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What is music publishing?

Music publishing - image of a piano with a songbook resting on it

Admit it - when you first thought about donning the leather pants and aiming for rock stardom, you didn’t really spend much time thinking about things like copyright, licensing, mechanical royalties and synch deals: all important aspects of music publishing. No, you were more concerned about your choice of guitar and how many groupies there would be backstage once you made it to Wembley.

However - particularly in today’s music industry, where selling a CD seems like an altogether antiquated practice - music publishing is a hugely important thing, regardless of what sort of music you make. This is because it can often generate far more income than physical music sales (or kickstart them). So what is it, exactly?

It's all about the money

In a nutshell, music publishing is all about ensuring that the songwriting royalties that you are due are being collected and put in your bank account.  Music publishers will typically ensure that you are receiving all the income due to you from:

  • Mechanical royalties - royalties that you are owed every time a piece of music you’ve written is manufactured on a CD, downloaded on a digital music site, or streamed.
  • Performance royalties - royalties owed to you whenever one of your compositions is broadcast or performed in public.
  • Licenses for synchronization - fees due to you if one of your compositions is used in a film, TV commercial etc.
  • Licenses for sampling - fees due to you if one of your compositions is used as part of another track.
  • Print rights for sheet music - fees due to you if somebody likes your music so much they feel compelled to print sheet music versions of your songs.

A music publishing company’s first task is to ensure that all the above types of royalties are going into your bank account, but if you are lucky enough to be working with a a good music publishing company, they will also be out there pushing your music hard to people who might want to pay to use it: for example other artists, labels, advertising companies and movie makers. 

In exchange for the above services, you agree to give your music publisher an agreed share of any revenue your songs generate.

What about performing rights organisations?

By now you’re probably freaking out about all the money you’re losing by not having a music publisher. Well, although having a music publisher can be hugely beneficial to your career and your wallet, you can still ensure that you’re getting royalties due to you by joining a performing rights organisation. In the UK, that’s PRS for Music - an organisation that licenses its members’ musical compositions and lyrics, and collects royalties every time they are played in public, broadcast on radio or TV, used on the internet or copied onto physical products.

What the PRS and similar performing rights organisations won’t really do however is proactively push your music to advertisers, film companies, labels or artists - and that’s why it’s good to work with a music publisher if you can (so long as they’re a good one with a history of pitching their clients' music hard to individuals and organisations who might pay to use it).

A little bit clearer? Hope so. However, the above is just a brief introduction to music publishing - it is a complex and oft-misunderstood aspect of the music industry, and there's lots more to learn about it. For more information on how it all works, you could do worse than check out the guide to music publishing and synchronisation over at Music Gurus - this is a series of videos by a friend of mine, Jay Mistry (founder of JM Consultancy), which delves in depth into the key topics associated with music publishing, including:

  • copyright
  • publishing contracts
  • how to find a music publisher
  • synchronisation

You can check out the Music Gurus guide to music publishing here.

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Is recording your music at home a bad idea?


by Chris Singleton

You are probably too young, dear reader, to remember the ‘home taping is killing music’ labels that started to adorn LPs in the late seventies (I can just about remember them, along with Sealink ferries and blue and grey trains). Well, despite the scary warnings, music did actually survive the rise of the cassette (not to mention CDs, MP3s and streams). But there is a very important part of the music industry that is in the process of being killed – and no, I’m not talking about the quaint idea that people should get paid for making music. I’m talking about the professional recording studio. Every week seems to bring news of a well-known studio being forced to shut its doors for good; this is a real pity, because in general (and this is going to be a slightly controversial statement, given the prevalence of bedroom-recorded music currently available) there is nowhere nearly as good as a recording studio for making albums.

The death of the professional recording studio is down to the fact that over the past 15 years or so, we all seem to have got it into our heads that the home is the de facto place to record music (or at least a good place to record music); so much so that it may well be time to design a ‘home recording is killing studios’ sticker that can be placed on recording equipment.

I am totally guilty of being a home-recording-believer myself over the years (it’s only recently – having spent more time recording in proper studios – that I have changed my view rather a lot on this). And it is easy to see why people want to record at home: cheap tech means everybody’s got a 128 track recorder and thousands of plugins in their toilet (or on their iPhone). Why spend £300 a day in a professional studio when you can record all your music for next to nothing at home? Well, there are several important reasons why it might be worth thinking about leaving the confines of your bedroom / garage / cellar / shed / bathroom (delete as applicable) when it comes to making your next record.

1. You are missing out on a truckload of amazing equipment

In most cases, comparing a good recording studio to a home setup is like comparing a Porsche to a Fiat Punto: there is barely a comparison to be made at all. Recording studios come with an armoury of mics, instruments, preamps, digital converters and mixing desks that will easily outclass whatever you have at home – and generate much better recordings. You simply will not have a U87 mic, a Hammond organ or a Steinway grand piano lying about at home; but you’ll find all these (and much more) in many professional studios.

2. The acoustics in studios are much better than in your garage

Even if you dismiss the gap in the quality of equipment between a home setup and a professional studio, you will find it difficult to ignore the fact that the rooms in proper recording studios have been designed to simply ‘sound’ better than a garage. Not entirely surprisingly, you will therefore end up with a much better sound from a professional studio, particularly where recordings of acoustic instruments are concerned.

3. You are not a trained recording engineer

Just because you have an audio interface and a copy of Pro Tools at home does not mean you are a recording engineer. It means you have an audio interface and a copy of Pro Tools. A house engineer  in a professional studio will have been trained to capture sounds (through use of good mic selection and placement, or correct use of outboard equipment) in a way that you will struggle to. Not only that, but they’ve been trained to process recordings in a way that the home recordist might not understand terribly well. Advanced use of EQ, compression, gating and effects can transform recordings; the professional recording engineer will have an arsenal of tricks up their sleeve that the bedroom musician is very unlikely to be able to match. At this point I’ll draw an analogy with medical care: sure, thanks to the internet you can google your symptoms, find a potential diagnosis, and sort of be your own doctor…but how confident would you ultimately feel about the results? Just as you’d entrust your health to a doctor, entrust your beloved music to an engineer…

4. You are not a producer

If you are lucky enough to work with a really good producer, you are in a sense working with every other artist they’ve ever worked with, because that producer will have taken some interesting ideas away from every previous studio session which he or she may then be able to add to yours. That could be anything from a simple-but-effective string arrangement to a very out-there backward drum part. Something, in effect, that you would possibly never have thought of – because you’ve only ever produced your own music. Because professional producers work day-in, day-out with a multitude of different types of bands, they can apply much more creative ideas to your music than you are ever likely to. OK, so a professional producer could in theory come and hang out in your house and produce your music there…but they’ll tend to push you to go into a studio every time (because they know that that’s where they’ll get the best results for you).

5. Recording studios save you time

So long as you are well-prepared when entering the studio, you should find that recording studios help you get your music down faster. There are a few reasons for this: firstly, because the rooms are designed with recording in mind, you’ll spend less time trying to iron out a sound (because you won’t be dealing with the sonic challenges and compromises that invariably come with recording at home). Secondly, because you’re likely to be working with a professional engineer who really ‘knows’ the studio, he or she will be able to get things sounding good quicker. And finally, the fact that you are paying for studio time means you are much less likely to take regular breaks to check your Facebook stream instead of recording.

6. Recording studios inspire creativity

There is something about studios which just makes you feel more inspired. It may be that the simple act of leaving the house gets you into a more creative zone, or it might be that working in a room where Dark Side of The Moon was recorded helps you to aim for similar artistic heights, but either way being in a studio can press creative buttons that a boring old bedroom can’t. Meaning your music gets more interesting (read better).

So what has all this got to do with music promo?

Yes, this is a music promo blog – supposedly offering tips and advice on how to promote your music. Surely waxing lyrical about how great recording studios are has nothing to do with music promotion? Well, actually, I’ve always found that the whole music promotion process begins not with a Facebook ad campaign or a well written press release, but the music itself. It is infinitely easier to promote – on every level – a well-recorded and produced album than a record which, even if it contains a lot of good ideas, sounds a bit half-baked because it was recorded in a garage.

Recording studios, when used well, offer you the best opportunity to do your music justice and create albums that have the potential to sell themselves (even before you approach a music PR company). There will of course be exceptions to the rule and fantastic records produced at home, but next time you are tempted to be your own engineer and producer, or are trying to record a complicated drum part in a shed, remember where most of the great albums you’ve heard were made: in a recording studio. There are good reasons for that.

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Memes: the secret of spreading your music about?

Can Richard Dawkins help your music career?

Today I’m going to tell you to put all thoughts of PR and marketing to one side for a minute, and use a theory called memetics to help you reach the status of global rock superstar (or richest but still the most miserable looking shoegazer on the block; take your pick).

This all boils down to thinking about your songs in a different way: not as pieces of music but as ‘memes’. According to proponents of memetics like Richard Dawkins, memes are ideas that spread from person to person within a culture. The ‘stronger’ the meme, the theory goes, the more likely it is to spread; a comparison is made with the spread of genes via natural selection, with memes being part of a sort of ‘survival of the fittest idea’ scenario. Now of course these days when people talk about memes, they are really referring to anything shared by George Takei on Facebook, but since music is now just as easy to share on the web as any other piece of digital content, I think it’s only proper to treat it the same way as a good Miley Cyrus Facebook gag.

So how do you create a fantastic, widely-shared meme? Well, if we are to buy into the theory, a starting point would be by looking to other ‘successful’ memes and trying to find out why they became successful. In this context, by ‘meme’ you can read ‘hit song’, and thanks to the internet you can audition pretty much every hit song going and try to learn as much as possible from the songwriting geniuses who crafted them...and then ‘mutate’ these hits into fabulous memes of your own.

Well, actually, during the early phases of your research into memes you’ll find out pretty quickly that some of the reasons why songs become huge hits often have little to do with songwriting genius. This is because throughout rock history, people have bought records for a lot of reasons (‘ideas’) that have nothing to do with music: they may have liked the look of a particular singer’s derriere and thought that buying that artist's album would bring them just a touch closer to his/her lovely bottom; their kids might have really liked Bob the Builder; buying the remake of ‘Feed the World’ which featured that odd rap bit by Dizzee Rascal in the middle seemed like a socially acceptable way of giving to charity at the time. Memes / ideas drove these sales alright, but non-musical ones.

Anyway, unless you have extreme confidence in your bum, particularly want to write a stop-frame-animation-related novelty hit or are hell-bent on releasing Christmas charity singles, you can probably put these sort of memes to one side and focus on listening to tracks that don’t seem out of place in a sentence that involves the expression ‘musical genius’. Everybody will of course have their own idea of what musical genius is and which artists possess it; but nonetheless a cursory glance at rock history will reveal quite a treasure trove of bands and artists that managed to simultaneously possess ridiculous quantities of musical talent AND flog quite a lot of records. It doesn’t matter what type of music you like, or these artists made, there is something to learn from them. Devour every aspect of their work.

Once you’ve learnt from the master meme-makers, it’s time to produce music like them. This, naturally enough, is the tricky part. It’s not just a question of nicking ideas from musical geniuses (although this can nonetheless be quite effective – think of how many copies of Girls Aloud’s rewrite of The Beatles’ Baby You’re A Rich Man sold); it’s as much a case of thinking – and working – like them, so that you don’t just become a copyist but start to understand the secrets behind truly great music (one of which is that overlooked thing called 'graft' by the way)...and make it yourself. 

Now, let’s put all this rather intellectual talk of memes and theories and natural selection and Girls Aloud to one side (and I ought to point out that after shoving meme theory down your throat for much of this article, a lot of scientists have a big problem with it). Let’s boil things down to this: every day, we see people share fantastic content online; and regardless whether this content comprises jokes, charity appeals, interesting facts or weird photos of squirrels, it is accessed by millions not because a huge marketing budget was involved but simply because 1) there was something inherently great about that content and 2) it was incredibly easy, in this digital era, to pass it on to somebdody else. Now that they have been digitised, songs are no different in this regard, and whilst there are a host of things that you can do from a marketing and PR point of view to making this sharing process even more effective, you will make your life so much easier if you put the time (and money) into your content before you even think about promoting it. As the old jazz saying goes, ‘take care of the music, and the music will take care of you.’

(Worth a try anyway. If not you can always resort to those dodgy companies that get you fake likes on Facebook.)

The Prescription is written by a musician / digital nerdy person called Chris Singleton.

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Don't forget the er, music

Music - don't forget it


Reading back over 2011’s Prescription articles it seems as though I spent a lot of my time telling you young whippersnappers to ‘forget about the music’ and concentrate on adding loads of funky content to your site or Facebook page.

There’s a lot to be said for that; if you keep going on about your band ad nauseum, people will switch off and think you’re a dreadful bore (believe me; I know). Whereas if you write an interesting blog post about – oh, I don’t know, Megan Fox in nice underwear or something – you’ll get a shedload of visitors to your band’s website, and of course they’ll simply love your music. They might all be pervs, but yes, of course they’ll buy your records. And that’s all that counts in life obviously.

I’m going to start the year anyway with a slightly different, and I suppose contradictory, thought: remember the music. Because as important as blogging, social media, data capture, SEO, analytics, online business models and all the rest of it are to the independent musician…these new-fangled entities have one huge drawback, and the start of a new year seems like a good moment to face up to it: they take up LOADS of your time. Time that you could be spending on what you as a musician are meant to be doing in the first place: writing and recording music.

Think about it: how many times have you been writing a song, only to put down your guitar to go over to a computer and check the number of Facebook fans you’ve acquired that day? And then got sidetracked by some funny post your witty mate has posted on your wall? And then thought how now would be a good time to check your site’s Google Analytics, followed by a couple of hours tweaking the tags on the Youtube video for your latest single? And after that it only seems only right surely to spend the evening emailing some MP3s to some taste-maker blogger types…

It’s easy to see where I’m going with this: all these online gizmos and services are great (and in general I’m a big fan) BUT they are also involve a huge time commitment – either in terms of the hours you spend on putting a decent online promo campaign together, or frankly, the amount of hours you waste religiously checking web stats, friend counts, song plays and so on (not to mention getting distracted by those wits on Facebook).

And the irony is this: really good music arguably doesn’t need half as much of an online push as you think it does. Because aside from making you spend every living hour reading inane Facebook status updates, one thing the internet does really well is help good stuff travel. If a song is truly a great one, it will get shared online. All those little ‘share’ buttons, dodgy torrent sites and perhaps even some humans will happily see to that. Yes, there are ways to maximise a track’s visibility online, and these are worth putting time into, but only after you have made your song as ‘shareworthy’ as possible. And this, translated, means only after you have made your song as good as you possibly can. And you are not going to make your song as good as possible by looking at your Google Analytics account every hour.

So, here’s a new year’s resolution for you: turn off your wireless router for a week, lock yourself in a room with a guitar and spend every hour the Lord of Rock gave you making some art worthy of the name. Write yourself a nice tune, pen some tasteful lyrics and embellish it all with a production that even Alexis Petridis would find hip. When – and only when – you are convinced you’ve got something great to share with the world, switch the internet back on and start spreading the news. 

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