Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Getting Signed - part three - how it ends

As I said, the odds are statistically stacked against you. Of the 10 000 people just like you with the same aspiration, 9 999 are going to be crawling out from the wreckage somewhere between 25 and 30 and asking the question, "now what?"

When you go back to university at 25 after crawling out from the wreckage of that rock-star plane that just crashed, and finish when you're almost 30, you will find that you have missed out on a lot of the typical experiences that other people have. Even the window to having children is beginning to close at this point if you are female. Not closed, but beginning to close. Of course, you will most certainly have your own stories to tell about the time you met so-and-so, and got to jam with another so-and-so, and the legendary party where another so-and-so drove his Porsche into the swimming pool, and that time you played at this really dive-y bar an hour south of SanFrancisco and got beat up with all your gear stolen, and....

Of course, all the while, you will have to endure the hoards of smug doubters who will crawl out of the woodwork saying, “I told you so.”

Or maybe... just maybe.... the lightning fairies will be on your side, and YOU'LL be the one smugly saying, "I told ya!"

Getting Signed - part 2 - the perils of education and the "backup plan"

What if I took Music in School?

DON'T go to college / university so you can "keep your options open" and "have something to fall back on." You need every competitive edge you can get, and spending 2-3-4 years doing something else removes a significant element that you have precious little of... "time." Get to New York or LA and do music FULL TIME. It is NOT a hobby, if that is what you want to do. Remember, the clock is ticking, and at roughly the age of 25 or so, the buzzer goes to end the third period.  Don't have a backup plan. Worry about that after you turn 25 or 30 and the train has officially left the station. Invest every ounce of time and energy and money that you can into developing what you need to compete in this high-stakes gamble.  

A degree in music will do squat-all for getting you to *this* particular goal. Turn on the radio. Turn on MTV. Seriously.... how many of those people have music degrees or even college diplomas in music? How many of them, really, do you figure could carry on an intelligent conversation about the rules of voice-leading in harmony or counterpoint? Hell, I'll lay my money down that 90% can't even name the notes on the staff.

What if I study business in university?  You don't have time! That's three or four years, and along with your business courses, you'll be studying English, maybe Psychology, Math, etc., etc., etc. Learn the music business by talking to people who are in it. There are lots of them in NY, LA, and London. Not so much in Pittsburgh. Learn from talking to other musicians and managers, etc. who are knowledgeable. (this is tricky, though, some sound confident, which leads you to assume they are knowledgeable, but they don't know sh!t...)

Education as a risk:

There was a girl named Jane who went to university to get her MBA. (masters in business administration). First year was crazy, crazy busy and very, very demanding. She battled that stress by going out with friends and enjoying all that university life had to offer. She made some great friends - ones that just may last a lifetime. She continued to work hard and keep her grades up. Her friends helped her through that - academically, socially, and by just being a shoulder to cry on. She lasted through and got her degree and recognized that she could make some really good money. She applied for some jobs and got one! Oh yeah, one of those special friends along the way was a charming young man.... you know how this ends, I'm sure.

Now you can swap out the name, the gender and degree program for virtually anything. Jane's story is a very typical - arch-typical, if you will - story of "what happened to me in university."

You come out the end with a very realistic goal of a good job, with a life mate, and with the pressure and the means to "settle down" into domesticity. Your rock-star plane just crashed. But that's okay, because now that you're done university, you're 23, and you've spent the last four years NOT working on becoming a rock star anyways.... so the train will be leaving the station in two years and you're not going to be ready anyways.

Getting Signed - part 1 - Wanna Bet?

Betting it all on a Million to One Odds:

For the record, my oldest daughter is interested in music. (hasn't mentioned "the R-S word" though) What I am telling you is what I would tell her. Ultimately, as a parent, I would hope that my daughter would choose against betting her youth and young-adult-hood on something that wasn't going to happen, but at least if she did, she'd know what she was up against.

Never lose the perspective that the music business is like a commercial blood sport.  Do so at your peril. You'll start thinking you can lay back and still make it. The reality is that there are 10 000 other musicians just like you with the same aspiration. One of them will make it. What are you going to do to set yourself apart from them to make sure that YOU are that one person?

Being a corporate bloodsport, and a high-stakes one at that, it's like high-stakes gambling. Don't bet $5 because you're afraid you might lose, so you still have $50 in your pocket for later. You have to bet the farm, knowing that you will almost certainly lose. But if you win.... you'll be able to buy ten farms.

When I use words like betting, I mean explicitly that it is a gamble.  The odds of getting signed are probably comparable to the odds of getting struck by lightning. It happens every day, but to so few people, that most of us don't know anyone who has ever been struck by lightning. Mind you, when someone in your town does get struck, it's pretty exciting news.

Now, some people are more likely to get struck than others. If you stay indoors all the time, you'll never get struck. If you travel around the continent chasing severe thunderstorms and getting on top of really tall office buildings with your tin suit and 15m telescopic aluminum pole and wave it around... hell, you just might. No guarantees, though.  In other words, you have to create your own luck.  

Wherever you live now.... finish high school, and then move to a major music city. I don't mean major like Dublin or major like Atlanta. I mean pack your sh!t and go to LA, New York, Nashville or  wherever the industry in your genre is.  Let's say it might be advantageous to meet Bob Rock or Quincy Jones or whatever. What do you think the odds are of meeting someone like that in Iowa? None. You want to get noticed? You have to be in their faces and on their radar. What if you go and live in the city they live in and travel in the same circles where they frequent - the same music stores, the same clubs, the same coffee shop, etc. Volunteer to wash their car or cut their grass. They HAVE to notice you. You pretty much HAVE to go there.

If relocating sounds extreme, consider this: Many, many people pack up a car-load of belongings to move off to college, right? Why? Because what they want to learn, and the people they want to learn from are based in another town! Same thing! Instead of spending 4-5 years attending college in South Carolina or Ottawa or whatever, you're going to spend *at least that long* developing your network of connections, establishing a reputation, and developing your craft.

Still sound like too much? Then don't bother. You're not cut out for it. Stay close to home, go to a local college, and get a job in your hometown, marry your highschool sweet-heart and be happy.

See, this is such an unlikely path to success that you will need to do this as a full-time job 24/7/365. Any time you spend away from music is time spent away from your goal. It's really an 'all or nothing' proposition and you can't be willing to settle for anything that doesn't put you forward.  In the pop music game, there is no time to screw around. If you don't make it by 25 or 30, you won't - at least not in the wide-sweeping 'pop' genre that cranks out the top-10 hits. Subgenres are another matter.

Sure, it's a gamble. Odds are, you'll find yourself at 40 with very little resembling employability skills and being too old to play the young person's game. But if you're trying to get struck by lightning, you have to do *everything* you can to make sure that YOU are that one person in a million who is at the right place at the right time when it strikes.

If you win the proverbial lottery and get struck by the Lightning Fairies of rock-stardom, it will all pay off. If you become just another statistic like the other 99.99999% of those with the same ambition, well, at least you gave it what it took. You didn't cut corners and you did everything right. Now, it's time to go back to college when you're ten years older than almost everyone else around you and work towards that "real job" your parents always wanted you to get.


Welcome to the Green Room Music blog.  Here you will find articles that reflect some of the advice I have given to others many times over the years.  It is, of course, a work in progress, and I hope you will follow this as it gets updated.

They tend to center around three basic areas: Recording, the Music Business, and Copyright. Please use the directory to your left, or the tag cloud on the right to help you browse through the topics of discussion, and please, feel free to leave me a comment!

Thanks for reading and sharing!

Business - the Day to Day operations

Businesses fail due to the following reasons:

a)  The price of the product exceeds the demand:

     As a band, you and your team need to create and maintain the demand.  For some people, this is their outlet for creativity.  Also remember that if your product sucks, then there will be NO demand for it.  (well... unless Universal pumps all kinds of money into it and teams you up with Ashlee Simpson)  Price it as low as you want, but after your friends and family all have a copy, the other 950 copies will sit in your basement.   Also, the demand for your band will dwindle unless it is being refueled by new material.  How many copies of your CD is any given person going to buy, after all?  How many times will they come out to see the same show?   Fortunately, though, if your goal is to get signed and release an album with major label support, the industry is on your side.  The record companies know that the industry is very flavour-of-the-week oriented, and they approach the business that way.   If you get signed, there will likely be language that the label will want to include into the contract that will suggest an option for them (not necessarily you!!) to re-evaluate the contract and choose to (or not to!!) renew it after seeing how the first album does.  (remember the entertainment lawyer??) When they sign you, they are interested in making a quick buck and moving on.  Few artists survive in the industry long enough to have what is traditionally considered a "career." 

b)  Mismanagement:

     This is where a lot of mistakes that should be avoided aren't.   Here is a classic example.  Your band just played and got paid $200.  Great!  Now what?  The bass player drives in from Brantford and won't be able to get home unless he gets at least part of his $50.  The singer has to take his $50 because his girlfriend rang up his phone bill and Bell will cut them off if it isn't paid by Monday, etc.  After six months of this, you're still digging into your own pockets for rehearsal space, recording a demo, etc.  Does it make sense to use 100% of all gross revenue to pay salaries?  Duh!  You HAVE to re-invest in your product!!  Create a budget - rehearsal space, promotion, guitar strings, gear, equipment rental, etc. might all come out of this, but these budget areas will all depend on the goals and visions of the members.  Plan in advance, and be in agreement with  where the money from gigs, CD and merch sales, etc. is going to go.   This will also prevent arguments later.  Get a bank account for the band, and have an agreement in place between you and the bank regarding how the money will be accessed.  The more money that is made, the more contentious this all becomes.  Best to plan early!
c)  The team breaks down:

     This is often related to mismanagement.  People get tired of paying their own money for stuff, even after months of gigging.  As a result, they start to get down about it.  Not always, but it happens.   Also consider other things that happen to wear down the spirits of the band members.  Inequities in participation - people skipping rehearsals, or showing up consistently late; not pulling their weight in promotion (posters, etc.), bruised egos from creative issues, etc.  The more agreements that can be in place, and the sooner they can be in place, the better your team will operate.  Be careful of micromanaging things though.  There needs to be room for flexibility.  People respond better when they are valued than when they are just automatons working within inflexible parameters.  Consider regular "closed" meetings where people are comfortable to voice things - positive and negative - but in a constructive manner.

Oh, yeah... did I mention the importance of re-investing?  Good management = smoother and more purposeful sailing.

Business - Why do we do it? Why does anyone?

We make music for the same reason we do anything - because there is some reward attached to it.   It can be a personal reward related to self-fulfillment (it makes us feel good).  It can include monetary gain (extrinsic reward).  It can even have to do with the dynamics that define our friendships.  

Starting with you....If you're into performing music, hopefully it is because you love it.  If you don't, go get a job at 7-11.  The hours are better, the pay is better, the work is easier, and you don't have to lug gear.  Really.... I'm serious.  Now there may be other reasons.  C'mon... half of us probably started playing an instrument to help us meet girls, or for the other associated "cool factors."  For some of us, that's still why we play in bands.

Ask yourself, or your band-mates, why they are playing music.  The success of your band may depend on whether your band members are in it for the right reasons.  How many times have you heard about a band breaking up because the drummer started going out with someone and didn't have time anymore?  Or because they joined another band because there seemed to be more benefits - more money, more status, bigger gigs, etc?  If your band-mates genuinely enjoy the material - no matter what it is - the likelihood of being lured away is less. 

If the dynamics of your personal relationships support the success of your band, then there is another piece of the puzzle in place.  There is nothing quite like doing something you enjoy, AND having the benefit of liking the people you're doing it with.  It is hard to walk away from a band where you really like the material AND when the people in the band are your friends.  You're more likely to stick together in the more difficult times this way.  The band who breaks up isn't going to succeed, now, is it?

Okay, so you've got your band together and your material rehearsed.  You're all really digging the material, and have become comrades united.  So far, so good... Now what?

If you're like most people, you're probably looking at two avenues.  You either want to record it, and/or go out and play for people.

What do you want to get from it?  Do you just want to have something to keep for posterity, or just to play for kicks?  Is it musical/artistic respect from your peers you're looking for?  Is it validation of your creativity by way of others demonstrating their appreciation by buying your recording or coming to your shows?  Is it to make money?  If you're like most of us, it is probably a combination of these things.

At this point, we venture into territory that extends beyond our own self-reliance.   Now there is money and/or personal investment from others outside of the band involved.   We need others to help us with our recordings, to buy our recordings, to promote and distribute our recordings, to book our gigs, to attend our shows, etc.    

Why do they do it?  When you ask and answer this question, everything about the business side of music begins to make sense.

The Investors

I suggested above that we do things because there is a reward attached to it.  This is elementary psychology in action.  The reward doesn't necessarily have to be a tangible thing like money.  I'll suggest that the odds of someone doing something for you simply because it makes them feel good is directly in proportion to how much they love/like you.  Will your mom spend a few afternoons burning CD's, pasting labels, cutting CD inserts, etc?  Probably, and all she'll ask for in return is that you stick around long enough to say thanks, and to have lunch with her when you come to pick them up.  Will the booking agent at a large, popular club book your band because it makes him/her feel good?  Uh... right.....

So, who invests?  What do they invest?  Why do they invest?

People can invest time, money, or both. 

The person who books your band into their club has placed some financial risk in choosing your band over the ten zillion other bands out there.  Why?  Why does management at a club do anything?  To sell beer and make money!!  They don't care if you're good, so long as people buy beer - the more the better.  By booking your band, the club has placed enough confidence in you that you'll at least get friends and family out, and that you won't drive the regulars away, forcing them to buy their beer somewhere else that night.   What makes them choose to book your band as the headliner to play on a Saturday night?

Someone who shows up at your gig has invested an evening that they could have spent going to see the new Ben Affleck flick, watching CSI, or going to see the band in the pub across the street  and has chosen to see your band instead.  Maybe they even paid a cover charge to do it!  Why??  Well, okay... maybe they were there anyways and could care less about your band.  Did your friends come out?  They probably came out because it made them feel good to support their friends' band.  That's fine.  What about the others?

Someone who buys your CD has invested maybe $10-$15 that they could have spent on the new Alicia Keys album.   They chose to buy yours.  Why?  They bought it because there was some reward attached to it!  Perhaps it made them feel good about supporting their friends' band.  Perhaps the music on the disk makes them feel good.  If that was the case, how did they know what was on the disk?

If you're going to send your material off to a record label, no matter how small, you have to ask yourself "What are THEY hoping to get out of this?  What will they invest in this in order to get it?  Have I given them reason enough to believe that the material on this disk will help them to make their investment worthwhile?"  How much do you think they are willing to do for free? Really, why would they have enough faith in your project to sign you?

The last question in each paragraph leads us deeper into the business aspect of your art.  These questions take us, in most cases, beyond the point where people are willing to do things for us because it makes them feel good.  It's about selling your band to promoters, record labels, and the general public.  It's not called the music industry for nothing!

Consumers and the Marketplace

In order to expand your fan base, you HAVE to get people outside of your circle of friends to become interested.  You also have to assume that the people who are at the bar anyways probably aren't paying THAT much attention to you.  You have to find out:
a) Who are your fans or potential fans?
b) Where are they?
c) How can I get my music to them? (not the same as "How do I get them to my music?!")
d) How can I get them to invest their time to come to my show, and/or their money to buy my CD?

Why do we buy anything?  Psychology attempts to answer this question because so much is at stake.  There are lots of elementary psychology studies that suggest a variety of motivators.  It all comes down to reward, which by now, is probably no surprise.  From this perspective, selling music is really no different than selling running shoes, breakfast cereal, or movie tickets. 

We chose one product over another because (in no particular order....)

- Quality - Few will say that they buy the best of everything all the time, but nobody buys crap on purpose.  If people wanted to buy a crappy record just because someone put it out, they'd go to iTunes and buy a post-Black-era Metallica record.  If you have a crappy band with crappy songs, then maybe consider polishing that end of things up before you spend hard-earned money on recording and duplication.  Everyone knows somebody with 490 CD's in mom's basement that they can't seem to give away.  When we do buy crap, we feel ripped off, and resent whoever was responsible for selling it to us.  In music, quality is mostly subjective.  Make sure to have a good sounding recording and have the material well-performed (including vocals in tune.... please!!).  There is less room for subjectivity on those things.
- Price - CDs cost about $15.  Be careful about charging TOO much less.  If you buy a CD for $5, it will be perceived as less valuable than the same CD purchased for $12.  When something is excessively cheap, we make assumptions about the quality or value attached to it.  You take care of a shirt you paid $40 for more diligently than you would the shirt you paid $8 for.
- Image - In music, this is the "cool" factor.  The buyer identifies with - visually, lyrically, something - the artist and/or the songs on the CD.  If the buyer is (or wants to be seen as) rebellious, then they will identify with and buy a different CD than the person who is (or wants to be seen as) being mellow and philosophical.   Sometimes we buy things "because everyone else is doing it."  How else do you explain the popularity of SUVs?  Know your market.  Who is/will be buying your stuff?  Be sure to appeal to them.
- Availability - Get it in stores!  Look for consignment shops, if need be.  Sell it at gigs.  Put it up on the net.  iTunes, CD Baby, etc. are all easy ways of selling your stuff on line.  Going beyond that, remember that people "impulse buy."  They just happened to be in the grocery store, saw the new ice cream flavour in the display case, and bought it.  They just happened to be in the music store, saw the album, and grabbed it.  Same idea.   How will you make your CD be the one they "just happen to buy" instead of 50 Cent's?  Perhaps this puts it in perspective...  The consumer is going to invest $15 on a CD instead of downloading a couple of tracks from it.  You have to make yours stand out, and be in that person's mind, so they choose yours over the new release by Maroon 5.  Your competition is NOT the other popular bands in town.  Your competition is Green Day, One Direction and Robbie Williams.
- Emotional response - Here is where music is different from most other commodities.  Maybe you really dig a song because of what it means to you, based on a situation, a person, etc.  So, how do you make people connect things like that to YOUR song?  (see next)
- Familiarity - C'mon.... how many burgers does McDonald's sell in a day?  It's not because they're good.  It's because they're cheap, available, and familiar.  You can't spit without hitting a McDonald's... or a Tim Horton's in Hamilton.   It costs a lot of money to have a product in people's faces 24/7.  However, you do what you can.  Playing out is great, but getting your band AND your music out to people is critical.  You have to go to them.  They won't come to you without a reason.  Why would they, right?  Not when they're already bombarded daily by radio, MuchMusic, and their friend's iPod. 
- Name brand - People buy EXCO or Docs because it's hip to wear certain brands.  Okay... AC/DC can release pretty much anything and it will sell.  Most of us aren't there, though. 
- Endorsement - David Beckham and Lebron James are paid big bucks to sell stuff, and for good reason.  People relate to (or want to relate to) these people, and their words are seen as credible because of their status.  While we don't have access to this sort of thing, never underestimate the value of endorsements from others - other bands, musicians, journalists, DJs, etc.  Find quotes from people that you can use, and get others to talk about you.  It might be helpful to be proactive and endorse other bands yourself first, and they will be more likely to return the favour.
- Value-added - Let's say you have two products to choose from.  One is just the product, and the other has something extra - 15% more, a coupon, a free widget, a contest, etc.  That just might be what gives your product the edge over another.  Sure, nobody will buy your CD merely because it has a free sticker and a coupon for 20% off their purchase of a band shirt, but it might be that extra little nudge they need to buy it if they were hedging before.

So, you put up 1000 posters to advertise your gig.  Look at the above list.  Do people have enough reason to go to your gig?  Do they have enough reason to buy your CD?  What else do you need to do?

When you play to a room full of (or void of) people, look around at the people that are not friends and family of the band.  Who is (isn't) there?  Why did (didn't) they come?  What will make them come back (or make sure they don't)?  You might need to go talk to them yourself in order to answer those questions!  

If you want to read a truly outstanding book that explains some of the basic compliance mechanisms that control our decision-making, read "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Dr. Robert Cialdini.  It does not read like a boring psychology text book.  It's narrative is both entertaining and fascinating, and will change the way you look at the world.

Business - the partners

Unless you're happy with playing in your friend's basement for the few friends that come over on Saturday afternoon, you're going to need the assistance of others to help you get your music out there.  Sure, you can manage yourself for a good while before you need THAT kind of assistance, but there are still others along the way.


The people who are associated with your gig - the bar owner, the promoter, etc. - are necessary.  Without them, your best venue is your friend's basement where you can play for free,  or maybe renting a hall at your expense.   They are providing you with a room to play in, and a potential audience.  In most cases, you don't have to pay for this.  If you're lucky, the bar will even have a house PA, which will save you money on renting one yourself.  So, why do they do that?  What reward is attached to it?  Well, at this point, we're mostly past the circle of people who do things because it makes them feel good.  Money talks.  When you ask yourself, "Why doesn't this club book us in to headline on Saturday?" the answer should take the form of another question, "Why would they?"  I've seen people post things on message boards about "We're a band looking for gigs in Hamilton.  Email us at"  Yeah, right.  No demo, no effort to come in, no follow-up = no motivation = no people.  Easy.  If you were a bar owner, what would YOU look for in a band to book at your club?  What would convince YOU that a given band will bring people and keep them there?  Sure, maybe they're good... but how do you know that anyone else knows that?

Why do bars typically pay cover bands more than original bands?  Because people will stay longer when the material is stuff they know.  They'll stay even longer still if the girls are up dancing on the dance floor.  More people staying longer equals way more beer sales.  Easy.  

As an original band, is this where the bulk of your money is going to come from?  Will you establish your own cover charge at the door as part of the agreement, if you're allowed?  Will you make most of your money on merchandising/CDs anyways?  If this is the case, you might want to think a little outside of the box.   Rather than trying to get people out to your music, bring your music to the people!  Hook yourself up with some house parties.  You'll have a better audience - in number and spirit - than most small to mid-sized bars you're likely to play.  They're there to party, yes... but they're already there!!  If you're good, it's an easy crowd to win over.  Sell merch.  Get your name out so that everyone knows it.  Add these people to your mailing list.  These people may find themselves at some of your next bar gigs!   The host of the party may use the "live band" thing to encourage even more people to come out to the party.  Hooray for symbiotic relationships!!


This can get interesting.   Most home project studios and pro studios do not offer free time.  Sure, the people probably love recording music as much as the average person enjoys playing it.  However, the gear needs to be paid for somehow.  Recording doesn't have to cost a lot, but it will cost you.  Surprisingly good results can come from pretty affordable studios.  Ah, but that's just recording time...

In a home/project studio, it is usually safe to assume that the hourly/daily rate (or per song...) will include a producer of sorts - usually a music recording enthusiast who happens to own most, if not all of the gear.  (kinda like back in high school when the guy with the van was chosen to be the drummer over the person who had a Chevy Sprint).  Pro studios will have a premium fee for their more experienced engineers.  Bigger name producers.... well.... that's totally beyond the scope of this article.  So the obvious here, is that the studio will record virtually anybody who is willing to pay them.

But wait!!  There may be other rewards for them!!  If someone has a studio that is just getting up and running, or is trying to establish a more prestigious client base, then the opportunity to record your band could be it's own reward.  Listen to what the studio has to offer, and if they can meet your needs, it doesn't hurt to try to sell them on this aspect.  The logical question from the studio operator is, "Who are you, and what will recording your band do for me?"  If your band seriously kicks ass, and has an established following, respect from other area musicians, etc., it could be a sell.  It depends on what the studio operator's reasons for running a studio are.  If you can meet a person who is an aspiring producer, and if they can be made to believe in your music, they can maybe help you get into a studio - perhaps his/her own -  for a good rate for similar reasons.

Be careful of friends who will want help you out with this stuff.  Like hockey, everyone seems to be an expert.  Sure, they might be able to help you for free, with their cracked software and their "top of the line" Audigy soundcard, but will the end result be what you want it to be?  If you're selling your CDs, will your release sound weak and thin compared to other bands?  There is no replacement for a selection of microphones, versatile recording options, good monitors, and the experience and know-how to run it all to worthwhile effect. 

It might also be worth checking out, or getting to know people in recording programs.  These people need musicians to record in order to finish their schooling and to attain the knowledge and skills required for the real world.  That is their reward.  Consider this also for video/media arts programs, where people can help with video, CD covers, a band logo, etc.

So, you've gotten your material recorded and are out playing live.  If you stink, you're probably managing this all well enough, as people aren't buying your CDs and clubs aren't re-booking you because you drove all their patrons away on the night you played.  Or, you've done nothing to promote yourself, which will be the topic of a future article.  Let's assume, though, that you're selling a few CDs, starting to get some positive word-of-mouth, and bookings are becoming easier to come by.   Other bands you have shared bills with are seeking you out to play with them again, either because they like you and/or because you brought a bunch of people out before.  Things are busy enough that these things are starting to interfere with the musical aspects of being in a band - practicing, writing, etc.  You need help....


Until you get to the stage above, you should manage yourself.  You could get a friend to manage you who might be willing to give up his/her time for free to help you.  If that's the case, then great - so long as this person is able to represent you the way you need to be represented. A bad manager can hurt you more than help you.  Once the job becomes time-consuming, though, you have to ask, "How much time and effort is this person going to give up for free?"  Chances are, unless they're a good friend, the answer is "not much."  If the answer is "not much," then what's the point anyways?  Most management agreements are based on a percentage of whatever the band makes from whatever work the manager gets them.  (say, 15% of your gig money for instance....)  Will a prospective manager bust their butt to get you gigs when they know that you won't be able to play them anyways?  Or when they know that every club that books you never invites you back?  If there is no money for them, they won't work for you.  Chances are, managing bands is this person's business - not their hobby.

A good manager will have contacts and relationships established that you can take advantage of.  You are opening the door to a vast amount of networking, just by finding a good manager.  Clubs, record labels, promoters, events, and even personnel (producers, other musicians, legal representation, stage help, etc.) that were never available to you before are now available to you because of your manager who has developed these relationships through their career.  Chances are, the manager also represents other bands, which might enable you more opportunities to share bills with other bigger names.   Remember, though.... you have to convince them that the reward will be worth their efforts in helping you.   Any professional, or even semi-professional manager won't do this for free, or simply because they love to do it.  It's probably their source of income that they rely on to eat, pay rent, etc.  Also, your reputation reflects their reputation, and vice-versa.  If you look bad, you make your manager look bad.  Why?  Because s/he just sold you to someone and given them a certain expectation.  When you fall short, your manager looks like a liar.  Remember what I said about a bad manager?

Record labels:

Look at any artist on any record label.  The biggest cost in that artist's success is promotion and distribution.  If you can get signed to Sony and get exposure opening for Aerosmith as a result, then good for you.  Chances are, though, that we're looking at something more modest.  Getting your name out there to radio, video, and into the public's consciousness costs a fortune!!  So, why is any given label going to invest ten, twenty, or eight hundred thousand dollars in you?  Because they expect that this will be an investment from which they'll earn their money back and turn a profit on.  If they don't at least break even, you can confidently place your bets that you'll be treated like any other money-losing proposition - dumped in a hurry!!  The days of spending money on an artist so that they can develop over their first couple of albums are gone.  You're in; you're up; and you either sink or swim. 

The size and philosophy of a record label will determine how much money and time they are willing and able to risk.  The language in the contract will determine how much of the risk is shared between the artist and the label.  If you're offered a record deal, talk to other people on that label, and get an entertainment lawyer (yes... an entertainment lawyer!) to go over it with you.  You don't want to be stuck on the bad end of a "recoupable" clause after your deal goes south. 

At this level, you are still surrounded by people who are passionate about music, and most of them do what they do because they love it.  However, given the amount of time and money that they are asked to invest, you can bet that nobody is doing it unless they have a reasonable expectation of making money from it.  How will you convince them that their investment will be worth the effort and expense?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hey! You stole our band name!

No two businesses that offer the same or similar product or service can have the same name in the same market.

What does that mean, exactly? If I own Bob's Card and Gifts in London England, and find out there is another Bob's Card and Gift in New York, that's okay. We're offering the same product/service, but we are hardly competing in the same market. It's not like anyone is going to get us confused. In fact, since the market for a card and gift shop is generally a community market, or at least a local market, you could have a Bob's Card and Gift in pretty well every city and town. People don't tend to go to the next town to buy birthday cards.

Now... I can NOT open up a restaurant and call it McDonald's. McDonald's has successfully managed to expand their market to a point where they are global. No matter where you are, if you are a restaurant called McDonald's, there is another McDonald's already offering that product/service in that area. Funny, too, that you really start tempting trouble if you were to call yourself anything really close to that either. I wouldn't use MacDonald's, McDoonalds, etc.

So what does this mean for band names? Bands, like any other business or service, CAN share a name, as long as they are not competing in the same market. In other words, if one band is in Australlia and the other is in Florida, that’s fine. You're offering a similar product/service (musical entertainment), yes, but not at all in the same market. At least not yet. It's not like someone out there is going to confuse the two bands and buy the wrong product.  You're half a planet away!

If, at some point, one band gets big enough and starts to do business in the other band's market, then one band will have to change their name. (Bush had to operate as Bush X, but only in North America IIRC... there was no other confusion in any other market) The band who had the name first *in that market* gets to keep the name *in that market.*

Similarly, the Raconteurs work as the Saboteurs in Australia. Note that the two bands aren't even in the same genre, but are still providing musical entertainment, so there is a problem. Kinda like you could open a bowling alley and call it McDonald's, but you can't open a restaurant and call it McDonald's.... even if it is an up-scale vegan restaurant. It's still a restaurant.

Generally what happens then is that one will buy the other out for rights to the name, or like Bush/BushX/Raconteurs/Saboteurs will change their name to work in that new, previously un-tapped market.

Here is a corporate example....

There was a little independent bookstore in a small town in Ontario called Chapter's. There was another much larger bookstore who started to become a small chain of bookstores in British Columbia called Chapters. (note the difference in spelling....) No problem. They're offering a similar product/service, yes, but in entirely different markets. Literally three time zones away.

What happened, though, is that the chain in British Columbia continued to expand. Eventually, they expanded not only into Ontario, but to a medium-sized city about 10 minutes away from the small-town Chapter's.

Now, we have two businesses offering the same product/service, with *almost* the same name, operating in the same market. Could one easily confuse Chapters with Chapter's? You bet. If someone asked you to go to Chapters and buy the latest Harry Potter book, would you know which of the two stores to go to? Nope. Now we have a problem.

The mega-chain Chapters, to make a long story short, could have been disallowed the opportunity to use the Chapters name in their new market, as the other Chapter's was there first. Ultimately, as I understand it, the smaller independent Chapter's in the small town was paid out handily enough by the much larger corporate chain Chapters that he pocketed the money, changed thename of his store, and kept going.

BTW... you don't need to be a hugely successful business to prove that you are doing business in a certain market. Do you have product for sale? Are you gigging? Can you prove that? Then you are doing business in that market. Can they prove that they are doing business similarly in their market? Then they are doing business in that market.

Just because it is available on the web doesn't mean you are doing business around the world. Sure, some person *could* log onto iTunes from Zimbabwe and buy my song from iTunes, but what are the odds, really? Assuming they're not likely to buy (never mind, even *find*) some random song/album from some random band they've never heard of except for the 30 second snippet iTunes lets you hear, why would they buy it? Have you toured there? Gotten radio play there? Any print articles about your music? Nope. You're not doing business in that market, then, are you? I mean have *you* ever bought music off the internet from some band *you've* never heard of? :lol:

We sell our stuff on line through our own website. Same idea. We have international distribution now, right? Well.... I'm in Canada near Toronto. We have sold 99% of our CD's to people within an hour's drive of here. We've sold the others - one to New Jersey and one to Ottawa - to people farther away. (though we have had *listeners* from much further away, they don't count as doing business as they are not spending money) It really seems unreasonable for us to declare that we are now doing business in the New Jersey market, though, doesn't it?

It should be pointed out, then, that none of the following mean anything in this matter:
- who is better
- who had it first (at least until someone moves into the other band’s territory)
- whether or not you or they are signed or not
- adding “the” in front of your name won’t make a lick of difference. Do you think McDonald's would be satisfied with another restaurant called "The McDonald's?" Nope.

Protecting your name:

You can't copyright a band name. You can register it as a business, which allows you to prove that you are offering a product or service in a certain market, but doesn't really do much else as far as someone else using the same name. Now, you can *trademark* a name (or more to the point... a "service mark"), but that is a whole other kettle of fish in terms of red tape and monetary cost. A trademark is usually done to protect a logo or something. Think of McDonald's golden arches 'M' for instance, or the Nike swoosh. You don't copyright a logo. You register it as a trademark.
...apparently takes about a year and costs about $1500....

Canadian link says up to two years and costs nearly double that...

Copyright - sampling and clearing samples

The use of samples goes beyond simply needing permission to use the song. You are *also* using someone else's performance from a recording that is probably owned by yet another person.

This is something that can get extraordinarily complex. You have a number of stakeholders, and therefore, may need to get permission from a variety of sources:
-a mechanical license - enables you to use the composition that the sample is from
-permission from the person who owns the copyright to the recording itself - The master recording belongs to the producer until such time as the recording is paid for. Once it is paid for, then the purchaser of the master recording owns it. (similar to the idea that if a photographer takes your picture, even though it is a picture of you, the photographer owns that image until you buy it from them.)
-you *might* even need to get the permission of the musician whose performance you are sampling. (especially if there are moral rights that need to be considered - ex. using a sample from a RATM song in your song that is in support of oppression would clearly be problematic)
-and if the song gets played on the radio, for instance, you need to have an agreement in place where the creator of the work you sampled from gets a portion of the performance royalty. (though this might be part of the fee agreement)

Here is an excellent article from a Canadian entertainment lawyer, who explains it in language that most of us musicians can understand:

Another UK-focused article that is very good and makes reference to the famous Under Pressure/Ice Ice Baby case:

Between the two of those, I really don't have anything to add, and these links explain it as well as or better than I could.

A couple of short paragraphs from another Canadian entertainment lawyer, written in very simple English.

A move that many artists have started to choose is, rather than sample, to re-create their own version of the sound. In other words, don't use the original recording of Joe Perry playing the riff for Walk This Way... hire a guitarist to come in and duplicate the tone and performance as close as possible and use that. The word they use is to 'interpolate' the performance.

Other solutions:

1. Check sites like and other sites that offer music that may be used freely (ie. without requiring the payment of royalties).
2. Check the Creative Commons database for similar.

In either case, be sure to read the terms of service for both the site and even the specific track, if applicable. You'll find that some sites and some tracks (many, in fact) will have limitations around how the work is to be used. Many works are made free for personal use, but do not allow commercial redistribution (which would, of course, be a barrier to the use of samples).

The good news is that the artist/publisher will generally be easy to contact, and may well be receptive to negotiating a deal that you can both happily live with and will not be financially prohibitive.

Copyrighting your own material

Again remember that this process may be slightly different from country to country. Here is the Canadian version of the story. You can be reasonably well assured that the information here will be at least similar to laws and procedures in most other developed nations.

Technically, you own the copyright to a piece of music the moment you first create it.

If only it were that simple....

Although a moral victory here, the crux of the matter is that this is usually only worth disputing when the time comes when someone needs to make a claim. Then, for all practical purposes, you need to prove that you composed it, or the other person needs to prove that you didn't (or that they did). You'd be laughed out of court if you said, "Hey, I thought of it first. I had all the ideas in my head and then this person came along and stole my idea!" Almost equally preposterous would be, "I played this song once when he was over, and now he recorded it, so I should be entitled to the royalties!" Yeah... prove it. The other guy proceeds to show evidence of owning the work while you sit there insisting that you played it first.

Assigning the work to a fixed medium is generally considered a critical step in this process. This could be something as simple as your lyrics on a sheet of paper, or as developed as a full-on recording of the whole composition in full production.

The next step, now that you have a physical product to show that you owned it, is to prove the date on which you owned it. It is taken as truth that if you are the first owner, then you must also be the creator. (although, technically, it doesn't matter who created it - what matters is who owns the copyright NOW)

The most formal way is to file an official copyright. You can do this on a title-by-title basis. You can also record an album and copyright that as an album of works. Either way, the fee is the same. Obviously, it makes more sense to copyright your collection of works at once. In its most simplest terms, all you need to do is get on line, fill out the paperwork, submit your fee of $50 (if online... more if done on paper), and you're good to go. Although a legal declaration and registration, no lawyer is typically involved in this process.


It is worth noting that even a formal copyright boils down to paying someone to file a piece of paper that says you owned the song/s on a certain date. It does not provide a guarantee that you are not infringing on someone else's copyright (ie. no searches of prior works are done, with your work being compared to other copyrighted works); nor does it mean that they will help you enforce the copyright. (ie. they won't be on the alert to make sure nobody is stealing your work). It is up to you, as the owner of the work, to enforce the copyright, and to be responsible for any liabilities or rewards that that work entails.

Although not entirely idiot-proof, this is your 'best bet' for securing the protection you need for your material. It is akin to protecting your physical property by double dead-bolting the doors, barring the windows, and having a hungry pit-bull patrolling the perimeter. If someone wants in bad enough.... they'll find a way.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, you can choose to simply do nothing and not worry about it. Although this seems foolish on the surface, consider that there are a lot of us who have left the house without locking the door who have come home to find everything perfectly untouched. Mind you, there's a big difference between leaving a plasma TV on your front lawn and hiding some knick-knack under your mattress... the odds of theft are in direct proportion to the value of the property and the ease of access to it.

It's the in-between stuff that leads to some odd discussions....

The 'poor man's copyright' - The old 'put it in the mail and send it to yourself' trick. In doing so, you have a government stamp from the post office that shows the date of sending, thereby 'proving' that you owned the contents of the envelope on that date. (for goodness sake... DON'T open the envelope....) It's not the worst thing you can do, but it is miles from idiot-proof. Think of it as akin to leaving your bike out in the yard and merely closing the gate to the yard. It will be fine for most people most of the time - but if you think that your bike will never ever go missing.... well.... you get the idea. That said, a friend of mine who has a string of gold and platinum albums (who is now releasing albums independently) is an advocate of this style of copyright. (though technically not a copyright...) His rationale is that if someone else infringes on your work, they're either going to make next to nothing on it (so, really... why be upset?), or will be backed by a major label who will have a team of high-priced entertainment lawyers on retainer to go and fight the case for far longer and far harder than you will be able to afford. The old, "if they want to get in bad enough.... they will" thinking.

Now, there are a couple of different levels of this one. If you simply send it regular letter mail, there is a very good chance that someone could suggest that the envelope was tampered with. You'll be hard-pressed to prove it. You could add an extra level of 'official-ness' to it by sending it registered mail. It makes it a little more convincing, but you still can't prove you didn't tamper with the envelope. You could send it to a lawyer and get them to file it for you. It will cost you a fee, of course, to do this, but you will have the added bonus of a 'disinterested third party' who can guarantee you haven't tampered with it, because they had the envelope in safe keeping. Of course, if you're going to go through all that trouble... might as well spend the $50 and do it officially.

Considering the basic premises of:
-prove you owned it on a certain date
-have that proof be from a disinterested third party
-have that proof be a source that is regulated by law to keep accurate records

Here is what we did (no formal copyright is in place, but our paper trail is decidedly convincing)
1. Songs are registered with SOCAN and CMRRA. Titles, dates and running times are logged but no lyrics or melodic content. They are disinterested third parties, and the nature of their business depends on having accurate records. If we can produce one song, say, called "Cool Like You" of a duration of 3:24 seconds, dated July of 2006, what are the odds of us having *another* song called Cool Like You, though with a different running time from the same year? Compound that further by asking "what are the odds of us having ten songs, all with duplicate titles, but all different from the ones on the album, all written in the same year? Not bloody likely. As long as we can produce an original copy of the CD with the exact same songs, running times, etc., then it is highly improbable (and practically impossibly unlikely) that the songs in question are not the ones on the CD.
2. The receipt for duplication of the CD. Dated, track listing, song lengths. Can easily be matched up with any other copy of the CD. See above rationale.
3. A copy of our CD is in the "Library and Archives Canada" - our national archive. Our laws state that these archives must maintain accurate records, including date of receipt, etc.
4. We have recordings of a couple of our songs being played on commercial radio and network television. By law (see above about performance royalties), these institutions are required to log what songs they play and when they were played. Their records will show that we did not tamper with the recordings that we made from their media source.

Here are some not-so-effective things that I, personally, wouldn't trust and why:
1. Date-stamps on your computer - though these may suggest that the file was created on a certain date, there is no disinterested third party proof that you did not tamper with your Windows clock.  With a few mouse clicks, you can create a file that will appear to have been created on January 1, 1980 - long before most people even owned a computer!
2. YouTube/MySpace media posts - although these may be date stamped, and done so by a disinterested third party, I wouldn't place my bets that they are strictly regulated to keep their dates and times accurate. Meh... maybe.
3. A live recording of a rehearsal or gig - how will you prove when it was recorded or that it wasn't tampered with?

Ultimately, like anything else, it comes down to this:
How valuable is it, and to what lengths and costs are you willing to go to protect it? If it goes to court and it costs you $5000 in legal and court costs, would that be worth it to you? Are you *that* sure you would win? What if their lawyers dragged it out to an end cost of $50 000? Still worth it? Still just as confident you'll win?

And sure, if you win, you'll *probably* get to pin the other side for the court and legal fees, but how much time and effort will it have taken for you to go the distance? Still worth it?

It is rare that anyone who works professionally in the industry will steal your work. Most of the thieves out there who will try this are desperate amateurs who will only do so if they think they can get away with it. If you can convince *them* that they won't get away with it, you won't need to get a judge to do it for you.


Copyright - recording someone else's song

Okay... the first thing I'll get out of the way is that you always need to pay a mechanical license, even if you are not selling your cover of the song.

First things first... we need to know what a music publisher is, because to record someone else's song, you get permission from the publisher... not the artist.

In the old days, the publisher of a composition was the person or group who actually printed the sheet music for distribution. Sheet music? Half of us have never even seen sheet music up close. In more modern, practical terms, a music publisher is the person or group who works on behalf of the composer in an effort to maximize their profits through the use of those songs.

Most of us artists are also our own publishers. Why? Because we don't have anyone else acting on our behalf to do this job. As a result, when there is a royalty paid to both the publisher and the composer, we get the whole shootin' match. Of course, for most mortals, this amounts to keeping the entire bite-sized pie.

When you sign a record deal or the like, a 'typical' contract assigns *half* of the publishing to the record company. That means they get half of the royalties payable to the publisher. You, the artist, get all the royalties payable to the writer, and the other half of the royalties payable to the publisher. You also allow an outside third-party (ie. the record label) to have an equal say as you as to how the material will be used. Because their job, as the publisher of the music, is to maximize the profits of the use of those songs. But remember... they give you half. Though you relinquish solitary control of your own work, you get a 50% share in what could potentially be a great big mother of a pie.

So, what does this have to do with covering someone else's song? Remember the bit about not getting permission from the artist, but getting permission from the publisher? Ah, yes. As the publisher, they are the ones in charge of maximizing profits for the artist for their compositions. That means, if you are offering them money to use their composition, they will grant it on behalf of the artist.

Many music publishers enter in to agreements with licensing agencies in their territory. In Canada, it is the CMRRA ( Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency). In the United States, it is The Harry Fox agency, and in the UK, it is the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society. (MCPS) These are the main ones, but there may be others in those regions, and there certainly are others worldwide. These agencies standardize and centralize the process of granting rights to reproduce the work of other artists.

If you want to reproduce the work of another artist, you can usually go through one of these agencies. They have agreements with the publishers and facilitate the process of gaining the mechanical license you need in order to do this.

What is a mechanical license? “Mechanical” refers to the reproduction of copyrighted music in a “contrivance” for the “mechanical reproduction of music.” This language comes from the days when music was reproduced for music boxes. Still today, though, “mechanical license” is the customary industry term for such permission.

Note that a mechanical license allows you to 'cover' the song. It does NOT allow you to reproduce the original sound recording. To do that, you would need permission of and pay royalties to the person/group who own the master recording. This might be the record company or the recording studio, and for artists not tied to a record company who pay to record their own material with their own money... it would be the artist themselves. This point will be significant later when we talk about sampling and 'clearing samples.'

The rate for a mechanical license is negotiated within the industry and varies from territory to territory. In Canada, it is 8.1 cents for the first five minutes, and 1.62 cents for each minute thereafter. This is calculated per song, so if you do three songs, you will do this calculation three times - once for each song.

IMPORTANT - This is payable prior to manufacturing your copies of the cover, and is payable for every copy made. In other words, if you make 1000 copies and give them away... you still pay for all 1000 copies.

Watch out for this too... you can't just pay 8 cents to make one copy of your cover tune. Here is a quote from the CMRRA mechanical royalty application:

"The minimum number of copies for which a mechanical license will be issued is 500, whether or not you are pressing or importing a smaller number of copies. Licenses for this quantity are issued at the price of $40.50 per song (assuming that the running time of the recording in question is five minutes or less; the rate for each additional minute or partial minute of running time in this case is $8.10). A pressing order is not necessary for less than 200 copies but it does not exempt you from paying mechanicals."

There is another way of doing it, by entering into a Standard Mechanical Licensing agreement, but this process is generally reserved for larger projects.

So, you contact your mechanical licensing agency and fill out the appropriate paperwork and submit the required fees based on how many copies you're going to make, etc. If the publishers are listed in their database (typically searchable online), you're good to go. If they're not, you have to find out who the publisher is. That could involve contacting the artist directly, or their record company. Another simple, easy resource is the liner notes of the CD if you have them. Also worth noting is that some publishers opt not to participate in these licensing organizations because they may want a mechanical rate greater than the standard negotiated rate.

One final thing... if you intend to attach your cover of the song in a film, TV production, etc., you must apply for a synchronization license.

Copyright - playing covers live

When you write a song that is likely to be performed (see below) by someone other than yourself, and if you're smart, you will join and register your songs with a Performing Rights Association. (from here on called PROs) In Canada, it is SOCAN. In the USA, it is either ASCAP or BMI, and in the UK it is PRS. For more info...

Now, the legal definition of a 'performance' as it applies to copyright includes both live performances of the material, or performances of the recording itself - this includes radio, TV, online sources, etc. In other words, when your CD gets played on the radio, you receive a performance royalty.

If your material is not likely to receive any commercial radio or TV play, there isn't really any point in registering your songs with those organizations just yet.

When you do join (which is typically a free membership and can often be done on line), you only need to join one. So, for me, even though I am a SOCAN member, I don't need to join BMI. The reason is that these PROs have what is called 'reciprocal agreements' with each other, meaning they share their data and ensure royalties are paid as appropriate. So, if one of my songs is played in SanDiego, SOCAN will receive this data from BMI or ASCAP and I'll still get paid for it.

These PROs get their money from fees paid to them (called tariffs) by music users. A 'music user' is a person or organization that uses music to sell or enhance their product or service. This includes, but is not limited to radio stations, TV stations (even for things like the music they play when they roll credits on a news program or underneath a traffic report), dance clubs, pubs, restaurants, supermarkets, telephone 'hold' music, festivals, school boards, and even the shoe store who plays CDs in the background.

Commercial radio and TV pay a monthly licence fee which represents a percentage of their revenues. They are required by law to track every piece of music they use by title and artist. Those tracking sheets are submitted to the country's PRO and checked against their database of artists. The PRO then uses this data to pay their members. Commercial radio play is about $1.47 per play per station, and commercial television is about $1 for every ten seconds used. (which varies, I think, depending on context, etc.)

Performance royalties are not payable if you have a video played on a music video station like MTV or MuchMusic. The rationale is that they are playing a commercial for your band, and they're not charging you, so you should be happy. Stupid, IMHO.

Most other music users pay an annual licence fee, or in the case of a festival or something, a per-event fee. This annual license fee is collected by the PRO and divvied up among their top 'X' number of artists. That means, when my song gets played on campus radio, Celine Dion gets paid for that. Well... she gets a portion of those blanket license fees. The rationale is that it is unreasonable to ask a lot of those music users to track the music they use, and it is unrealistic to have SOCAN track a further tens of thousands of entries, just so Celine Dion can get a pile of money for her inevitably many recorded performances beamed into supermarkets all over the world, and I can get my measly 35 cents for getting a half a dozen plays on campus radio. I wish there was a better way, but I can't think of one.

Now, what does that mean for the average Joe playing in a band in a local club? Well... since the pub pays their annual blanket license, they are allowed to have performances of music from anyone from ABBA to ZZ Top. So, if you want to go in and play a Van Halen cover, or even cover a song from your friend's band, or any other song you didn't write yourself, you can. The band you used to be in who doesn't want you playing their song can't come in and tell you not to play it any more than Robert Plant can stop you from playing a Zeppelin tune.

The onus is on the club to pay this fee. You have to assume they have. If the copyright police swoop in and find out they haven't paid the fees, that's their problem - not yours.

One thing to watch, though, is playing songs that you did not write in a venue that is not required to pay a tariff as a music user. Let's say you're having a street party. You would be required to pay to use that music. Logically, this would be a small fee in comparison to the fees required of a large festival drawing thousands of people.

Another place to be careful of is banquet halls. Depending on how they operate, they may not be required to pay this fee. The survival of their business does not depend in any way on them having music. It depends on their ability to rent out their space. The success of YOUR EVENT might be dependent upon the use of music, but not their banquet hall. So, you might want to ask about that before booking a place like that.

For a list of Canadian tariffs, here is the exact link to the SOCAN tariffs to give you an idea of how they work.

Copyright - basic principles

First off... copyright law changes from jurisdictional region to jurisdictional region. Though most countries have very similar copyright laws, one cannot assume that they will be identical from place to place. What I will try to include throughout this series of articles are general principles that are common throughout the developed world, but keep in mind that wherever you are, there may be some differences.

Any creative work or invention can be copyrighted. As it pertains to music, we can copyright songs, symphonies, fugues, etc.  For the purposes of this blog, I'll focus on songs.

You CAN'T copyright:
- band names (see another blog here)
- song titles
- chord progressions

None of those are indicative of being a creative work.

Now, for all intents and purposes, a "song" is comprised of lyrics and a melody for purposes of copyright. In general terms, drum beats, riffs, bass lines, etc. don't count. Just because you jammed with your buddies and came up with a full band arrangement of a bunch of chords and riffs strung together, you have not made up a song. You have made up an 'accompaniment' to a song. You most likely have no legal leg to stand on in terms of copyright.

If someone clearly rips off your melody and/or lyrics, there is really not much question as to whether someone has taken your song, or some "compositionally important" aspect of your song. A good example is the Rolling Stones' song "Has Anybody Seen My Baby?" Though the lyrics are entirely different, the melody is remarkably similar to a song by Canadian alt-country artist KD Lang's song, "Constant Craving." It was really indisputable in its similarities. The end result was that KD Lang was given songwriting credit as a co-writer for the song, and she is entitled to all royalties payable from that song - including those royalties payable prior to her being assigned co-writing credit.

It's worth noting here that the Rolling Stones did not intend to infringe on her copyright and plagiarize her melody. That doesn't matter a stitch. Point is... they did, and they had to make good on that. Apparently, Keith Richards' daughter was listening to KD Lang's album while they were writing their material. He figures that the melody just kinda crept in subconsciously, as he claims he is not a fan and wasn't actively listening to the song.

Now, there is some vagueness in this regard. If something is "compositionally important" to the song, then a judge may determine that copyright has been infringed. Steal the guitar riff from Fight For Your Right to Party and you'll sound like a thousand or so other songs. Steal the guitar riff for Black Dog by Zeppelin and you could find yourself in trouble.

Why the difference? That riff has clearly unique melodic content, and is of a duration that goes well beyond 'just a few notes strung together.' It's a full four-bar melody (not one bar repeated four times or anything) and makes up among the most recognizable parts of the composition!!

It is important to recognize that, beyond obvious lyrics and melody rip-offs, taking a copyright infringement case to court is a risk. Ultimately, it is up to a judge to decide if copyright has been infringed. Quite simply.... it is a judgement call. Taking a case to court really has to come down to a question of "what could this potentially cost me; how obvious is it (meaning how likely is it, really, that I will win), how well can I prove my case that I am the copyright owner, and what do I stand to gain (or lose) from this?  More on that later.

A non-technical article on Mixing

Before You Record:

There are many ingredients to a good mix.  The sound of the final product is influenced by everything that produces the sound from the very beginning.  Consider:

  • The sound of the instruments themselves - You wouldn’t pick an Ibanez guitar through a Triple Rectifier for your country band.  You wouldn’t pick a Telecaster and a Twin Reverb for your metal project.  An entry-level guitar through a cheap practice amp will not sound as good as a well-appointed guitar rig.  A drum kit that is not properly tuned or a singer who squeaks notes out from their pinched little throat cannot be fixed by a great mix engineer.  The basic rule of recording is “crap in = crap out.”
  • Mic choice and mic placement - Mics have different designs and utilize different technologies.  Some are accurate.  Some have character.  Some are bright.  Some are warm.  Some are designed to bring out the depth of a kick drum from up close while also accentuating the click of the beater, while others are designed to capture the subtle nuances of instruments from a distance.
  • The recording environment:  Some rooms sound spacious.  Some sound dry.  You know that hollow, boxy sound from your video camera when you recorded your friend singing in your basement?  You can’t EQ that out.
  • The performance itself:  A great mix of a crappy performance still sounds crappy.  A mediocre mix of a great performance will still sound pretty good.

So, before you have even hit the “record” button, a lot of the sound of your mix is pre-determined by these factors.  Great musicians will give great performances and have great tones.  A great studio will have great rooms.  A great producer will know which microphones to use, where to put them, and how to use the preamps to help get the best possible tone from the microphones.

Okay... now MIX! - 

Part 1 - What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

The human ear is designed to hear frequencies from 20hz (vibrations per second) to 20 000hz (also known as 20khz.)  A veeery low bass rumble from a kicker box in the Honda Civic that goes booming past your house might be in the range of about 40hz. The mosquito buzzing around your ear clocks in closer to 16khz.  We call these low and high frequencies.

Each instrument has a fundamental (the main pitch the note is playing), and then the overtones that help to shape the timbre and character of the note, which occur at much higher frequencies.  The open E string on a bass guitar is about 40hz.  If you had a pure tone at 40hz, it would not sound like a bass.  If you wanted to bring out the attack of the note, you would have to boost frequencies around 2khz.  Although the note that is being played is at a very low frequency, the “pluck” of the note is much higher.  If you want to make the bass guitar “stick out” more in the mix, it is not necessarily about boosting the bottom frequencies where the fundamentals are.  You could bring out the attack of the notes instead, making the bass much more noticeable.

Imagine an orchestra.  You have a wide range of instruments that, cumulatively, take up an enormous frequency range.  The double-basses, the tuba and the tympani occupy the bottom; the piccolos, cornets and chimes occupy the very top, and the other instruments occupy various ranges within the middle.  Now, imagine the basses and tubas only.  Now throw in a bassoon playing in its low register.  How well do you think you would hear it?  Obviously, not very well.  It is competing with that low frequency space with two other instruments.  Have it play an octave higher, and it will be much easier to pick out, as it would have more of its own “space” to occupy where there is less “competition.”

The same thing happens in a mix.  If you want to bring out the “whoomp” of a kick drum by boosting the EQ at 40hz, and the “thud” of the bass by boosting the EQ at 40hz, you’ve got two things competing for that same frequency space.  A better solution would be to bring out the “thud” of the bass by boosting the EQ at 40hz, but then cutting out some of the 40hz of the kick drum, giving the bass more room to exist down there.  But what about the kick drum?  Boost instead, the click of the beater, which lives somewhere around 2khz.  There is no “competition” from the bass guitar there, and each instrument now has its own space in the frequency spectrum.  The bass is no longer hiding behind the kick drum, or vice-versa.  Both instruments can now be heard clearly.  There will also be a bit of an “auditory illusion” at work where, even though you are boosting the click of the beater on the kick drum, the listeners will actually attend more to the lower frequency (the fundamental) of the kick drum, and hear it too... or at least they’ll think they will.

Use the same approach to “notch out” places for other instruments to exist within the frequency spectrum by cutting some of the top end from the guitars to make room for the vocals, or rolling the bottom off the guitars so that they don’t compete with the bass.

Part 2 - Louder than bombs

Imagine you’re downtown Manhattan, surrounded by a huge density of very tall buildings.  Which one is the tallest?  Well, it can be hard to say.  From where you’re standing, they’re all pretty darn tall.  In fact, with that many of them at the height they are, does it really matter which one is tallest?  In a room full of giants, none of them look especially large.  Now, take one of those buildings and put it in a small town.  All of a sudden, that one building stands out like crazy.  It’s monstrous!  That’s right.  Everything is relative.  Not everything can be louder than everything else.  We judge volume in a mix not on its own merits, but by comparing it to the other elements in the mix.  If one thing is going to be very big, then you need to have things around it that are comparatively very small.

Imagine a metal band.  The drummer wants big, huge, crashing drums.  The guitarist wants a wall of massive guitars.  The bass player wants to rock the house with his crushing rhythm.  The singer just wants to be heard.  Everyone says, “turn me up.”  Obviously this won’t work.  If you listen to most metal recordings with those huge walls of guitars, you might be surprised when you *really* listen, that the drums and bass aren’t nearly as loud as you thought they were.

Why not?   Answer = arrangement.  That big wall of guitars isn’t ear-assaultingly loud all the time.  If they were, they would lose their effect... like that one teacher we all had who did nothing but yell all the time.  After a while, it just becomes part of the landscape and you stop noticing.  Placed beside themselves, they want “periods of smallness” too, in order to make those huge moments still seem huge.  So, when those guitars are getting small for a bit, there is a perfect opportunity to ramp up those toms and put in a nice bass run to not only remind the listener that the drums and bass are still there, but to impose a sense of how big they are.  The listener focuses on that big drum sound and the fat bass while the guitars are laying low, and then when the wall of guitars comes in, they sound huge again.  The listener just doesn’t notice (until he/she is trained to notice), that the drums and bass are now comparatively small again.

Part 3 - Space

The first of two types of space is the stereo field.  You have the right-left space represented by the right and left speakers.  We’ve all heard the fighter jet in the movies that you hear in one speaker and then seems to fly over to the other speaker before finally fading off into the distance.  This is the stereo field.  If you imagine a live performance, you would traditionally have the musicians arranged on the stage in a way that makes sense for the musical presentation.  Often, we mix with that in mind.  Placing the lead singer in the left speaker would be just as strange as having the lead singer standing near the stage entrance by the curtain to sing while the rest of the band played on stage.  

Another way of giving instruments their own space is to separate them not only by frequency space, but by stereo space.  Imagine two guitar players on a stage, each with their amps stacked on top of each other.  It wouldn’t surprise you to find it difficult to tell which guitarist is playing which notes.  In fact, it might likely just sound like one guitar playing a jumble of notes.  But if you took one guitarist and had his amp on the left side of the stage, and the other guitarist and put her amp on the other side of the stage, it becomes much  more obvious which guitarist is doing what.  The sounds still blend, but the effect of them being two independent parts is made much more distinct.  Because guitars and keyboards are often competing for frequency space with lead vocals, by moving those parts a little further right and left, while keeping the singer in the center, allows each instrument to have it’s own stereo space, with no competition from the other parts within that right-left spectrum.

The other kind of space is depth.  Stages have the right/left dimensions, but also the front/back dimensions.   In an orchestra, the tympani and double-basses are in the back, while the flutes and violins are in the front.  How do you create the illusion of depth when mixing a track?  Two things:  reverb and EQ.

The more reverb you add to something, the further back it appears to be in the mix.  Consider the fact that, even in a cavernous gymnasium, if you are right in front of the sound source, you hear very little reverb.  Stand at the far end of that cavernous gymnasium with the instrument at the other far end, and you’ll hear tons of reverb.  The trick here is that, if you want to put the drums at the back of the stage in your mix, and you put reverb on the kick drum, the bottom end of your mix will often start to smear.  The solution is to add reverb to everything except the kick.  This also points out another common mistake in mixing - adding too much reverb to a vocal.  It gives the effect of the singer being placed at the back of the stage.... or worse, in an entirely different room!

Consider this basic fact of acoustical physics:  Low frequency notes have very long sound waves, and high frequencies have very short sound waves.  The longer the distance a note has to travel, the more the higher frequencies get lost.  So, rolling off the top end of an instrument will help give it the illusion of being farther away.  By adding loads of reverb and rolling off lots of the top end, you can make something sound *really* far away!  Of course, in mixing, a little goes a long way.

Part 4 - Putting it Together

Before you begin, you have a few goals.  First, determine what kind of sound you are looking for in the first place.  You might not be able to pick the performer or their instrument, but you can pick microphones and decide where to put them.  You also want to consider the question of whether you are recording a singer with a band, or a band with a singer.  The answer to this question will determine your approach to mixing, and might even impact your miking choices.

A singer with a band is usually approached from the top down.  You dial in the vocal sound, and then bring up the instruments to that place where they play appropriate supporting roles.  A band with a singer generally suggests the opposite.  You build the band from the bottom up - drums, bass, guitar, etc., and get the band sounding the way you like, and then introduce the vocals to that mix.  The question suggests subtlety, but the differences in approach can produce radically different mixes.

You next need to decide which instruments and voices are going to be the “focal points” of the mix, and which others are going to play supporting roles.  Remember the “in a room full of giants” quote?  Right.  Not everyone can be a giant.   As a general rule, no matter who you decide gets a supporting role, you will risk getting someone’s nose out of joint.  The trick is to carve out spaces for everyone to shine at least here and there, as I have discussed above.

In any case, your goal is to have all parts heard as much as they need to be through a combination of carving out frequencies, and placing each thing in its own right/left “stereo” space, and its own front/rear “depth” space.  You will need to make sacrifices and compromises.  You will need to take advantage of psycho-acoustic illusions.  Just because everything sounds great on their own doesn’t mean everything will sound great together.  You will find that sometimes, a part that fits perfectly into your mix really doesn’t sound that good at all when played by itself.  That’s okay.  It’s not about everyone being a star.  It’s about everything working together for a great production, with you being the director.

Part 5:  Mastering

Mastering has become one of the most misused words in audio.  Back in the day, when songs were cut to vinyl, the music would first be recorded to a tape machine, and then that recording would need to be transferred to a wax cylinder, from which the vinyl records would be manufactured.  Mastering was the process of going from the tape to the “master” which was the wax cylinder.  In order to do this properly, a few things became part of the process:

  • ordering the songs - There are lots of things to think about in determining the best order for your LP.
  • getting a consistent tone from one song to the next.  This is done with EQ.
  • tops and tails - Beginnings and endings are edited and faded out so that they flow naturally and sound “right.”
  • compression - It was often found that the cutting needle in the wax cylinder was literally bounced out of the wax, thereby ruining the cutting process, whenever sudden transients (say, a sudden snare pop, or a cymbal crash, or an extra hard jab on the bass) occurred.  In order to tame these so that the cutter wouldn’t jump out, they used compression.

Nowadays, the word “mastering” is often used as a generic term for compressing the daylights out of a track to make it as loud as other loud-as-bombs commercial recordings.   Whatever floats your boat, or suits your purposes, I suppose.  We’ll save the “volume wars” discussion for another time, but in short, if you listen to an album from the 1970’s and an album from the 2000’s, you’ll find that the modern record is very, very loud (for many people and purposes, there is a rough equation that suggests “louder=better”  compared to the classic album.  You’ll also find that the classic one has MUCH more dynamic range.  Why?  Compression.

Compression basically takes the loudest parts of your mix and the quietest parts of your mix and brings them closer together.  The best way to visualize that is this:  If you play a classic album from the ‘60’s or ‘70’s, and watch the meters on your audio system, they will bounce up and down along most of the entire length of the meter along with the music.  The quiet parts are quiet and the louder parts are louder.  If you look at a wave form of a classic recording, you see obvious mountains and valleys.  If you play a modern recording and watch the meters, they will basically just flicker right around the maximum level before it distorts.  The loud parts are loud, and the quiet parts are... well... damned near as loud as the loud parts.  If you look at a wave form of a modern song, it looks somewhere between a fuzzy caterpillar and a big long brick.

It’s a trade-off.  Louder songs on the radio or wherever get the listeners’ attention and sell more records.  People like to play their music loud, and the louder the play it, the more their bass slams and their highs soar.  Recordings where the dynamic range is preserved sound more natural, and usually have a lot more “punch” to them.  Take an older recording and turn up the volume so that it seems as loud as the newer recording, and many people will say that the older one now actually sounds much better than the newer one.

One artefact of compression is that it does seem to “level out” the mix a little more.  Because those quieter parts do, indeed, seem louder than they did before compressing the mix, those little things like reverbs, delays, and subtle things almost buried in the mix become more evident.  This can be both a blessing and a curse.  On the other hand, not compressing a mix leaves many listeners feeling like they are listening to an inferior product because it isn’t as loud as their other songs.  Balancing the two worlds can be very tricky.


It is almost impossible to tell someone how to EQ a guitar or what the best compression settings are for a snare drum because there are so many variables that any answer would be considered a vague ballpark at best.  I’ve also skipped over a number of technical things:  microphone polar patterns, limiting, side-chaining, the difference between inserts and aux buses, the difference between time-based effects and modulation effects, what the difference is between phase and polarity, why you really DO need proper monitors and not stereo speakers, and all sorts of other things.  My hope is that, with what I have written about, that no matter what your tools, and no matter what your effects, you’ll be able to approach a mix with a practical way of looking at things and for helping each part to find its own place in the space you are creating.  In the end, whatever sounds good, IS good. If you don’t get it good from the beginning, damage control is a frustrating inevitability.   If you get it good from the beginning, you can easily help it along and things will almost seem to mix themselves.