First Time Releasing Music? (How To) Make Sure You Do It Right

this article was written by Justin M. Jacobson

Once all the blood, sweat, tears, time, and money are invested into a musical work, it is now finally time for the artist to distribute the track. However, before a musician releases their song, they must be aware of a variety of matters to ensure that they can legally have the music publicly available. The following is a list of useful guidelines that may benefit a novice musician intending to monetize or otherwise generate revenues from the exploitation of their released song. This is by no means an exhaustive list and is only meant to provide a short overview of a few important considerations for a new artist releasing their first track. Ultimately, the failure to adhere to some or all of these could potentially subject the individual to liability.

Protect Your Artist or “Stage Name”

one of the most important identifiers for a musician is an individual’s artist, DJ or “stage name.” With that said, trademark protection is available in the U.S. and many other countries across the world. This legal protection provides a trademark owner with exclusive rights to a specific name (i.e., an artist name) for a specified good or service, such as entertainment and live musical performance services. Since the musical release will presumptively be marketed and available for sale under the artist’s name, proper protection is prudent, and it can provide many unique benefits for the registration’s owner.

Copyright Your Work, Logo, and Any Created Assets

As discussed previously (, there are many benefits to filing and obtaining a registered copyright in a finished song. This includes applying for protection in both of the distinct copyrights in a specific track or potentially protecting all of the released songs. The copyrights in a musical work are discussed in more detail here 

In addition, an artist may also apply for copyright protection for the artist’s album cover artwork, their logo, and any other promotional graphics that the musician utilizes on the release in order to secure exclusive rights to these creative works.

Secure All The Rights To The Music With Proper Agreements

A musician must ensure that they have secured all the rights to the released song(s). This is generally accomplished through written agreements between the interested parties listing all the essential terms of the deal. These could include contracts with any band members or other musicians involved in the recording as well as with any co-writers, producers, or co-producers. An artist could also execute an agreement with any third-party involved in the work’s creation, including any studio engineers, mixers, and session musicians and vocalists. Also, it is prudent to have written documents in place with any graphic and logo designers, photographers, and videographers to secure exclusive rights to any album artwork, photographs, videos, and any other images or graphics accompanying the song.

Additionally, if the released recording uses another’s previously existing work, commonly known as a “sample;” then, the artist must also secure proper clearance and licensing to the “sample.” This is especially true when the released music is available for sale and incorporates the vocals or other music from another existing song. The details of “sample” licensing and clearance are discussed further here.

Finally, an agreement should exist between the artist and with the music distributor. This includes a signed document with outlets such as an established or independent recording label as well as with any other third-party distribution services that dispense an artist’s music to the public. A distribution agreement might only encompass digital distribution, such as MP3 downloads or streams or could just be for physical distribution, including CDs or vinyl. Alternatively, it might even be for the distribution of the music in both physical and digital formats.

Inclusion Of Proper Track Credits and Listings

An artist should confirm that any credit and track listings are correct. This is important as it ensures that all of the work’s contributors are properly credited on the release. In addition, in many cases, the musician might also be contractually obligated to provide another artist, a co-writer or a producer with the correct credit on a song.

Properly Index Songs With Royalty Collection Organizations

For a release to reach its full earning potential, it is essential that the creator joins and indexes the music with all of the appropriate royalty collective organizations.  For instance, an American artist might inquire into becoming a member of SoundExchange, of a performing rights organization (such as ASCAP/BMI/SESAC), of the Alliance of Artists and Recording Companies, and/or of the Harry Fox Agency.

Once an artist is a member of the correct organization, they must also properly “index” and input the release’s information into the applicable royalty collection agency’s system. This enables these companies to track; and, ultimately, permits them to pay the artist the earned royalties on their release. However, if a song is improperly indexed or is unlisted within the applicable royalty tracking systems; then, most of these entities are unable to track. This means that these agencies most likely are unable to collect and distribute royalties for an unregistered or otherwise improperly indexed song.

Market and Promote release on Social Media and to the Press and Media

Once all the moving parts are in order, the artist should now spread the word about the new release. This might include promoting the track on the musician’s social media platforms, including on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or Tik Tok. The musician might also reach out to relevant press, blogs, and other media outlets for additional exposure to promote their song.

As with any entertainment project, there are many legal and business elements that factor into what a party may or may not need to adequately protect themselves as well as to reach the full earning capacity of their music. Therefore, it is essential that an artist consults and receives specific advice from a qualified professional. This could include consultation with an attorney or other specialist in the field to fully understand all the potential legal issues and other relevant considerations involved in the artist’s specific music release.

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

© 2020 The Jacobson Firm, P.C.