How to earn more money off your studio recordings
In this series on making money from songwriting and recording, Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan outline some of the key ways in which artists can make additional money off of their studio recordings.
Guest post by Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan of the Disc Makers Blog
[Part 3] In our last two articles, we discussed how you can create new revenue streams by tapping key parts of your songwriting and monetizing your DAW raw tracks, stems, sounds, and other by-products.
As we’ve talked about in our book Making Money With Music, the final track represents just one thing, that can generate money for you. There are many other revenue-producing streams which naturally come out of your songwriting and recording processes. We call this technique: “making music with money in mind.”
Consider these ideas we present here and restructure how you record music so you can make more money from the recording process. At this stage of your studio work, a lot of revenue streams depend on the proper documentation of who owns what when it comes to your sound recording. Each of the items listed below will help you in three areas: they’ll make you money, protect you (think: copyright registration), and generate promotional opportunities, so they’re worth your time.
1. Owning the Masters/Master Split Sheet
Before you release a recording, you should register your sound recording (or master recording) with your performance royalty organization (PRO) to collect the sound recording royalties it generates. Once you register your song, you will collect royalties for your entire lifetime plus 70 years. Depending on the amount of royalties your music generates, you can also auction your future royalties to raise money if you need it for recording, touring, or other expenses.
You can even get loans based on your royalty revenue streams. (If you want all the details of how the royalty auctions and loan system works, you can find it in the Licensing and Royalties chapter of Making Money With Music.) But in order to register your recording, you will need to list who the songwriters and lyricists are and be able to prove that all of them agree on the percentage ownership.
If you’re the only one writing and recording the songs, it’s simple: you only need to register yourself. But if you collaborate or co-write with others, you need to work out who owns the master recordings. If you have a band, you can do this ahead of time in a band agreement, or if you’re working with others, you can do this per song you create by using a split sheet.
Split sheets are convenient in that they allow you to write in the names and ownership percentages (and more) at the time you’re making the music and get a signature from everyone involved. Then, with this information at hand, you’ll have everything you need to register with your PRO.
How this makes you money: You can register for sound recording PRO royalties, both domestic and foreign. In the US, the PRO that handles this is SoundExchange. In other countries, this is usually handled with your songwriting PRO since they often both handle song and sound recording copyright royalties. And don’t forget to register with the Mechanical Licensing Collective and collect that new royalty revenue stream.
Properly tracking the sound recording ownership makes it easier for you to license your sound recording for synchronization (films, TV, advertisements, movie trailers), video games, and more since you can provide proof who owns it. The same is true if you license beats, samples, and other original music elements.
How this protects you: The sound recording split sheet form that documents who owns your sound recording should also track who owns the copyright. Having this info filled in and at-the-ready makes it easier to reference when you register with the U.S. Copyright Office. (We cover how copyright law works as well as how to register copyright in the “Your Rights” chapter of Making Money With Music.)
How this promotes you: The sound recording split sheet also makes it easier for you to register who did what on a recording in online credits databases. In the past, it’s usually the label that owned the sound recording. But if you are independent, you are the label and own your sound recording, and the credits should reflect this.
While having your music registered with the top credit databases is good for documenting who did what, it also promotes you, since the credits will display on streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and more. This makes it easier for others to find you to license your music, commission you, interview you, or generate other opportunities.
2. List the musicians and the recording engineers on the recording
You will want to capture the names of every musician on the sound recording — including yourself. You can then use those names to generate credits for your track, which makes you easier to find while also generating royalties for the musicians.
How this makes you money: Doing this can generate royalties by helping you register musicians who played on your track (session musicians) as featured musicians on SoundExchange. By listing them, they can make performance royalties whenever the song is streamed. If you played on your song and listed yourself as a featured musician, you can make this royalty as well. This is true even if you also own the sound recording.
How this promotes you: By having a list of musicians for each track, you can register your song information in credits databases more easily. (We cover how copyright law works as well as how to register copyright in the “Your Rights” chapter of Making Money With Music.)
3. Keep track of the samples (and licenses) that you don’t own
Musicians who record using DAWs often use samples, loops, beats, or other audio created by others. When you incorporate these sounds into your music, you may limit licensing opportunities for yourself because the fact that you don’t own it can cause legal problems.
For example, you may use beats in your song that are licensed in a way that makes it impossible for you to sell synchronization licenses to video, TV, film, and advertisements. And some licensees won’t license from anyone who has someone else’s samples, beats, or loops in their song no matter what license they use to avoid any legal liability or hassle. Because of this, it’s always better to create original beats, loops, and samples so you own 100 percent of the music and royalties. If you use other people’s beats and samples, you should make sure they’re royalty-free.
Because of these issues, capture all the musical elements you use in your music that you don’t own at the time of your recording. That way, you avoid licensing and copyright problems or know which songs you can promote for licensing opportunities.
How this protects you: You need to keep track and know the license for every beat, loop, or sample you use in your music so you can license it without getting into legal trouble.
4. Capture detailed music track info (“metadata”)
There’s plenty of detailed track info, or “metadata,” you can include in your song file. This metadata makes it easier for licensing libraries, streaming services, and others to categorize your song and make it more discoverable. These are data fields such as beats per minute (BPM), instrumentation, genre, mood, copyright, description, contact info, and more. Of course, the best time to capture this info is while you’re recording your music.
How this makes you money: Metadata about your song is most often needed when you want to get your music into song licensing libraries. This helps you fill out the information about your songs so they come up in their music searches more easily.
How this promotes you: Metadata is also used by streaming and other music services to help display information about the music. This is usually pulled from information you provided your digital distributor. Skipping these fields limits the chances of being discovered when people search music on their sites.
5. Capture all roles as you finalize the tracks
Be sure to capture who filled each role during the recording process. You can upload this information in the credits databases. This includes vocalists, instrumentalists (list each instrument separately if the same person played multiple instruments), songwriters/composers, lyricists, arrangers/conductors, producers, and engineers. Plus, once you release the music into the world, you might work with photographers, designers, and art directors. All of these are eligible categories for Grammy Awards as well, so you will want to track and credit each one properly.
How this promotes you: Each of these roles can be included in credits databases and increases your chances of being found in searches. (We cover how copyright law works as well as how to register copyright in the “Your Rights” chapter of Making Money With Music.)
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The time to start thinking about making money with your music starts at the beginning — when you’re creating your music. Capture these suggested items when you finish your song-making process so you can put yourself in a position to not only make money but also protect yourself and promote your music when you release it into the world. Future articles of this series will cover even more income streams from your studio process, so stay tuned!
Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.