What Independent Artists Need To Understand About Music Publishing
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What Independent Artists Need to Understand About Music Publishing

For any independent hip-hop artist trying to strike out there on their own, the differences between success and failure can be rather slim.

The massive amounts of education and development required to get things just right when creating high-quality hip-hop music independently can put a lot of people off even trying to get involved in the industry in the first place.

After all, if you are spending all of your time making music how are you going to find the time to learn the ways to monetize and publish that music?

With hip hop growing all the time, and more independent artists finding a way to create a platform for themselves via the internet, it’s no surprise that many people are finding the competition out there a little bit intimidating.

The entry barrier for those who want to really kick things off and take it to the next level are probably more competitive than ever; being able to get your foot in the door as an artist in 2015 can be a massive challenge, especially for hip-hop artists.

As an artist, your main income is going to come through being able to publish and promote your music – there are many things that you need to be able to understand when it comes to publishing independently, and making sure you take them all into account is absolutely vital.

Being able to successfully manage, protect and promote your skills and services is a key factor in the current musical climate; finding the alternative ways to get involved in music publishing as an independent hip-hop artist will be a deciding factor in your success. 

This article could help you understand some of the key driving factors behind music publishing, and hopefully help you get a stronger grasp on the most important acts of publishing and presenting yourself in the right manner.

You need to be able to actually understand music publishing as a whole, and it can be a particularly tough nut to break through if you are just starting out. 

The subject itself is incredibly dense, due to the fact that the publishing laws and acts change depending on where you are; music lacks universal laws and therefore having some kind of global system being put in place is pretty much impossible. Instead, you need to start learning.

What Is Music Publishing?

Publishing itself is your main weapon moving forward; and being able to grasp the main principles and driving factors of music publishing as an independent artist is going to be absolutely vital.

As the very cornerstone of the income that you will be bringing in, you need to understand how to properly leverage your hip-hop tunes in the right manner.

By being able to understand how publishing actually works behind closed doors is a big part of how you will be able to learn how to do this, and it can be achieved purely off of the work you put in.

As an independent artist, you will likely be dealing with just about everything that comes with publishing. If you find that you are spending more time working on your songs from a marketing and admin point of view, rather than adhering to the creative side of things, then it might be a good idea to consider hiring a publisher to actually help you through that process and to help change up your timescales.

However, if you take the time to actually learn how the process works and how publishing can be leveraged in the correct manner for your business, a publisher won’t be needed. 

Since you will be making the majority of the income you receive as your sole source of money, hiring a publisher if you have a grasp on the business side of things won’t really be necessary.

Keep in mind, though, that bringing in a publisher will mean that you could start entering into some kind of shared ownership deal with the publisher. 

As an independent hip-hop artist, this may not be the best idea for you to go down; instead learning the hopes for publishing in a creative manner on your own is going to be far more financially beneficial later on down the line.

Through the power of digital distribution platforms like TuneCore, you no longer need to go down the mainstream publishing method; now, you can promote your music in a way that suits you and share it through channels that you can control and understand.

Being able to manage all of your music yourself is a hugely powerful feeling, and if you distribute it yourself through social media and other audio-based channels like TuneCore, you can start to see a huge increase in both your traffic and the amount of sales you get.

Understanding Copyright For Indie Artists

However, a massive part of online development and growth as an individual – especially in the world of hip-hop – comes from copyright. You will be creating your lyrics, creating the beats and putting it all together on your own so you will be in full creative control of the process.

Once you document these works as an independent artist, either through writing or recording, they will become copyrighted to you.

As a key part of the intellectual property argument, you will now become the copyright owner of that specific piece of music. Whether it’s just the lyrics on a sheet or the full song composed and ready to be uploaded online, it is completely copyright so long as you created it.

Should there be multiple creators, of course, then you will split the copyright equally amongst you all; through a mutual agreement, this can be terminated should both parties wish to go their separate ways.

Typically, though, you’ll be gaining full credit and control over anything that you compose or create as an independent hip-hop artist. Copyright lasts until 70 years on from the demise of the last surviving author, but this varies from nation to nation across the world.

This is a huge part of your musical career and it’s vital that you understand how copyright is going to work in relation to your publishing.

As soon as you start promoting work that is yours – or is shared by you – then it’s a copyrighted object and would require any usage of the product to require the payment of royalties and payment through usage licenses that allow your music to be used.

You’ll have full control over everything; from who can distribute it to who can perform your music in a local environment – you really are in total control as an independent.

Hip-hop carries a real essence and flair in its lyrics and its creations, so being able to know just how you can copyright your work and your creations is very important.

If you want to make sure that you can go through your career without any great problems with regards to copyright, remember that as soon as you process the information and make a documentation of it you now are the full copyrighted owner of that piece of work.

However, musical copyright splits into two types – composition and recording. The differences are fairly easy to understand, though, and they both typically result in the same end-game; for that music to be used, a license has to be provided by the artist or their publisher in exchange for royalties.

In your case, you will be dealing with all of this yourself as you will be working independently; make sure you are well-versed on the ways that copyright laws work in your area.

How to Earn Royalties as an Independent Artist

When you publish your music, you need to make sure you are doing so through the right channels; you will need to register with associations that are involved within the royalties industry where you live.

This will mean that you can start to get full control of your due royalties, make an income, and create the long-term commercial opportunities that you were hoping for when you first got started.

If you decide to work with a publisher, then be aware that they can take up to 50% of your cut depending on the level of negotiation done in the first place. This is why many independent hip-hop artists will go solo.

With so much competition out there, the level of income being taken by publishers is rising all the time. You need to make sure that what you are getting back is a fair reflection of what you are actually due; and if you put in all the work independently, you will be getting the maximum royalties back each time.

Getting your royalties actually managed and processed is a hard thing to do if you are working on your own, and is the main part of your income; everything else will typically be minuscule in comparison to what your royalties will bring home.

As an independent hip-hop artist, it’s vital that you learn how to gain royalties through the associations that you work with. They will typically grant licenses on your behalf once you are registered with them, and this allows you to collect royalties in the long-term without having to take too much action to get them.

It’s always worth noting that whilst a publisher will probably make a better job of getting and attaining long-term royalties, you will need more royalties in general just to cover the fees that they are taking.

There are enough industries and licensing firms that you can use today to work on this your own, instead of requiring the contacts and back-end information from a publisher.

Understanding Performance Rights Organisations

A huge part of the music industry today comes from what is known as PMO, or performance rights organization. This is a large part of your current business as an artist, and it’s vital that you understand this to the very letter.

By providing you with way to receive intermediary assistance with problems including the collection of royalties, a PMO can be the perfect way forward for you.

Between those who retain copyright and the parties who wish to use the work, there is a lot of discussion to had for any PMO worth its salt; if you feel like you need help getting things moving in the right direction, this is the place to get started.

There are four many PMO bodies to listen out for in the United States, and they are;

  • American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers – ACAP: They are a hugely popular and have been round for over a century, providing assistance to those who are carrying out both broadcasts and live shows who need a bit of helping making sure that they are getting paid.
  • Broadcast Music, Inc. – BMI: They are hugely popular for the fact they help singers and songwriters the size of Lady Gaga, Eminem, Shakira, Nickelback, Linkin Park and many other huge names all get the help they need in making sure they get paid when they should. They first came around in 1939 and since then have become a massive part of the ever-growing music industry.
  • Society of European Stage Authors and Composers – SESAC: They have since moved into the global stage and help artists with everything from licensing to managing the business side of your music career as effectively as you can. They are the place to go for if you need quality and performance all the time.
  • SoundExchange – SE: Hugely popular with many people due to their 40,000+ list of members, they help to provide and distribute royalties to their artists and can be the best way forward for any indie hip-hop artist who need help in making sure they get the money that they are due back from the companies who decide to use their music and their creations without permission.
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