Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Protecting Your Songs: Practical Tips from Nashville

The voice of the songwriter creates intellectual property... an artistic and financial asset. The asset (song) need to be protected before publicly performing it, licensing it, releasing it, sending it out in the world. Here is the way we in Nashville like to do it:

Get all cowriters' and co-publishers' info

Too many times I have written a song with someone and had to hunt them down later to get their information! Now I make sure to collect writer/publisher info and put it on the lyric sheet.

Get every writer's ...
  • legal name, address
  • publishing and co-publishing company(s), address
  • writer and publisher PRO affiliations (see below)
  • writer and publisher share percentages. 
In Nashville, we usually just evenly divide the writer's share among all writers, but all writers should agree -- before the song is written -- on publisher(s) and publishing percentages. Then make a note!

Sign up for full membership in a performance rights organization (PRO)

If you haven't yet, as soon as you have a published version of your song (and yes, a recorded demo will do), get yourself registered as a full member of a songwriter's performance rights organization (PRO). These companies collect and distribute money (called royalties) for public performances, including radio play. They take a small percentage, yes, but it's the only way you'll get those royalties. Note: PROs do not collect mechanical license fees from physical and digital sales.

PROs in the US are ASCAP, BMI, SESAC.  These organizations have agreements with other international PROs to collect royalties outside the US. For international writers there is a good list of PROs at Iamusic.com. While SoundExchange is a PRO, it collects and distributes royalties to recording artists and copyright holders of sound recordings (labels), not songwriters.

You can go online to sign up with a PRO, but if possible, get an appointment with someone at the organization so you will have a personal connection to help you when you need it.

Register your song in your PRO

It's very convenient to do this online now. Each PRO has tutorials about how to do it, but you may want to get someone to walk you through it the first time or two. The weirdest thing you need to know is that your total credits need to add up to 200%. That's 100% total writer and 100% total publisher assignments. Don't put this off; if you get a cut and your song is performed, don't miss out on getting your performance royalties collected!

Copyright your song

From a very practical vantage point,  if you write a lot, you may not want to pay the $35 fee-per-song at www.copyright.gov . An old legend says you can just do a 'poor man's copyright', mailing the song in a certified letter you never open. But blogger Jonathan Bailey sums up why Poor Man's Copyright is a myth that we need to understand and stop practicing this useless form of copyright protection.

Copyright.gov says your song is protected the moment you create it and fix it in tangible form. Yeah right. BUT, you can't sue in federal court unless you officially copyright your song. So folks, we are taking a chance when we don't copyright our material. That said, not only do I not copyright all my songs; major publishers don't go to that expense either. We do it when we find out the song will actually be recorded for release ('cut'). It's a gamble; writer-beware... and more importantly, be informed so you know what you're choosing to do.

Also be aware of a cool little money-saving strategy: If your songs have the exact same writers and publishers and percentages, you can do what is called a 'compilation' that I think only costs $35 for the whole compilation you register. Dig through this page on song collections for information.

A Caution: 

Don't perform your songs unless they are copyrighted... or at the very least fixed in tangible form. That's just asking for trouble.

Anyone have other thoughts about protecting songwriting work?

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