Category Archives: Tips

Music Sampling: Breaking Down the Basics

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

With advancing technology and the development of new digital musical techniques, it has become even easier for an artist to “sample” and integrate another’s finished recording or sound bite into a new, altered and derivate work created by a new artist.

In today’s evolving marketplace, commercial DJs such as Girl Talk and many of today’s top hip hop, dance and pop music producers are all mixing and weaving together different “samples” (a portion of another’s recording) into their new “music.”  With this practice becoming even more prevalent, a proper understanding of what sampling is and how to obtain proper clearance to legally utilize the sample becomes an essential factor in a song’s potential profitability as well as marketability.

“Sampling” is best described as reusing a specific portion of another’s sound recording. The amount used varies; from as little as merely integrating another’s unique drum combinations or guitar rift into a song, to utilizing the entire chorus or a complete verse from a song.  This action, in simplest terms, can be viewed as merely “copying” and “pasting” a portion of another’s existing sound recording into your new work.

Unlicensed instances of this practice can subject a creator to potential liability for copyright infringement; however, there are ways to avoid potential liability and obtain proper permission to utilize a “sample” of another’s work.

In order to properly and legally “sample” another musician’s work in an artist’s track, the sampling artist must obtain a “sample clearance” from the appropriate owner(s) of the original recording.  Since there are two copyrights in every song — the sound recording (typically administered by a record label, e.g., Interscope Records) and the underlying musical composition (typically administered by a publishing company, e.g., Sony/ATV) — a party must obtain permission from both copyright owners and enter into a licensing agreement with each owner in order to legitimately utilize a “sample.”

There may be situations where a use is determined to be “de minimis” and too small to require licensing; but, that is a complicated situation which requires serious analysis.

Generally, in order to ascertain who the proper owners of each respective copyright are, you can start by accessing and searching through the U.S. performing rights society databases (i.e. ASCAP or BMI).  These databases generally list all the relevant writers, producers and appropriate publisher information for a particular track.  Typically, there is also direct contact information listed in the database; and if not, it is advisable to look for a department that handles “licensing” or “sample” and/or “clearance” at the specific company as those are the individuals who generally handle third-party licensing of the finished recordings.

Once you determine the appropriate licensor contacts, an individual should request a “sampling” license.  This licensee request should generally include:

  • How long the sample is (minutes? seconds?),
  • What part of the song you are planning to use the sample (i.e., the whole chorus, a drum loop, etc.),
  • How you are planning to use the sample (solely replacing a chorus, distorted in the background, continuously looped, etc.), the number of units you plan to create or distribute,
  • What types of media you will use (CD, ringtones, streaming, etc.).

Some licensors may also require you to provide an actual copy of the new recording for the licensors to listen to prior to granting any license.

A typical sample license may include an up-front license fee as well as a royalty on each recording sold and/or may include an actual ownership interest in the new recording for the original artist, especially when a substantial portion of the original track is utilized or when the artist is extremely well-known.

Sometimes deals are made on a “flat-fee” buy-out basis.  There are a variety of factors that may determine a licensing fee, including the success of the original song, the success and notoriety of the original artist, the success and notoriety of the sampling artist, the length of the sample, how it will be distributed and how the sample will be used in the new recording.

Generally, the more famous the original track is and the longer the sample used is, the larger the license fee may be. Thus, each artist’s bargaining power comes into play because the alternative (not licensing the “sample”) could end up in litigation with more significant costs, especially if the sampled song ends up being a commercial success.  Sometimes, they will even request an ownership interest in publishing on the new composition.

Alternatively, since a copyright infringement claim is based on substantial similarity and access, an artist can attempt to independently create a desired recording and utilize this new recording for its own track.  Since the artist is not technically “sampling” the exact existing sound recording, the subsequent similar track might not subject the sampling artist to any liability for copyright infringement of the sound recording.

The policy behind this is that if an individual creates his own recording, even if it sounds identical to the untrained ear, there will still inherently be enough variation that this subsequent recording should not be considered an infringement. Thus, the sampling artist would then only need to obtain permission from the publisher who owns the underlying musical composition.  There, no permission from the record label who owns the sound recording would be needed.

However, there is always potential for a lawsuit, as a long-time British colleague once said, “where there’s a hit, there’s a writ (lawsuit).”


This article is not intended as legal advice, as an attorney specializing in the field should be consulted.

A Musician’s Basic Guide to Business Entities and Taxes

[Editors Note: This guide is written by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq., a New York City-based entertainment and media lawyer, (therefore this article does pertain to New York State law). Read his last equally helpful piece on the TuneCore Blog about songwriter split sheets!]

As an individual embarks on their chosen journey, a career in music and in the music business, it is essential for them to have a basic understanding of the complexities and formalities associated with operating a legitimate business. You should treat your “musical career” as a full-time occupation in order to prosper and succeed on this journey.

jayz youtube

As Jay Z said “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” and he literally meant it. In fact, in order to better protect their personal assets, (i.e. Shawn Carter’s personal assets – cars, houses, stocks, bonds, securities, bank accounts, etc.), Jay Z and many other musical acts typically create a business entity, such as a corporation or limited liability company (LLC). These limited liability entities shield the owners from personal liability for any claims arising from any contracts or other arrangements entered into on behalf of the individual through its corporate or LLC entity.

Generally, these individual’s business entities are called a “loan-out company” (i.e., Jay Z, Inc., a corporate entity that has rights to the performer). These loan-out companies typically enter into a contract with a third-party as part of a loan-out agreement. Ultimately, the corporate entity, not the members of it, is liable for any debts or contractual obligations of the entity and creditors generally cannot recover against each individual’s personal assets. This protects a person’s assets from judgments or outstanding debts.

For example, this is beneficial if you are a member of a four-person musical group and during your live performance, a member spills a drink on the club’s soundboard and destroys it. If the live performance agreement at the venue is solely entered into with the band’s loan-out company (which it should be), the loan-out company will be the only party contractually responsible for the damaged property and each member will not be personally liable for the damage. The venue’s only recourse is to go after the corporate entity (which may not have assets) and, not each individual band member, for payment to fix or replace the broken equipment.

While shielding an individual from personal liability is one of the most important advantages of creating a corporate entity, there are also several other important benefits for an artist’s career. One is that having a separate corporate entity permits the musician to open a corporate bank account in an assumed name. This also facilitates easier tracking of your expenses and permits the deduction, or “writing off”, of relevant properly documented business expenses.

In order to determine a corporate entity’s eligibility for these deductions and not have the Internal Revenue Services (I.R.S.) categorize your musical career as “a hobby” (which disallows the deducting of your losses), the entity must substantiate that they are actually carrying on the business activity (music career) for profit or to attempt a profit. Since most artists do not typically make a profit and end up incurring losses for great spans of time, they may be permitted to deduct these documented losses on their tax returns.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of factors that the I.R.S. may consider in determining whether or not you are a “for-profit” business and thus eligible for appropriate tax deductions. These include:

  • whether you carry on the activity in a business-like manner,
  • an examination of the time and effort you put into the activity indicating an intent to make it profitable,
  • whether you depend on income from the activity for your sole livelihood,
  • whether your losses are due to circumstances beyond your control,
  • whether you changed any of your methods of operation in an attempt to improve profitability,
  • whether you were successful in making a profit in similar activities in the past,
  • whether the business activity actually makes a profit in some years and the amount of profit that it makes.

There also seems to be a three out of five year guideline, i.e., a profit in two out of five years helps justify that the entertainment venture is not a hobby.

savings, finances, economy and home concept - close up of man with calculator counting money and making notes at home

An accountant or tax professional should be consulted for a more in-depth analysis of potential tax deductions; however, some typical ones for a musician include:

  • equipment,
  • instruments,
  • promotional materials (e.g., CDs, stickers, flyers),
  • consumable supplies (picks, strings, drum sticks, etc),
  • website and graphic design, professional expenses (i.e., attorney, accountant, business manager),
  • copyrights and trademarks,
  • travel and meal expenses (hotel, airfare, on-site travel, fuel costs),
  • rental costs (equipment, car, sound),
  • any related depreciation of assets (guitars, amps, recording equipment).

It is also important to organize and document these expense records in case the tax authorities are interested in a more detailed examination of them. Keeping copies of receipts and utilizing a separate credit/debit card solely for entertainment related expenses makes it easier to target the deposits and credits to the corporate account.

Another benefit is that a corporate entity typically is governed by a written contract (an operating agreement for an LLC or a shareholder agreement for a Corporation) that outlines how the entity will operate. This includes an outline of the split of any profits and losses among owners.

Also, it specifies how any management decisions shall be addressed and how additional owners and members can be added (or removed) to an entity. These companies also provide easy management over any artist owned intellectual property (i.e. sound recordings, audio-visual works, photographs, logos) for licensing and distribution purposes as well as any tangible property (e.g., studio recording equipment, instruments, mixers).

Without these outlined procedures, it may be very difficult to make certain career decisions, especially when more than one individual may be involved in these important career choices.

While these business entities provide numerous benefits to its owners, there are potential ways a third-party can “pierce the corporate veil.” That is an attempt to attach an individual’s personal assets and disregard an existing corporate entity’s protection of its owners. Thus, it is essential that the company follows any and all statutory procedures and guidelines, which are different in each state.

It is vital that the entity is utilized for a proper purpose and not just merely as a shield from personal liability. Some of these corporate formalities include the preparation of annual corporate minutes to ensure the corporation is a real functioning entity. Also, careful use of business bank accounts as well as their separation from personal accounts are crucial formalities to follow.

Some labels may even require the creation of a corporate entity to permit accounting and payment by utilizing the entity’s Tax-ID/EIN number as opposed to paying an individual personally. An E.I.N. is an employer identification number and is analogous to the company’s social security number.

A final note, every individual must file its own personal federal as well as, possibly, state tax returns for the state they live in; however, an entertainer may have to deal with separate personal state tax issues in several states that they earn income from. Again, please consult an accountant or tax representative regarding the appropriate filings.

This article is not intended as legal advice, as an attorney and/or an accountant specializing in the field should be consulted.

UK Artists: 4 Tips For Getting Your Music Heard

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog, written by Louise Dodgson, Editor at The Unsigned Guide, an online music industry directory. Since 2003 The Unsigned Guide has been used by emerging bands, artists, producers and music managers to search over 8,500 UK music contacts across 50 sectors of the industry.]

So, you’ve recorded some great tracks and now it’s time to share them with the world, including the music industry. Check out the Unsigned Guide’s top four tips to start spreading the word and get your music discovered.

Get some gigs

There’s no better way to introduce your new music than by playing live. Contact local gig venues and promoters to book some shows, and once you feel you’ve made an impact in your local scene, spread your wings further afield to another UK city or town.

Getting slots at festivals is another good way to play your music to a crowd of potential new fans. Again, you can check out local opportunities to play festivals but there are also plenty of more established UK music festivals that accept applications from emerging bands and artists. Why not give it a shot?

Send your music to blogs, radio, and press

Getting airplay on radio for your new single, reviews on influential music blogs or in local press and magazines is a huge step in getting your music out to a new wave of listeners.

Starting local is the key. Contact local radio stations who are keen to push bands and artists from the area. BBC Introducing is also a fantastic way for UK bands and artists to get national radio airplay so make sure you upload your track to them.

In terms of blogs and magazines, it’s unlikely you’ll get coverage from the likes of NME and Clash straight off the bat. Focus on creating a buzz amongst smaller, regional music blogs and magazines. Once they are championing your music, it’s time to contact the big guns who will pay far more attention if you already have lots of favourable press and reviews to share with them.

Connect with fans digitally

Every band and artist should avidly work to grow their fanbase. There are a few fundamental things you should have in place to help enable this to happen. An up to date website for your band is somewhere you can direct people to. Social media profiles such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter are also a wonderful way to engage with your existing fans, plus allow your personality and music to shine and hopefully win over some new fans.

Creating an email mailing list is essential for any band. With interaction on social media being so fleeting – if you’re not online when something is posted it can easily be missed – regular emails to your mailing list allow you to keep in direct touch with personal updates. Whenever you meet new fans at gigs or festivals, make sure you jot down their email address and add them to your mailing list so it continues to expand.

Get in touch with the music industry

Yes, it’s time to knock on music industry doors with your new music and there are a number of specialist contacts that will be able to take your music to the next level. Working with a record label will allow you to release your music with financial support, plus their expertise in marketing and the industry.

Music publishers and sync agencies can help get your music featured on TV programmes, adverts, films and games; another great way to get your music to fresh ears. Digital distributors will make your new single, EP or album available across digital music stores and streaming services such as iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Apple Music.

To get in touch with reputable music industry folks in these areas, you can firstly start by doing research on the web. Also ask around other bands you know or your own existing music contacts to be pointed in the direction of recommended music industry professionals who can help you out.

Alternatively, The Unsigned Guide online music industry directory is a great starting point and contains contact details, all in one easily searchable database, for over 8,500 UK music contacts, businesses and organisations that work with emerging bands and musicians to help further their music careers.


To save 30% on an annual subscription to The Unsigned Guide music industry directory, use discount code TUG30S at checkout. (£20.99 instead of RRP £29.99)

Untitled-1Since 2003 The Unsigned Guide has been used by emerging bands, artists, producers and music managers to search over 8,500 UK music contacts across 50 sectors of the industry.

 

Two Monitoring Tips For Mixing in the Home Studio

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written exclusively for us by Scott Wiggins, founder of The Recording Solution, a website dedicated to helping producers, engineers and artists make better music from their home studios.]

I’m sure you’ve heard or read in audio forums, or books from professional engineers that you need the BEST monitoring or listening environment possible when mixing your music. You may think you need the best monitors, the best converters, or the best acoustically built room.

Although I agree with needing a good listening environment, I don’t agree that you need the “best” gear to pump out good mixes. The “best”, most times, means expensive. For most home studio owners, we simply don’t have the budget to buy the best gear available. This high-end gear would definitely help, but it’s not the end all be all.

Most of us home studio owners are not in the ideal mixing environments. You probably are in a spare bedroom, a garage, a basement, or whatever space is available. These rooms were typically not built with the idea of recording and mixing music in mind. That’s ok!

If you can just get some decent affordable gear and some strategically placed acoustic treatment, you will be on your way to a great mix. I’ve been mixing on KRK Rocket 5 monitors for years, and have happy paying clients!

I also have some DIY acoustic treatment strategically placed in my listening room. I could go into acoustic treatment and where to put it, but that’s a whole other article. Today I want to focus on two simple hacks for monitoring in your home studio.

1. Turn your mix WAY down

First off, you should not be mixing at super loud volumes. We, as humans, perceive louder as better. Don’t trick yourself, or I should say, don’t trick your ears. You should be monitoring at a level where you could still have a conversation with someone and not have to turn the mix down or raise your voice to be heard.

The problem with loud monitoring is you may think the mix is balanced, but your ears are just adjusting to the volume, and long story short, fooling you.

This low volume hack gives you a better perspective of balance between the instruments in the track.

For example, when I’m nearing the end of a mix, I turn the volume WAAAAY down and listen to how the vocal and snare are sitting with each other. I tend to like a loud snare, and this low volume lets me know if I’ve set it too loud compared to the vocal. This super low volume also helps tame the weird room reflections and resonating frequencies we all have in our not so perfect mixing spaces.

Another tip when I’m nearing the end of my mix is to listen to the mix as a whole . I will listen to the song from start to finish at this low volume, and take mental notes (or written), of the balance between everything. You then can go and turn things up or down where needed. We are essentially “balance engineers”. It’s our job to make the tracks sit well with each other.

Don’t stop the mix, listen to it in its entirety so you get a better perspective of the balance of the whole song. Poor mixing decisions tend to come when we are too laser focussed on one tiny part of the song, that we lose perspective of the whole picture. Act like you’re a casual listener just enjoying a song. Then go back and fix the things that stick out.

2. Listen on a different set of speakers or headphones

I monitor on my KRK Rocket 5s, but then I will switch to my headphones. Don’t get caught up in what type of speaker or headphones you switch to, the point is to “wake your ears up”. Just pick something new to listen on even if it’s a crappy little mid range mono speaker. Don’t ask me what the best crappy speaker to buy is.

When listening to the same speakers for a long time, our ears adapt and start getting used to the problems that may be occurring in the mix.

For example, your ears may get used to way too much bass or low-end in your mix, and you will perceive this as OK. Switching to a new listening environment will wake up your ears and you can instantly hear things that are out-of-place. You can also bring in your favorite professional mixes and reference how they are responding on your monitors and your headphones. Take notes and adjust your mix.

I tend to set my reverbs and delays too loud on my KRKs. When I switch to my headphones, I immediately notice this and adjust. Then when you switch back to your first monitors your ears wake up again. Just periodically switch to something new, and this can be a very useful technique to help you make accurate mixing decisions.

So to recap:

  1. Mix at low volumes
  2. Reference your mix on different monitors or headphones

These are two very simple hacks that will give you better perspective and help you make better, more accurate mixing decisions. Another hack that took my mixes to the next level was learning how to mix music in mono.  I hope this helps you in the future.

Just keep mixing!

iTunes Holiday 2015 Delays & Closures – Plan Ahead!

You read that right, folks! We’re already approaching the holiday season, and once again we’re here to remind you that it’s imperative to be prepared if you’re planning on distributing music during November and December. Like many of us, our pals at iTunes and other digital store partners take time off during the holiday, resulting in potential delays.

See below for some guidelines that’ll ensure you have a successful release just in time for the holidays:

  • In order for content to become available in iTunes and other stores between Friday, November 20th and Friday, December 4th you must upload and pay for distribution in TuneCore no later than Tuesday, November 10th.
  • In order for content to become available in iTunes and other stores between Friday, December 18 and Friday, January 1st you must upload and pay for distribution in TuneCore no later than Tuesday, December 8th.
  • In order for content to become available in iTunes and other stores between Monday, January 4th and Friday, January 8th you must upload and pay for distribution in TuneCore no later than Tuesday, December 15th.

In order to make sure that you don’t miss the release date for your song or album, plan ahead and distribute your new music as soon as you can to avoid getting caught in holiday closings/delays. The earlier you get your new music on iTunes and other stores, the more time your fans will have to buy it!

If you’re not ready to release that album just yet, we always recommend releasing a single early to garner some excitement!

If you are planning on submitting your new release via the TuneCore Feature Submissions Page:

  • For the week of November 27th, submit by 3PM ET November 3rd.
  • For the week of December 3rd, submit by 6PM ET Novermber 5th.

Regardless of how your fans celebrate the holidays, give them the chance to use your music as a soundtrack – distribute your holiday music today!

Making That First Sale: 5 TuneCore Artists Sound Off

By Dwight Brown & Kevin Cornell

Jay Z, The Civil Wars, Nine Inch Nails, Ed Sheeran, Drake, Sara Bareilles, La Santana Cecilia, Joan Jett, Hunter Hayes, Boyce Avenue… What do they all have in common, besides having had their music distributed by TuneCore at some point?  They all had to sell their first single or album to start their recording careers.

Just like these successful musicians, you have to get started somehow. And when you finally make that first-sale, you’ll never forget it.

These 5 TuneCore Artists recently talked about their “First Time.” Check it out:

“I sent out emails to my fans letting them know if they set up a PayPal account and didn’t like my song, I would refund ‘em a dollar or $8.99 plus taxes, all to make my fans happy. I haven’t had to refund a song yet.”
KoBoogie (Hip Hop)

“I was a senior in high school and I had just released my first single. I remember anxiously checking my TuneCore account to see how many songs I had sold. When the report came in, I was blown away by the amount of support the community had shown.”
Dylan Russell (Country)

“I put my song “Dreamin” on iTunes. I was so excited, I told everyone at work. A sweet lady bought it. So exciting!”
John Scott (Singer/Songwriter)

“My first album sale made me feel like I was Michael Jackson… I ain’t a gospel artist, but when I saw that sale I was singing ‘Hallelujah, thank you Jesus & praise the Lord.’ It’s a good feeling when the time you put into an album gets rewarded with a sale.”
Great Grand Daddy (Hip Hop)

“Shortly after I began distributing music via TuneCore, I began performing at concerts, doing small tours, etc. After I finished my very first show, I was asked about my music, and it felt good to have people go in iTunes and have access to my records.”
Lmntry (Hip Hop)

When you sell your first single, EP or album it’ll be a euphoric moment you’ll never forget.

Making that first sale? You will get there. And if you remember that ‘first sale feeling’, whenever it was, share ’em with us below in the comments – don’t be shy!