The Urban Music Industry
Copyrights and Music Publishing
I feel compelled to let the urban artist know that copying your sheet music, lyric sheet, or recording your song on a cassette, putting it in an envelope, mailing it to yourself and never opening the mail is not necessarily sufficient for you to take someone to court later on and prove that you wrote X song on Y date. The reason for this is that in this day and age, you can go to a friend's office and change the date on your stamp machine and send yourself the envelope, or someone could steam open an envelope and reseal it. In fact, as soon as you complete a musical work in some tangible form, you must register a copyright and show visible notice of it. Read our section Music Publishing and Copyrights to learn how.
I am under the impression that in the urban music scene, publishing is seen as less sexy, the least glamorous part of the business. So it gets overlooked (although I know of at least one urban publishing executive who is extremely satisfied with the nature of his work, his roster of writers/producers, and his financial compensation). Most aspiring executives want to be A&R, promotions or sales people, and every artist wants to get signed to a big record deal. They don't think about the back end that comes through publishing. If the strength of your artistry is performance and you do not write your own material, then this attitude may be appropriate. But, for the songwriter or the group that generates its own music, your publishing is your intellectual property and in this ever-digital age, where information is king, your intellectual property may be your greatest asset. Publishing can be a major source of income. As new media companies encroach on the old record industry paradigm, and other sources of digital download technology continue to take root as viable ways of delivering recorded music, the ownership of those songs-- the intellectual property (your writing)-- will take even greater importance and people will accordingly take greater interest in it. That's why StarPolish has a whole section devoted to publishing that you should read now. A few words on avoiding typical publishing disputes in the urban music industry: write every thing down. This includes the songs that you work on, any agreement you are doing, if you involve other people in your project, if you hire somebody to write that hook on the hit song, etc. Making a little agreement of who gets what percentage of what song on the back of a notebook is far better than getting into a dispute later on because you dealt with someone unprofessionally who later feels they've been mistreated. It's always better to put something on paper. When I was at Stepsun Music (a joint venture with Tommy Boy Music), I made a point of going down to the recording studio and handling the publishing administration while the record was being put together, because it's right then that everyone is feeling euphoric and good about the project. They don't mind working out the splits: oh well, 37 ½ percent for this, 50/50 for this, 15 per cent for this; you came up with the hook, you came up with the music, you were the author, you were the composer. This is the best time to catch everybody, because later on when memory fades, people will be reluctant to give up a piece of their publishing. Disputes are more likely to arise. If you can handle it on the scene and nip it in the bud early, that's the best scenario. In the early days of a career, many artists are willing to forsake the long-term potential interest of their publishing for the up front money from a publishing deal. To a kid from the ghetto with no other obvious prospects, cash may be king. But be aware that publishing advances are like record advances-- it is money forwarded that the publishing company fully expects to recoup from you later. So if they are willing to give you that much money up front, wonder how much money they are expecting to be seeing on the back end. And if your goal as an artist is to be successful and to make a substantial amount of money, you always want to think through assigning away percentages of anything to do with your career. I am hopeful that with the advent of the Internet and tools for self-empowerment like StarPolish, we are moving to a new paradigm where artists will not feel so desperate to take any deal just because it is thrust in front of their face.