Making the Case for Digital Liner Notes

When the 33-⅓ RPM speed became the preferred format for albums on vinyl, a wonderful and often overlooked tradition came along with it: album liner notes. While previous renditions of this – literal notes about the recording living within the album’s sleeve – had existed in recorded music before this, often times the space was reserved as an advertisement for other recordings from the label putting it out.

 

Album liner notes made it possible for artists to get creative with messaging, crediting personnel, and offering fans a little something extra in the way of art. Eventually as preferred formats of music evolved to tapes and CDs, the tradition continued. Anyone who grew up buying music in the 1990’s can tell you how much extra work it was to read some of those liner notes, but regardless of that, how satisfying it was to have a little something extra from their favorite band or artist. Of course, vinyl record liner notes are the best because of their size. I even remember trying to make wall art out of some of the Clash records’ (that I more or less stole from my dad) liner notes as a kid.

 

As the tides changed once more and fans switched to digital, liner notes became more of an afterthought for most – and eventually new music fans would be buying and streaming without even having their own personal history of CD booklets. In 2004, iTunes began offering digital booklets to certain albums. TuneCore offers artists the opportunity to include digital liner note PDFs when they distribute to iTunes for an additional cost.

 

While more and more releases began to include digital liner notes within iTunes over the years, it’d be a stretch to say it was any sort of craze or phenomenon. Fans can be delighted to find that their new digitally downloaded album contains a little something extra from the artist – a recent high profile case of this was Drake’s 2016 Views album which featured a digital booklet of images that were considered to be ‘meme-able’. This was an interesting example of a pop star not only incorporating something considered to be rather antiquated into their release, but doing so in a fashion that appealed to his generation of music fans.

 

But beyond that, does anyone care? Sonicbids published a great piece about this a few years back, with artists and industry folks chiming in with their opinion on the once-holy liner notes. These days, we see artists who cater to their ‘niche’ fan bases by focusing on vinyl releases – whether it’s LPs or 7” records – while still working with distributors like TuneCore to offer a digital component for those who prefer to stream or download. Artists have the opportunity to connect with these fans further by getting creative with their liner notes, and should they feel so passionate about the effort they put into them, include it as a digital PDF as explained above.

 

Another overlooked element of these booklets is that they give artists the opportunity to credit the producers and engineers associated with the release. Aside from the general karma points of shouting-out those hard working folks, it also allows artists who are fans learn who helped make such a great release even better. (It might even throw some business their way.)

 

There’s little doubt that artists with fans who prefer vinyl will continue to choose this medium for releases – but some wonder how long the resurgence of vinyl will last and how effective or important it is to the majority of independent artists. During a time of great saturation for indie artists online, standing out in the crowd can feel difficult – but what better way to garner some extra attention for your new release than a unique creative offering at no extra cost to the fan? Perhaps digital booklets and liner note PDFs can be an artistic channel for more artists to express themselves, give proper credits and ‘thank yous’, or provide a bit of a window into the production of the album or EP.

 

If you’re an artist who’s beginning to roll out vinyl copies of an upcoming release, it’s likely that you’re putting some thought into what your fans are going to be able to see and read in addition to what they’ll have to listen to. This should be cherished and seen as an opportunity to really connect with them, even if it’s just some credits and a cool poster. But for that other portion of your fan base who’ll be downloading, it may be worth your time to convert it all digitally, too.

 

If you’re an artist who is really just starting to develop a fanbase, vinyl copies of your new release probably aren’t in the cards. But as you begin to consider how you’ll be marketing it when it comes out, think of how a digital PDF of liner notes and additional art could help foster a new level of dedication from your fans that both already exist and begin to discover your latest release. If you feel you have the kind of audience who would appreciate this sort of component to an album, it’s likely that some will even consider converting from their preferred way of listening, streaming, to downloading it permanently.

 

Got any cool success stories with offering fans digital PDF booklets with releases? Let us know in the comments! For more information on how to include one of these with your next release via TuneCore, read more here.

The Artist & Record Label Relationship – A Look At the Standard “Record Deal” [Part 2]

[Editors NoteThis is a guest blog written by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq. It’s the second in a two-part series on the Artist/Record Label Relationship – read Part 1 here. Justin is an entertainment and media attorney for The Jacobson Firm, P.C. in New York City. He also runs Label 55 and teaches music business at the Institute of Audio Research.]

 

We will continue from our prior installment on “The Artist & Record Label Relationship.” We will now explore some additional contract clauses included in most recording agreements as well as a few negotiation tactics for these clauses.

Once the artist and distributor agree on the advances and what constitutes “delivery” to satisfy an artist’s commitment, the negotiation of the actual royalty rate earned for each sale is next.

ROYALTIES – (1.) Artist shall accrue to your royalty account, in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement, as described below; provided, however, no royalties shall be due and payable to you until such time as all Advances have been recouped by or repaid to Label. Royalties shall be computed by applying the applicable royalty percentage rate specified below to the applicable “Royalty Base Price” in respect of the “Net Sales of Records” described in this paragraph. Label shall pay to Artist all-in royalties (i.e., inclusive of producer and artist royalties). The term “Net Sales of Record” shall mean all gross income actually paid to Label in connection with its exploitation of such Album less all expenses (excluding overhead only) paid or incurred by Label in connection with the exploitation, manufacture, sale, advertising, promotion and marketing of such Album.

(2.) (a) The royalty rate (the “Basic U.S. Rate”) in respect of Net Sales of Records of the Album made hereunder made during the respective Contract Periods specified above and sold by Label through Normal Retail Channels in the United States (“USNRC Net Sales”) shall be as follows:

(b) The royalty rate (the “Escalated U.S. Rate”) in respect of USNRC Net Sales of each Album recorded pursuant to your Recording Commitment in excess of the following number of units, shall be the applicable rate set forth below rather than the otherwise applicable Basic U.S. Rate:

As the above clause mentions, the royalty that an artist earns for the sale of their music is calculated as a percentage of either the “Published Price to Dealer (PPD)” or the “Suggested Retail List Price (SRLP).” The “SRLP” is the approximate price charged by the retailer, such as Wal-Mart; while, the “PPD” is the approximate price that distributors charge to the retailers (wholesale unit price). It is prudent for an artist to attempt to negotiate for the highest possible royalty rate they could receive, as the higher the rate, the sooner they recoup the amounts advanced and the sooner the artist will begin receiving funds again.

In addition to agreeing upon the royalty rate and what the rate is based on (“PPD” or “SRLP”), similar to the clauses above, an artist can create royalty rate “escalators” based on album sales. As described above, when an artist sells 500,000 units (R.I.A.A. certified gold) or 1,000,000 units (R.I.A.A. certified platinum), the royalty rate escalates or “rises.” This increases the royalty rate that the artist is entitled to. An artist should also be cognizant of whether the royalty rate escalators are “prospective” or “retroactive.” A “prospective” escalator is one that only applies to sales going forward after a specified sales level is reached. This means that the artist’s royalty rate only is increased for any albums sold after they reach the listed sales level, for example, unit 500,001 is paid at the higher royalty rate. Conversely, and what is the ideal scenario for the artist, is “retroactive” escalation.

This means that once the artist reaches a specified sales level (i.e. 500,000 copy sold), the royalty rate is increased to the higher rate for all the albums sold prior (1-499,999 copies sold) as well as those going forward (500,001+ copies sold). An artist should also be aware that any “free goods” or albums given away for “promotional use” do not count as royalty bearing sales as no royalty or money is earned in these instances.

As in the example listed above, most royalties are considered “all-in.” This means that the artist is responsible for paying the producer of the track from the amounts they receive from the label. For example, if the artist is entitled to a 15% royalty rate from the label and the artist entered into a production arrangement with the producer providing him with a 3% royalty rate, the artist must provide the producer with the 3% royalty from the royalty the artist is entitled to. Thus, the 15% royalty rate paid to the artist by the label is split with the artist receiving 12% after the artist pays the producer their 3% royalty from these funds.

Once the royalty rate is set, the examination of the “reserve against returns” clause is necessary.

Reserve Against Returns – Label shall have the right to establish, during each semi-annual accounting period, a royalty reserve against anticipated returns and credits, of up to twenty- five (25%) percent of the royalty earnings associated with the units of each Record reported as distributed to its customers in that period. Each royalty reserve shall be liquidated equally and in full over the four (4) semi-annual accounting periods following the accounting period during which the applicable reserve is originally established.

While the above clause has begun to become obsolete in most instances, it is still important to examine and understand. The “reserve against returns” specifically applies to any physical record music as there is currently no way to “return” a digital downloaded MP3. This means that the label shall “reserve” or set aside a specified portion of the royalties the musician would otherwise be entitled to in case of any “returns” or “credits.”

For instance, in the example above, the label shall reserve twenty- five percent of the royalties the artist is entitled to in case any retailers must provide any refunds to its customer, which the label must in turn refund to the retailer. After a specified period of time, the “reserve” funds are “liquidated,” thereby, releasing the royalties to the artist. The frequency of “liquidation” is determined in the contract. As the above clause states, the reserves will be liquidated in “four” accountings, meaning every semi-annual accounting period. An artist should try to negotiate for a lower reserve percentage as well as a more frequent liquidation to earn as much of their royalties as quickly as they can.

Finally, one more clause that is included in many recording agreements is one that addresses the artist’s non-musical obligations, such as publicity and marketing for the released album.

Publicity – As Label reasonably requests, Artist shall appear for photography, poster, cover art, and the like, under the direction of Label or Label’s designees and to appear for interviews with representatives of the media and Label’s publicity personnel, at Label’s expense. As Label reasonably requests, Artist shall perform for the recording of brief audio, visual, and/or audiovisual spoken-word recorded messages and fan greetings suitable for use on and in connection with digital products and services and/or digital media platforms (e.g., Internet and wireless). In addition, as Label reasonably requests, Artist shall perform audiovisual works (e.g., so-called “B-roll” and “behind-the-scenes” footage) suitable for use on and in connection with Records embodying the Artist’s performances.

As the clause above outlines, the artist has to make themselves available for any public appearance, audio or audio-visual fan greeting or other audio-visual work as requested by the label. This is fairly common and in most instances, the artist will not receive any additional compensation for these services. However, an artist should try to negotiate for some of their expenses to be covered, such as transportation and/or meals, especially if the artist is required to travel further than a specified distance from the musician’s home.

Overall, the artist and label relationship is one of the most important ones and the next step in an artist’s quest for stardom. Since these agreements typically span many years and many albums, it is prudent that an artist fully understand the contract they are signing and ensuring they enter into an arrangement that works for them as this could be the document that makes or breaks an artist’s entire musical career.

This article is not intended as legal advice, as an attorney specializing in the field should be consulted. Some of the clauses have been condensed and/or edited for content purposes, so none of these clauses should be used verbatim nor do they act as any form of legal advice or counseling. We are also aware of the importance of streaming recordings; but, we will need to leave that for another day.

How To Build Your Online Music Brand in 24 Hours

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Paul Loeb. Paul has been at the intersection of music and tech for 20 years. He is founder and CEO of DropTrack, a music promotion platform for independent artists. His goal has always been to give musicians like himself the tools to stand out from the rest, get heard, and make deals.]

 

Whether you’re pursuing music full- or part-time, you’ve likely been asked by family, friends, or perfect strangers about how you plan to make it in the music industry. Annoying, sure, but it’s a fair question. It’s a tough industry to crack and success takes much more than musical talent. Unlike in the past, however, making it big as a musician isn’t just about who you know. The good news is, with a bit of marketing, you can start to set yourself apart from the musicians who simply continue to hope the right person happens to walk into a near-empty bar for a listen. Here are a few quick tips for building your music brand so you can stand out amongst the competition.

It Starts With a Conversation

If you’re a member of a band, it’s important to start the branding process with all members present. If you’re a one man or woman show, you can get started immediately. You’ve probably already talked or thought about how you define your music, but for branding purposes, let’s focus on what makes your story different or unique.

There are thousands of hopeful “indie rock artists,” but are you in a band with your siblings? Did you learn to play the saxophone from your grandpa? Even if you’re convinced there’s nothing special about your background, there’s an interesting story behind any true passion. If you’re still unsure of how best to tell your story, look to the musicians who inspire you. Odds are, they’re paying marketers big bucks to help with this process, but reading a few of their stories can help provide a template to follow. Teasing that story out is the first step to successfully branding yourself.

Tell Your Story Concisely & Authentically

Now that you’ve done the hard work in getting to the root of what makes your music brand unique, it’s important to create a few variations of that story. You’ll need your quick, 30-second elevator pitch as well as a more detailed version for things like your website, talking to press, etc. The more concisely and consistently you can tell your own story, the catchier it becomes. Also be sure that you’re telling an authentic story and building a connection between you and the listeners.

Think about the musicians you love: there are likely certain stories—the love story behind the lyrics of your favorite song or the random way in which the guitarist met the drummer—that stick with you because of how well, and how consistently, they’re told. Which part of your story would you want to stick with a music blogger? With your biggest fans? It may seem redundant because these narratives are surely in your head, but getting them onto your website or into an email is critical in transferring how you see your music brand to how others understand you.

Be Consistent Across Channels

Now that you know your story and can tell it effectively, you’ll want to make sure it’s updated across all your channels, from your website to various social media platforms. You’ll want to make sure that a music blogger who checks out your Facebook page has the same experience there as (s)he does on your website, Twitter, and Instagram. Your messaging and the visuals that support it should all reflect the story you want to tell.

Create a List of Influencers

Once you’ve gained direction with the story you want to tell, it will be easier to find bloggers and publications who might be interested in your vision. You can use free, online tools like Buzzsumo to quickly search for relevant influencers. Broaden your reach by thinking about your story from a couple of different angles. If you’re a New Orleans-based funk band, look for bloggers who cover other funk bands, but also look to local New Orleans publications who might be interested in the local, hometown aspect of your story. You should cater your message to these two types of writers differently, but send promos easily and track which aspect of your story might be having a greater impact.

Make a List of Resources You Need

Ok, so it might be hard to do a total rebrand in 24 hours. But, now that you know the brand image you want to portray, have updated media to the extent you can, and made a list of the people with whom you want to connect, it’s time to jot down where you can go the extra mile in completing the branding process. Maybe your visual aesthetic isn’t telling your story as effectively as it could be. Scheduling a photoshoot or reaching out to a designer about a new logo are proactive steps you can take today toward a complete, successful online branding.

Now that you’ve put some serious effort into building your brand, it’s time to make sure you’re getting in front of the right people. Music bloggers and industry influencers will be more likely to give you a listen when you present yourself in a unique, consistent manner. (Remember, your demo isn’t enough, but your new branding will help you get the email open or link click-through.) There’s also no time like a rebrand to ramp up your marketing emails and connect with your fanbase with an email marketing campaign through Droptrack. You’ve done the work; now, go get your brand in front of the right people.

The Artist & Record Label Relationship – A Look At the Standard “Record Deal” [Part 1]

[Editors NoteThis is a guest blog written by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq. Justin is an entertainment and media attorney for The Jacobson Firm, P.C. in New York City. He also runs Label 55 and teaches music business at the Institute of Audio Research.]

 

UPDATE: Read Part 2 of this series here!

In our prior installment, we examined the artist and manager relationship and explored a variety of standard clauses as well as negotiations tactics. We now start our initial examination of a few selected clauses from a standard recording industry agreement, better known as a “record deal.”

Once a musician has finished its product (music), the music is then distributed to the public for sale, either physically (CDs, vinyl), digitally (MP3 downloads, internet streams) or in both formats. Distribution is generally handled by a third-party on behalf of the artist unless the artist independently distributes their own music themselves. If an artist utilizes a third-party distributor, one of the industry’s most dominant distributors of recorded music is the recording or “record” label. These companies dispense the musician’s recorded music through a variety of channels, including to “Big Box” Retailers such as Best Buy and Target. Record labels are also involved in digital distribution by providing the work as digital downloads (MP3 format) in digital stores such as iTunes Store and on digital music streaming platforms, such as Spotify and Pandora.

Today’s recording industry landscape has significantly changed from its earlier roots, with many of the older, independent labels being sold and merged into each other. For instance, there are still a variety of major recording labels, such as Capitol Records, Columbia Records, Interscope Records and Atlantic Records; however, most of these are owned by other larger entertainment entities such as Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group or Sony Music Entertainment. In addition, many major labels have also established “vanity” labels. These act as smaller distribution companies where a producer or an artist signs additional artists or producers to this imprint and the “vanity” label then is dispensed to the public by a larger entertainment entity. For example, “Cash Money Records” is a “vanity” label distributed by Republic Records, which is under the Universal Music Group umbrella. There are also a variety of independently owned record labels such Sub Pop Records, Epitaph Records and Norton Records, who operate and distribute works on their own. In addition, there has been a recent rise in “digital only” record labels that function like traditional record labels; but, solely distribute music digitally.

Once an artist selects the appropriate distribution entity, it is standard practice for the parties to enter into an agreement outlining the deal points. To better comprehend this contractual relationship, let us now review a series of common clauses included in many standard record label agreements.

Similar to management agreements, the “term” or length of the agreement is of paramount importance.

TERM – (a) The Term will consist of an initial contract period (“First Contract Period”) and each of the renewal contract periods (“Contract Periods”) for which we will have exercised the options set forth in the next sentence. LABEL will have three (3) separate and successive irrevocable options, each to extend the Term for a further Contract Period. Each option to extend the Term for an additional Contract Period will be exercised automatically. The second Contract Period will be called the “Second Contract Period,” the third Contract Period will be called the “Third Contract Period” and the fourth Contract Period will be called the “Fourth Contract Period”.

(b) The First Contract Period will commence upon the date of Execution and will continue through the later of:
(i) The date twelve (12) months from the date hereof; or
(ii) The date six (6) months after the last day of the month in which Record Label
commercially releases the Album made in fulfillment of the Recording Commitment for the first Contract Period in the United States.

(c) Each subsequent Contract Period will run consecutively, commencing upon the expiration of the immediately preceding Contract Period, and will continue through the later of:
(i) The date twelve (12) months from the commencement of the particular Contract Period; or
(ii) The date six (6) months after the last day of the month in which Company commercially releases the Album made in fulfillment of the Recording Commitment for the first Contract Period in the United States.

This language states that the record label shall have one “firm” or “committed” album release with the “option” for up to three additional albums, totaling a potential four album deal. As it is written, these options are in the label’s sole discretion. In addition, this provision means that the agreement shall commence upon signing and shall end at either the expiration of one year from the signing of the agreement or six months after the last commercially released album. It also states that any subsequent option shall run for a similar period of time.

Since most record distribution deals contain similar language, an artist can attempt to negotiate specific parameters that are required in order for the record label to exercise one of its options. For instance, an artist could provide language that affords the label with the right to exercise an option for an additional album if the prior album reaches a specified sales figure (i.e., selling 20,000 copies of an album) or if the release recoups a certain specified percentage of an advance provided to the artist by the label (i.e., 75% of the preceding advance was recouped).

Once the “term” of an agreement is established, another important clause to decipher is the definition of what constitutes “delivery” of an “album” to satisfy an artist’s “recording commitment.”

Delivery Requirement – During each Contract Period, Label will cause the Artist to record and Artist will Deliver to Label Masters sufficient to constitute one (1) Album (the “Recording Commitment”). An “album” shall consist of approximately twelve (12) tracks with a total duration of approximately seventy five (75) minutes (the “Album”). In order for an Album to be “Delivered” under this Agreement, it must be contained in such format of which the Label advises the Artist, in the proper form for the production of the parts necessary for the manufacture of commercial Records, which shall be delivered to Label together with all materials, clearances, consents, approvals, licenses and permissions necessary to commercially release the applicable album. Each Album shall be subject to the Label’s approval as being technically and commercially satisfactory.

Further, unless Label otherwise expressly consents in writing, Artist will ensure that the Artist does not record Performances in fulfillment of the Recording Commitment that are: (1) not recorded in a recording studio (i.e., “In Concert” or “Live” performances); (2) instrumental Performances; (3) solely speech or spoken word; (4) not in the English language; (5) remixed or re-edited or mixes (e.g., extended mixes of an Album Master) or otherwise altered versions of Performances previously recorded; (6) based on an overall theme (e.g., a Christmas Album); or, (7) Performances of more than one Composition (e.g., a medley).

Under a recording agreement, the “delivery” of an album is an important point of contention between the label and artist. For instance, traditional language, such as in the clause above, requires that any album submitted to the record label must be both “technically” and “commercially” satisfactory to constitute a “delivered” album under an artist’s “album commitment.” An album is “technically” satisfactory when the master is technically well-made and able to be utilized to manufacture CDs, records, etc. This is fairly easy to satisfy, as any track that was recorded, mixed and mastered at a reputable recording studio or by a reputable professional, should suffice. Conversely, an album is only “commercially” satisfactory, if and only if, the label believes the album will sell. This means that the album is “satisfactory for commercial exploitation,” which is highly subjective. In negotiating this clause, an artist could try to limit the satisfaction of the “delivery” with an album that is “technically” satisfactory as opposed to one that is both “technically” and “commercially” satisfactory. This is especially important in emerging musical genres, such as electronic-dance music, where there are often quick and unpredictable listenership shifts whereby an artist or a type of musical genre which was once highly marketable is now no longer. If the label rejects an artist’s delivery of an album, it prevents any additional progress within the contract, such as the issuance of additional monetary advances. This situation may also arise where an artist is signed to a record label and then takes several months to finalize their album. If during this time period, the entire musical landscape shifts, the artist’s music may become outdated and not commercially satisfactory to the label, who feels they can now no longer sell this material.

In addition, the above clause defines one “album” as approximately twelve songs totaling seventy-five minutes; however, there are a variety of recordings that do not constitute a “track” sufficient to count toward an artist’s “album commitment” to the record label. For example, the language above states a “live” recorded performance does not constitute an acceptable track unless the record label permits it. Furthermore, a track that is solely instrumental or solely acapella will not count unless the label says so. Additionally, any foreign language tracks, remixes of original tracks or “theme” tracks, such as a Christmas or holiday album, will not count without approval from the label. An artist can always attempt to negotiate that a particular “live” version of a track counts toward the “album;” but, ultimately, the label may not agree or may only agree to allow this one particular track as opposed to removing the restriction entirely.

Another essential clause in a standard recording contract is the “advance” or “advance of recording funds” section. The negotiation of this paragraph has the potential to severely impact an artist’s career as this is the “money” the artist gets for signing the deal and are the funds the musician has available to actually record and finalize their album.

Advances/Recording Funds: Label will provide to Artist the following Recording Funds (inclusive of all producer advances and recording costs), which shall be recoupable from any and all royalties and any other agreements between the parties hereto. “Any other agreement,” in this paragraph, means any other agreement with Label relating to Artist’s Recordings or relating to Artist as a recording artist or as a producer of Recordings of Artist’s own performances.

(a) “Recording fund” advances for the Albums shall be subject to the following “minimums” and “maximums”:

(b) No respective recording fund shall exceed the “maximum funds” set forth in Paragraph(a). If the Artist fails to earn an amount which is the equivalent of one hundred (100%) percent of the proceeding “Recording Fund” advance as earned artist royalties in respect bearing units through normal retail channels in the United States of the Album, then the “Minimum” amount listed in Paragraph(a) shall be provided to Artist by Label. If the Artist earns an amount which is the equivalent of at least one hundred the proceeding “Recording Fund” advance as earned artist royalties in respect bearing units through normal retail channels in the United States of the Album, then the “Maximum” amount listed in Paragraph(a) shall be provided to Artist by Label.

(c) Label shall pay Artist one-half (1/2) of each Recording Fund advance listed in Paragraph(a) hereunder upon commencement of recording for each respective Album. The balance of each respective recording fund advance will be payable to Artist within thirty (30) days of the technically and commercially satisfactory delivery of each completed Album to Label.

As it is stated above, each album released by the label coincides with an additional “advance” of recording costs so that the artist may complete its album obligation to the label. Typically, most labels want approval over the recording budget; and, if any money remains from the recording funds after paying all the associated recording, mixing, editing and mastering costs, the artist gets it. If the musician requires additional funds to record and finalize the album, the artist must usually go into their own pocket to pay the difference. However, in select situations, the label may choose to pay the difference; and, in those instances, the label treats the additional payment as an additional recoupable advance. This situation could arise when there is no other way for the artist to obtain the funds to finish the album; and, the label would rather accept a finished album that costs a bit more than originally budgeted for than an unmarketable, unfinished album. The “minimum” amount listed above is known as the “floor.” As the above clause states, if an artist fails to fully recoup their entire prior advance from the label, they will only receive the “minimum” amount listed for their next album. Conversely, the “maximum” listed above is known as the “ceiling.” This is the highest amount that the label will provide to the artist for their next album no matter how good the prior albums sales were. As the proceeding clause states, if an artist does fully recoup their prior advance, they will receive the “maximum” amount listed for their next album.

In most instances, any advance provided by the label to an artist is fully recoupable from the royalties earned on the material. This means that after the label advances a specified amount to the artist, the label keeps any and all royalties earned by the artist for the recordings until the original amount is paid back. This is further exemplified as most clauses state that the amounts subject to recoupment by the label include “all amounts paid to you or on your behalf, or otherwise paid in connection with this agreement.” Thus, all the expenses the label pays including, to name a few, any
recording costs, music video production costs, studio session players and marketing and promotions for the album. They are generally all recouped prior to the artist receiving any additional monies. This is why the actual “minimums” and “maximum” are subject to extensive negotiations, since the amount the artist initially takes subsequently impacts what they will receive in the future, if anything.

The royalties earned by an artist under this agreement and in most standard ones are typically subject to cross-collateralization. This means that any monies advanced by the label “under this or any other agreement between the parties” shall be recouped from any and all streams of income that the label is entitled to. For instance, if the label has a publishing deal with the artist, the recording company could recoup the funds it advanced to create an album from the artist’s publishing monies. Similarly, if an ancillary income arrangement exists with the artist, the label could potentially recoup the funds it advanced to create the recorded music from the artist’s touring monies or from the artist’s merchandise sales, or any other income that is included in the agreement with the artist. Conversely, an agreement that is not cross-collateralized permits the label to only recoup the funds it advanced for the creation of recorded music from the funds earned from the sale of the music instead of the label recouping the funds of any potential stream of income the label is entitled to. Ideally, an artist should attempt to negotiate that the agreement not be cross-collateralized; but, this may be a hard bargaining point, as the label may insist on cross-collateralizing any income earned to reimburse itself for the costs it has already advanced to the talent.

In addition, it is a common industry practice that in most every recording deal that an advance is non-returnable. Therefore, there is no need for the artist to re-pay the money provided to the artist by the record label. This is true even if the artist ends up “flopping” and never recouping the original advance amount from the royalties it earns from the sale of its music.

These are just a few of the main points that need to be agreed upon between the parties. We will explore some additional clauses typically included in many standard recording agreements in our next installment.

This article is not intended as legal advice, as an attorney specializing in the field should be consulted. Some of the clauses have been condensed and/or edited for content purposes, so none of these clauses should be used verbatim nor do they act as any form of legal advice or counseling. We are also aware of the importance of streaming recordings; but, we will need to leave that for another day.

How Hits Made: Documenting the Quest For a Hit Song [Interview]

What goes into making a ‘hit song’? It really depends on who you ask; some members of the music industry will begin to talk about melodies, genres and repetition, while a cynic might simply point to financial and network advantages. But what about an artist or band?

Hit songs aren’t an everyday occurrence, despite however many times a radio station might play them in a given 24 hours. And while artists don’t always hit the studio in hopes of making a smash single but rather to get their thoughts and emotions out musically, not too many of them are going to shy away from the popularity and money that comes with this sort of release.

Aside from what we think of as a ‘hit song’, keep in mind that for most indie artists, that can simply mean a single that gains traction via a popular blog or playlist and leads to more opportunities. Chris Pizzolo and Sara Waber, the co-founders of Play Too Much – a site dedicated to curating unique experiences through features, podcasts,’original session series’, and events – decided to set out on a journey to document one band’s experience in releasing such a single.

They began documenting New York-based (and TuneCore Artists!) Great Caesar as they crafted their tune “Take Me To The River“, to be featured on an upcoming album, from conception to recording to release. The result is an excellent five-part podcast series called “How Hits Made” that follows the group’s trials and tribulations around the recording of their album Jackson’s Big Sky. Recommended for indie artists of any genre, the podcast does a great job of breaking down the creative process behind what so many go through.

We were able to interview Chris and Sara about the process of recording the podcast, what they learned during their time chronicling the release, and more:

1.) What was it about the subject band, Great Caesar, that caught your attention at first?

Sara: The opening monologue in Episode 1 of How Hits Made is a real depiction of the first time I saw Great Caesar. Chris had seen them perform stripped down so we were both in awe of their live full set. They had so much energy and passion behind every song. John Michael Parker is truly one of the best performers we’ve come across. I always say that he’s a great singer but he’s an even better storyteller because their music takes you a journey.

Chris: There was something about them that really moved me. I think it was the collaborative pool of talent, and charm behind the lyrics that got me excited about them. I kept them on my radar for a while before approaching them about the series.

2.) Did you sense a serious energy shift at a particular point during your documentation of/relationship with the band?

Sara: Well there is a huge band dynamic shift at the end of episode one. I don’t want to give away too much but I think when we first approached the band they were humbled by us even wanting to document them. I think they felt like it would just be a fun experience. But when their band dynamics changed and things got really emotional and serious for them, I think they then realized that all of that would be on display in this podcast. I admire them for being as honest and straightforward as they were throughout the entire production. But that was our main goal – to portray an honest depiction of a struggling band in NYC and Great Caesar took that to heart.

Chris: Totally, and I think you can hear it in the first two episodes in particular. There’s a real sense of urgency, and a real sense of purpose from the band, and I think at the end of episode 1 the shift became a lot more palpable.

3.) A publicist points out in Ep. 4 the trouble of going into the studio with a hit song in mind. Did this ever resonate during the writing/recording of “Take Me To the River”?

Chris: I think that resonated more after the recording. I think the band, and a lot of bands for that matter, really get caught up in trying to move as fast as they can that it’s hard to really assess in real-time. I agree with Nancy Lu’s perspective, and I think that the band truly believed that “Take Me To The River” was going to be a song that propelled them to another level.

Sara: Great Caesar needed to go into writing and recording with the intent to create a hit for the podcast’s purpose but also for themselves. Their success has plateaued and  knew they needed something different – a hit to propel their band to the next level. I think a lot of artists believe there’s a formula for earworms and catchy radio tracks so it’s easy to go into a studio or writing session and think that a hit song will come out of it. The pressure of doing so though it what gets in the way and could stifle that creativity.

4.) How do you feel this objective influenced the recording of “Jackson’s Big Sky” overall? Or was it just another consideration from an evolving band?

Sara: When we first started production, the song that came out of the show wasn’t suppose to land on their album. However, the band really fell in love with “Take Me To The River”  and so it made the cut for their album. That was a huge surprise to us and we were thrilled.  I don’t think How Hits Made directly influenced the album but I do think the themes of the show – wanting to take your band to the next level, figuring out how to make music a career, etc – were all aspects that inspired this album. I think they wanted to create music that could be enjoyed by a wider audience, music that resonated with fans, shorter songs that can translate to radio, etc.  

Chris: Well, I think the collection of songs on Jackson’s Big Sky was an honest and real reflection of the band at that time. I might be biased but I like to think that this objective might have ignited the pace at which they hit the studio and released the EP.  

5.) Explain what you consider to be some of the biggest struggles you witnessed during your time documenting this all. Similarly, what kind of positive realizations or opportunities arose?

Chris: I think Great Caesar was the perfect subject for the first series of this show. Their struggles were real. Dealing with major personnel issues, assessing how far you can push a creative career and trying to forecast how long you have to do that isn’t just a struggle that a musician has to deal with, it’s a struggle that most young entrepreneurs have.

I think the story of Great Caesar isn’t the story of a band that continues to struggle, but it’s more of a story about a collective of people who are using their unique resources and identities to create something larger than themselves.

6.) In your opinion, what can other indie artists writing with the ‘hit song’ in mind learn from Great Caesar’s experiences in 2016?

Sara: The guys in band say that having a band is like running a small business, if you want to make it a career you have to work at everyday like a 9-5 and not everyone has that privilege, so you need to prioritize playing and practicing after work or before class or in the morning before your significant other wakes up.

Chris: Personally I think the biggest takeaway from Great Caesar’s story is that you can’t step up to the plate swinging for the fences. You have to be realistic, and be the best you can be at what you do. If the negatives outweigh the positives, then you need to reassess why you do what you do.

7.) As curators of a music site like Play Too Much, what was the most profound lesson or realization you shared during this production, whether it’s in terms of the industry, songwriting or something else?

Sara: Making it in music is not easy. There is so many different formulas from pure luck to pure talent, to the people you work with to the studio you record at, to how you run your social media to how you perform live, etc. There’s endless opinions and that’s what I find most fascinating. Listening to different perspectives and being in awe that no one perspective is right or wrong.

Chris: The most profound lesson, and it’s probably an obvious one is that there isn’t a true formula for success. There are certain boxes you must tick in order to make progress, but to really be successful through art, it takes something much more spiritually ethereal.

8.) At the end of the day, without spoilers, how do you feel the documentation of this process influenced Great Caesar’s objectives or goals moving forward?

Sara: I definitely feel like every episode of How Hits Made was a mirror that was put in front of the band to make them take a good long look at themselves. That can’t be easy, especially if you’re already hard on yourselves. But ultimately I think that this series started out as an ode from two fans to a band that could have felt like their music didn’t mean anything to anyone and that the love this show received is a symbol that there’s a lot of people out there who believe in them and their music.

Chris: Imagine, someone put a spotlight on your life for a year analyzing the ins and outs of how you work – then crafted a compact, accessible story about it. That’s got to be incredibly insightful, no matter what your profession is. I think Great Caesar is only going to grow as they continue to create music together.

From Chris & Sara:

We are so grateful for everyone that has listened, subscribed and shared this podcast and are grateful for all of the musicians out there that continue to create and make art every day. This podcast was intended to be a testament to all of the truly wonderful people who create art. This podcast would not have been possible without Great Caesar, Billy Donahoe, Refuge Recording, and everyone who supported. Thank you.

Performing In a New City? Tips For the Traveling Indie Musician

[Editors NoteThis blog post was written by Michelle Aguilar, a writer and digital artist based in Los Angeles.]

 

When I’m not studying, freaking out during mid-terms or in the mountains, there’s a high chance that I’m at a concert seeing/dancing to one of my favorite musicians or serendipitously coming across a fascinating artist. After getting to know several indie artists and hearing their stories, I thought it’d be a great idea to write an article specifically aimed for the traveling or touring musician…and assuming that you’re an artist since you’re reading this: Hello! I hope you find the following mini-guide for the next journey.

1. Health

But First: Your Health

I never thought I’d be the one saying this– it’s what my mother would say to me each time I’d skip out on doctor appointments—but “your health comes first.” A few things you can do to keep your health on check:

  • Party in moderation. Although there’s much to celebrate about, touring is not a vacation. You know yourself best so whatever that means to you, do it. Also, be sure to sleep as much as you can, your brain, body and everyone else will thank you!
  • Eat right. This may be difficult, especially when you’re on the road. Great news is that you can always buy a cheap cooler (use freezy- paks not ice) and fill it in with fruits, nuts, veggies and other healthy snacks. Buy lunch meat and other food from a near-by market.
  • Stay sanitized. Bring hand sanitizer and wipes and use them. Wipe door knobs, shower handles and other objects if you’re staying at a motel. The constant moving between different places, restaurants and meet-and-greets are easy ways to get sick.

2. Planning

Always Plan for Worst Case Scenario

They say “hope for the best and expect the worst”, you say “%$!*, we should have done that.” Don’t worry, it happens to all of us, but when it comes to traveling to play gigs, the consequences are no joke. A few things you can do to prepare:

  • Try to have extras of everything: cellphones, laptop, amplifiers, guitars, mic’s, cables, xlr’s, stands, extension cords, batteries, picks, stings, straps, and snare drums.
  • Know what’s around the venue, specifically hotels and their availability. Even if you already have a place to lodge, it’s always good to have alternative options at hand.
  • If you’re traveling by land, make sure that your vehicle is thoroughly checked and cleared of any issues.

3. Booking

Avoid Over-Booking

It can be tempting to get a little too adventurous or fill your schedule up for x needs..but if you stretch yourself too much, it may have a negative effect on your overall performance and motivation.

  • Know yourself. How many hours of sleep do you need? Do you get tired easily or are you naturally on-the-go? Keep all of these in mind to give yourself space to recharge and perform your best.
  • Read up online forums specifically for indie artists as yourself that may have a venue database. A great platform is Indie On the Move. This can help you sort out venues and efficiently narrow down your options to avoid over-booking.

4. Promotion

Be Ahead of the Game With Your Promo

With so many business elements becoming more and more digitalized, it’s easy to get comfortable with social media and be satisfied with simply posting your events. However, we must not forget the fundamentals! Also, if you do use Facebook, do more than just post:

  • Send a press release about your tour to the local radio stations, newspapers, and weeklies at least 6 weeks before your appearance.
  • Build relationships with established bands in the city you’ll be playing at. Start by befriending them on social media and reach out. You may even land another gig with them that same weekend or in the near future. Swap offers such as opening for each other in each other’s towns.
  • Use Facebook Ads effectively. Target these adds for people living in or around the zip codes for the venues you’re going to perform at. You can even limit them to people who are interested in your genre.

5. Networking

Stay a While

Regardless of where you are in your music career, there is always room for an after-show meet and greet with those that supported your performance. After all, being an artist is never a one-way street. You are here because of your hard work and you are also here because of your fans’ dedication and appreciation towards your music.

  • Depending on the venue that you’re in, try to squeeze in at least 20 minutes of meet and greet time. This shows you appreciate you fans and it will most likely increases fan loyalty. Also, you never know what you can learn by meeting a fan; they may be in the industry and have some advice, they may be that drummer you’ve been looking to fill in—you never know!
  • Hang out near your (if you have one) merchandise booth to show appreciation to those buying more than just the concert tickets.
  • Be initiative and take pics/videos with your fans, upload them on your social media. Humility stands out.

I hope these tips have been helpful in preparing you for your next show. Of course there are probably a lot more other things to keep in mind when preparing to perform in a new city, so I definitely encourage you to primarily rely on your own experience as well as consult with management or fellow musicians.

Do you have any other tips or suggestions you’d like to share? What is something you’ve learned about traveling as an artist? Please, feel free to let us know in the comments.