business-wise and legally set up to safely and profitably do almost anything, and deal with almost any and everybody in the Music Industry - including just Doing It Yourself. You should learn at least the Basics of the Music Business and how it operates so you even know how to question interested parties to see if they really know what they're talking about or doing.
A great way to start really learning the Music Business would be going through my "Free Library" at professorpooch.com, which is loaded with important Articles, Commentaries, and other free information.
Also, I highly recommend you check out my easy-to-read-and-understand, down-to-earth books and courses on my site covering the Creative, Business & Legal ends of the Music Business in full detail.
The Books and Courses - You Receive both Text And Audio at:
For Kindle or Physical Copies:
And again, feel free to Email me at Pooch@professorpooch.com if you have any questions or need my personal guidance or assistance...
"Our aim is to help guide you, protect you, and to answer any and all of your questions regarding the Creative, Business and Legal sides of the Music Business, in plain, easy-to-understand "People-Talk". No matter what style of Music, no matter what you do, no matter what stage of your career - we're here for you! Let us help you save wasted time and money..."
David J. Spangenberg
Music Business Career Guidance,
Music Legal & Contract Specialist
E-mail David at: Pooch@professorpooch.com