The Business of Making a Record (Part II)

[Editors Note: This is the second in a three-part series of guest articles from Coury Palermo. Over the next few months, he’ll break down what it means to grind it out and write, record, release and promote a DIY album early in your musical career. Coury is a songwriter, producer and musician who is currently one-half of duo love+war.]


Read “The Business of Making a Record (Part I)” here.

It’s time. The most exciting part of the process is here. You’re recording the material you’ve written or a collection of songs you feel best articulates where you are as a musician. You’ve spent countless hours arranging, tweaking, and rehearsing the material, and now you’re ready – or are you?

I will never forget my first real experience in the studio. I spent years working in the industry and trying to stumble upon another opportunity that would find me behind the glass – sketching out the ideas that would become my first “Masterpiece.” With each recording experience that followed, those delusions of grandeur never disappeared.

As artists, if we aren’t aiming for greatness, what’s the point? Many musicians think “completed material” equals good material – not necessarily. I’ve long believed that a good song is truly a good song if it stands on it’s own; if, when the bells and whistles are stripped away, the melody and lyric lose none of their magic.

Always go for great. If the songs are “there,” you’ve jumped the first hurdle as you begin the sometimes arduous, but always rewarding, journey of making a record.

Don’t forgo the magic to fit into the box.

There was once an industry standard for making a record – or more accurately “a folklore” attached to the process. As an independent, you would find a producer, pick a studio, and usually work with the engineer said studio provided. Though this practice still exists in some instances, the last ten or so years have brought about a very different school of thought.

We are no longer tethered to the “way it has to be done.” One of my favorite albums of the past decade, In The Early Morning, is a testament to the less conventional rulebook of recording.

Singer-Songwriter James Vincent McMorrow recorded his debut in a small house off the Irish coast – completely alone. No engineer – no producer – no carefully sound-proofed vocal booth – just a microphone and a hand full of instruments.

This “no-frills” approach to recording has been used to varying degrees of success on albums by artist such as Bon Iver, Eurythmics, Bruce Springsteen, and Peter Gabriel just to name a few. Some of the most successful indie acts in recent years created most, if not all, of their widely blogged about tracks in the comfort of their bedroom.

I’ve recorded everywhere from famed Nashville favorite Oceanway Studios to the top floor of an abandoned law office in Lincoln, Nebraska. Don’t limit your excitement or creativity to the space. Though recording in a “major studio” was an experience I will never forget, it is not one of the favorite projects I’ve been a part of. Not because of the space, Oceanway is a beautiful recording facility, but because of the environment the space created.

I remember being extremely stressed about budgets and time restraints while recording the album. This is never the recipe for success and can lead to a piece of work that is never fully realized.

Personally, I respond best to intimate spaces when recording. You don’t have to record on a SSL console to produce a great album. You DO, however, need to align yourself with capable collaborators that understand your vision and believe in you as an artist.

Is this a safe place?

The recording studio can be one of the most intimidating spaces in the world. Make sure it’s a safe space to create. From the equipment to the engineers and producers at the helm of your creation, this environment will determine how and what you create. Choosing your team is one of the most important steps in the record making process.

In the event an elaborate, fully produced record seems overwhelming or is not in the current cards – be creative. Compile your three best songs and strip them down. If the “bones” are great, you may find the extra layers unnecessary. Use this recording as product or a tool to fund your fully realized creation. There is no end to the ways in which you can achieve your project goals – it simply takes a step out of the box.

Who’s in charge?

Producers are a key element for any project. They help in wide array of areas. From honing each song to picking the right engineer, producers are involved in almost every aspect of making a record. I learned very early on that finding a collaborative “partner” is much more important than securing a producer with a long list of production credits. Don’t let the insecurities of “this is my first time” stop you from going after your dream collaborator – they are an essential part of the equation.

A few years back, the band I was in began throwing around ideas for our first full-length album. We had recorded an EP the year before, and our manager gave us the simple task of putting together a list of producers we would like to work with on the new project.

Being the dreamer that I am, I listed Pierre Marchand of Sarah Mclachlan fame as my number one pick. There was a part of me that wrote his name with a “you asked for it” smirk; never believing she would approach one of my heroes. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Montreal to meet Mr. Marchand and have what is still one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.

Don’t short change yourself with limitations. The greatest adventures I’ve had in this business have come from believing in possibility. Never be afraid to go after what you believe will make your creation it’s best. The road is long, my friends, but the end result is priceless.


In my final piece of this series, I’ll talk about what you can do after the songs have been recorded, the mix is complete and your masters are “in the can”. This is where the real work begins. Until next time!


love+war is the brain-child of writer-producer-guitarist team Coury Palermo & Ron Robinson. The two began working together in the fall of 2014 with no other intention but writing material for possible pitches in TV/Film. Once the sessions began, the two realized the collaboration was destined for much more than their original hopes for commercial sync opportunities.

Grounded in the traditions of R&B, pop, and minimalistic electronica, love+war turns the ear with their infectious blend of singer-songwriter soul. Check out their recent video for their Eurythmics cover of “Missionary Man”!

"Beats For Sale." Now What? – A Look At Some of the Legal Issues

[Editors Note: This 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.]

The rapid rise of the internet and the ease of world-wide instant peer-to-peer communications have provided many upcoming artists with new opportunities to monetize their unreleased, original works. The use of social media and the internet has made it possible for aspiring music producers, vocalists and musicians to instantly spread their music and attempt to make their own mark on the music industry. This pursuit has led to a large number of artists, in particular many music producers, advertising and promoting their “beats for sale.”

This is to earn an immediate profit on their unreleased musical works. While this may seem to be a straight-forward transaction, where a musician pays a specified fee to purchase a “beat” or instrumental from a producer; there are many legal issues that arise. These issues must be taken into account to ensure this transaction is done properly and that all parties involved are properly compensated at that instant as well as in the future.

There are several considerations a purchaser must take into account when purchasing an instrumental track or “beat” from another. The first consideration is whether the instrumental track is being leased or sold. Also, whether the license (right to use the track) is an exclusive or non-exclusive “deal.” Typically, when a creator “leases” a beat to another, this arrangement provides the leasor (party leasing the instrumental) with the right to utilize the instrumental and to reproduce, sell or otherwise utilize the finished works containing the beat for a specified period of time.

However, this transaction does not generally give the leasor the exclusive and indefinite right to utilize the beat. The creator is usually still able to re-sell the same instrumental to others. The leasor may also have to enter into an additional lease with the creator after the expiration of a specific time frame if they wish to continue utilizing and exploiting the recording that contains this leased beat.

When negotiating an appropriate license fee for this particular option, is important to discuss and agree on how the leasor plans to utilize the beat. This includes how many copies of the finished work and in what mediums (i.e. CDs, downloads, streaming) it will be used. Also relevant is the territory or area the finished work can be sold in (i.e., North America, Europe, “the universe”) and whether it can only be used for a particular use (i.e. for demo use only, for iTunes sale only, free on a mixtape, or Sending Song in an Email).

Conversely, a creator can instead assign all of the creator’s rights in the work to the purchaser by selling the instrumental and the creator’s exclusive rights associated with the track. Generally, the cost to lease a beat is less than the cost to purchase the beat, as the creator is able to monetize the same work several times when they lease the beat rather than sell it. The fee for the beat can range from $5 to $10 all the way up to several thousand dollars, depending on the reputation of the producer and the type of usages the purchaser envisions.

Whether you are purchasing or leasing a beat, it is essential that any purchased instrumental does not contain any unauthorized “samples” (a copied portion from another’s song) in them. If the track does contain a “sample,” an artist should require that the seller of the instrumental provide some type of “sample clearance” or other clearly defined authorization permitting the use of this “sample.”

If the seller cannot provide proper authorization, it is highly advisable to avoid this instrumental as it could set-up the purchaser for potential copyright infringement liability down the road. Even if there is not a clear and distinct unauthorized sample in a “beat for sale,” it is prudent to ensure that the seller fully indemnifies the purchaser for the creation, including having the seller warrant they own all the rights for the work and that there are no samples or other unauthorized material used in the creation of the work.

If these infringing materials do exist, the agreement must ensure that seller must indemnify or reimburse the purchaser if an infringement is later found contrary to any of the creator’s warranties.

Additionally, is it imperative that the parties agree on whether the original producer is entitled to a traditional music publishing interest in a finished track or not. If so, an agreement on what percentage they would be entitled to should be entered into prior to finalizing any transaction. It is also important to determine whether and what royalty rate, typically a specified percentage, the seller is entitled to. This rate can be based on per a copy rate or a flat fee buy-out that does not include any additional royalties for the recording sold.

Furthermore, it is imperative to outline which party has the right to issue third-party licenses for the finished recording and for what avenues of exploitation (i.e., right to sell in digital and physical forms, license, broadcast, synchronize with visual images in any media, license to motion pictures, television, video games, translations, “covers” or other derivative works) if at all, are permitted. It is also essential to determine who has the right or the obligation to register the work with the appropriate organizations.

Finally, a determination of appropriate credit and right of publicity should be made. The right of publicity permits the purchaser to utilize the professional name, photograph, likeness, and other biographical material in connection with material and is extremely important if the instrumental is created by a well-known or ‘buzzing’ producer. In exclusive deals, a copyright should be filed; more on that next time.

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

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.

How To Ask For Feedback

[Editors Note: This article was written by JP Remillard and was originally featured on the LANDR Blog. JP is a mastering engineer with over ten years of experience, a musician, and a label owner. Polish the sound of your next release using LANDR Instant Mastering!]

Feedback: you need it. Especially if you’re trying to get better at producing music.

Feedback will make you a better producer. Critiques mean learning and growing. It’s a must for anyone looking to take their music to the next level.

So how do you get the feedback you need and use if effectively?

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS ASK

It’s simple. If you’re not getting feedback, just ask.

Ask someone you trust. Get feedback from people you respect, artists you can learn from and creators who’ve been in your shoes.

It’s a win-win. They get better from teaching and you get better from learning.

WHAT TYPES OF FEEDBACK TO EXPECT

Knowing what kind of feedback you’re getting helps you to apply it in the best way possible. So know ’em.

Three types of common critiques are:

  1. Technical – Technical feedback is specific. Like “your reverb is too loud” or “your EQ’ing in this part could use a little work.” It’s the most practical and useful kind of feedback. If you’re wondering about a certain part then ask about it! 
  2. Directional – Direction deals with your artistic vision as a whole. If you’re putting your guitars away and picking up an 808 get some directional feedback first. Making drastic career moves is serious. Ask before you act.
  3. Opinion – Opinion feedback is someone telling you if it’s good or bad. It’s the hardest type of feedback to apply. But it’s also the most common. If someone thinks your music is good, then make more. If they think it’s bad, then make more anyways and continue to get better.

Andy Warhol put it best when he said:

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad. While they’re deciding, make more art.”

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HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF CRITIQUES

  • Don’t Jump to Conclusions – Don’t interrupt and try to explain why you did something a certain way. Take everything in before discussing it. Let your mentor flow through their feedback. It helps them get to the core of what they’re trying to say.
  • Encourage Honesty – No feedback is good unless it’s honest. Some blunt feedback might sting a little at first, but it’ll make you a better producer in the long run. Put your pride aside and strive to the get the most honest responses you can.
  • Make a Wrong a Right – If you’re told that something isn’t sounding right, or you did something incorrectly, ask how to fix it. Doing this turns negative feedback into constructive feedback and gives you something concrete to work on.
  • Relax and Take Notes – It’s a fact: writing ideas down helps you remember the stuff that counts. If you just listen, things go in one ear and out the other (you know it’s true). Having notes allows you to reference your feedback later.
  • Follow Up – Once you fix something based on feedback, go back to the source and make sure you did it right. You’ll never know if something is fixed until you ask the person who told you it was broken.
  • Build a Feedback Network – Surround yourself in producers. Having a network of creative people is the best way to be be constantly stimulated and critiqued. There are no solo geniuses. Brian Eno suggests that all great art comes from the Scenius.

GIVE TO GET

If you want feedback, give feedback to others. Be constructive, positive, compassionate. Use ‘liking’ and comment spaces to support and interact.

Everything is an exchange. People remember all the little things you’ve done for them. When you ask for feedback on your own music, they’ll be more willing to help.

CUT THE CRAP

“Check out my SoundCloud bro” is the worst thing you can do. People can sense shameless self promotion. Not only will you not get the feedback you need, you’ll lose a listener forever.

Make it a private, human-to-human interaction. Call them by their real name. A specific approach triggers curiosity and avoids ‘the bullshit radar.’ Plus it makes the discussion more elevated and personable.

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APPLY, APPLY, APPLY

Don’t go to all the trouble of getting quality feedback and then do nothing with it. If you never change, nothing will get better. Sure, some feedback won’t work. But at least try it before you trash it.

Being a better producer means small changes. And small changes mean growth. So get feedback, apply it, and become a better musician.

Interview: DJ & Producer Ryan Farish

We’re fortunate that artists of all genres – from gospel to hip hop and blues to indie rock – choose TuneCore when they want to sell and get their music streamed online. The origins and popularization of the house music genre dates back over three decades ago, but anyone with a set of ears knows how much it (and its sub genres) has exploded over the past five years. Many DJs and producers have been able to gain a name for themselves quickly, but there are plenty who have been on their grind far longer.

Ryan Farish falls into the latter of those two. An electronic artist, producer and DJ, Ryan boasts multiple Top Ten Billboard charting albums, a co-writing/production credit on a GRAMMY-nominated song, and a growing number of song placements licensed for TV shows, films and commercials. With a combined 60+ million YouTube views and his critically acclaimed recent album, Spectrum, (released earlier this year via TuneCore), Ryan was kind enough to answer some questions about his background, influences, the industry, and the electronic/house genre.

What were some of your first introductions to dance and electronic music?

Ryan Farish: I first fell in love with electronic music in 2000 when I was introduced to it on a website called mp3.com. My first early influences were ATB, Paul van Dyk, Enigma and BT.

How old were you when you began producing? What drove you to embark on a career in music?

I began producing music professionally at the age of 24, but I had been recording music with tape decks and an old Korg 01/w keyboard for many years before that. I can remember writing my first song when I was 10.

You’ve been making music during a span of rapid change within the industry. How do you feel your genre was impacted by changes that took place during the mid-2000’s as an independent artist?

It’s been all uphill for electronic music. With all the technology and stores like iTunes, Beatport, Amazon Music, and then the rise of social media, it has allowed other genres besides just pop, rock, and mainstream music to be accessible to the world; and that has really allowed some great music and genres, as well as the sub genres of all kinds of music, to have a chance to be heard.

Tell us how the advancement of YouTube has affected your growth as an artist.

It has had a tremendous impact. Fans are able to share, and collaborate in a sense with their favorite artists, and this has been a wonderful experience for the music to reach as many people as possible. I am constantly blown away by the quality of the fan videos that are made for my songs, and these videos made by the fans play a huge role in helping spread the music.

What do you consider to be some advantages that young producers have in 2015 that may not have been available to you when you got started?

The technology and recording tools in the box, the computer, have come a long way, in terms of the sound quality of the software available such as soft synths, plugins and samplers, and more powerful computers which have become more affordable. With hard work, self education, and the heart for the music, there really is no limit to what you can create today, right at home.

Conversely, what are some of the challenges facing artists looking to break in 2015?

There is just so much music out there. This is why I am always encouraging up and coming artists and producers about the importance of creating your own unique sound.

How has a service like TuneCore played a role in your musical journey thus far?

TuneCore has been very valuable, for several reasons. TuneCore has allowed us to select which stores to send the releases to. Also, the user panel is very easy to navigate, and since we are a label with a lot of releases, it makes things simple for our office to calculate and distribute royalties.

As a multi-instrumentalist, what are some of your musical influences outside of the electronic genre?

The Pat Metheny Group, Coldplay, U2, and Empire of the Sun.

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Tell us about what you were going for on Spectrum. How has it differed from past releases?

With Spectrum, I really came from a place of just creating for the sake of creating. Fearlessly pursuing the sounds, and emotions I felt and wanted to feel in the music. I think when we pursue music and art with this kind of authenticity; we are really able to tap into the full spectrum of who we are as artists. This is where the title for the album came from, and I believe this principle works in a similar way across many areas of our lives.

You’ve got some serious experience under your belt at this point. What major lessons have you learned when it comes to marketing a record like Spectrum that a younger Ryan Farish could have benefited from?

It’s really important to have a unified vision for an album, and a sound. It’s easy to explore many directions sonically, but it takes discipline to put together a solid musical vision. There is no substitute for this, and it’s really important starting out that you identify what you connect with the most musically, discover what you can contribute to music as a whole, not try to copy others, and try to stay focused on all that.

Got any advice for young producers who are in the midst of releasing their first album, EP or single?

Release it… and move on to the next. Your tenth song is most likely going to be better than your first song, so keep writing. I’ve worked in the studio for many years, with a lot of talented writers, artists and producers, and we have a saying, onto the next, when we finish a track.

I can remember back in 2008, after winning a Dove Award, and I celebrated with one of my co-writers of that song for about two hours, then we said… ‘Onto the next.’

Music is an ever evolving expression of life, which is why it’s so important to move onto the next track, the next idea… the next release. Keep moving, keep dreaming, and keep living the music. Being an artist isn’t something you do, it’s something you have to decide and commit to being, and live the music every day.