[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Chris Dampier, TuneCore’s Vice President of Publishing and Sync.]
In the world of music publishing, data is king. Simply put, accurate data can be the difference between getting paid and not getting paid. PROs (Performing Rights Organizations) MROs (Mechanical Rights Organizations) and CMOs (Collective Management Organizations) rely on clean and accurate data to ensure royalties are paid to the right people. These entities have millions upon millions of songs in their systems and are processing trillions of uses of these songs. Furthermore, there are countless songs with the same title, written by songwriters with the same, or similar, names. It goes without saying that your songs need to be uniquely identified and there are numerous data points and best practices that you can follow, to ensure accurate matches are made and royalties flow to you.
Before we look at data, let’s look at the basics. You can only submit songs for publishing that you own; meaning a song that you have written wholly or in part. You cannot try and claim royalties for someone else’s intellectual property. If you’ve recorded an amazing cover version of Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph”, great, you can distribute the recording of your performance (with the requisite licenses in place). However, you cannot claim any of the publishing royalties. Those are collected by Sony/ATV, Spirit Music and Concord Music and paid through to the writers they represent which are Ed Sheeran, John McDaid, Tom Leonard, and MArtin harrington. Furthermore, if you have sampled or interpolated someone else’s song, you will need the explicit permission of the copyright holders, and most likely give them an ownership percentage of your new song that samples their work. For example, if you sample Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph” and his publishers negotiate that the four writers share a 50% claim in your new composition, you can only register 50% of your song for publishing administration. If you cover a song, you need a mechanical license and cannot claim publishing royalties. If you sample a song, you need the explicit permission of the copyright owners before you can register your new song and should only register your share for publishing administration. Failure to do so may result in you being sued for infringement.
Onto the data…
The first key piece of data we ask for when you sign up for publishing is your Interested PArties Information number or the “IPI/CAE” number. An IPI is a unique identifier assigned to all songwriters and publishers who are registered with a collection society (such as BMI, ASCAP, PRS, SACEM etc). This an integral data point for societies to identify you as the owner/co-owner of the song. Thus, if your song generates royalties, the society can match that usage with your song. An IPI/CAE number is usually 9-11 digits long and can be found at your local PRO. If you have not yet affiliated with your local PRO, you should do so. The writer’s share of publishing income is always paid directly to the songwriter. If you’re not affiliated with a PRO, you could be missing out. Incidentally, if you register your own publishing company entity with your PRO, then you will have two IPI/CAE codes; one for you as a songwriter and one for your publishing entity.
Here’s how to locate it:
It’s imperative that you submit this information to your publishing to TuneCore Publishing.
There is a code used to uniquely identify musical works called the International Standard Musical Work Code or an “ISWC”. This is a unique 10 character code recognized globally as the unique identifier of musical works. Much the same as an ISRC is for sound recordings, which will talk about shortly, an ISWC is used to separate your songs from all other similar works. A song can only have one ISWC attached to it but multiple ISRCs. An ISWC code can be obtained via the ISWC International Agency, or they are automatically assigned by your local collection society. If you’ve already registered a song with your local PRO, there will be an ISWC. If not, when TuneCore registers your new songs with your society, an ISWC will be automatically generated.
While a unique identifier does exist specifically for songs, it is far from foolproof and you should be conscious of other key data points and best practices that should be included in your song registrations to maximise matches at the various societies.
Co-writers + Accurate Splits
Deciding your splits in advance of submitting songs for publishing is highly advisable for multiple reasons, not least song registrations. Determining who owns what in advance of songs being registered, and ultimately generating money, can help avoid some uncomfortable situations down the line. As a general rule of thumb, once you’ve written a song, you and your co-writer(s) should put in writing the agreed shares/splits and ensure they add up to 100%. You can use a split sheet to do so. This way there is a signed record of the agreed splits and, if a co-writer submits a higher claim to their publisher, who in turn registers that higher claim at the societies, you have in writing that it’s inaccurate. We may come knocking asking you to substantiate your claim and a split sheet would be key to that. Disputes over song ownership are one of the most common reasons royalties are held up at the societies. If you are overclaiming, or the shares go above 100%, then a song can fall into conflict. Royalties are held at the societies until the conflict is resolved. Of course, it is not uncommon for splits to be changed after the fact. If that happens, no worries, just log onto your account and update them.
When you’re submitting song information to TuneCore, be sure to include your co-writers name and share information also. Your co-writers may be published elsewhere, and including that detail will ensure all information matches your co-writer(s) registration(s).
ISRC + Release Information
Release information is hugely important to help uniquely identify your songs. This is the information about the recording of a performance of your songs. For example, the name of the artist performing the song, album/EP titles and data codes related to the sound recording specifically.
There may be a song out there with the same exact title written by someone with a similar name to you. Also, consider the number of songs out there, there is more than enough margin for error that you simply want to avoid. Let’s say your song was called “Hold On”. SongDex shows 14,032 different registrations for songs called “Hold On” with 16 of those alone charting on the Hot 100 and we’re only talking about the US here. As you can imagine, discerning which version of “Hold On” is being used can become difficult, especially when you start to think about how many different recordings may exist of songs called “Hold On”.
Including recording information in a song registration goes a long way to mitigating this issue. In addition to including the release title and artist name, an ISRC code is a key data point to ensure matching at the societies. An ISRC code is an international code used for uniquely identifying sound recordings and music video recordings. This is a 12 -digit alphanumeric code given to each recording of a song. If you’re distributing through TuneCore, we’re automatically generating ISRC codes and including it as well as artist and title info in your song registrations. If you’re distributing elsewhere, these codes can be obtained from the distributors and/or labels releasing your music or via a simple search on Sound Exchange (although this is not a comprehensive database).
Alternative Titles + New Recordings
If there are new recordings of your songs i.e. a live recording, or if someone has released a cover version of your song, or if someone has remixed your song, then you will want to ensure that this data is added to your song registrations. The live version, cover version and remix version will all have their own ISRC codes.
Furthermore, if there is any ambiguity surrounding the naming of your song titles, you will want to include those as alternative titles. For example, “2 Legit 2 Quit”, could be “Too Legit To Quit”, or if you spell something in a unique way such as “Colovr” vs Color”. This can easily be defaulted to the grammatically correct version at some societies.
With all of the above in mind, TuneCore has developed a publishing service to best service our clients when it comes to data. Depending on how you are using TuneCore, will impact what data you will need to provide to us:
TuneCore Distribution & Publishing Clients
If you are a TuneCore Publishing & TuneCore Distribution client, then you are already benefiting from your song registrations including some of these key data points. Release information such as artist name, release title and ISRC codes are automatically included in the metadata for your song registrations. However, following best practices by adding your co-writer information as well as ensuring you’re submitting accurate and agreed upon splits, are still an integral part of the song registration process.
TuneCore Publishing Clients
If you are utilising TuneCore only for its publishing service then you will need to provide as much of this information in the song submission process as possible. If you don’t have it at the time, or you’ve not included it before, no problem, you can simply log on and amend your splits or add data via your Composition Manager.