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10 Things to Do Before You Release Your Album

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  • 10 Things to Do Before You Release Your Album

    10 Things to Do Before You Release Your Album
    By Jeremy Rwakaara

    Following are, in no particular order, 10 important things you need to do before you release your album:

    1.) If you are hiring musicians (background singers, instrumentalists, etc.) to play on your album, you will need to make sure they fill out a Musician Release Agreement or talent release form. This agreement is not necessary for musicians that own their own record label, are performing on their own album, and will pay for and release the album themselves. It is used more for the "hired guns" than group members.

    2.) All writers and publishers involved should fill out a Songwriter / Publisher Share Agreement that spells out their writer and publisher shares. This agreement is a document that all writers and publishers should sign and keep for their records. Any money made from the songs (except for money paid to the writers and publishers by their respective Performing Rights Organizations) should be split up according to what is spelled out in this agreement.

    3.) All involved songwriters should fill out a Form PA and register their work (the songs) with the U.S. Copyright Office.

    4.) The artists / performers or the record producer (or both), unless Musician Release Agreements have been signed, should fill out a Form SR and register the album (sound recording) with the U.S. Copyright Office. If you are the writer and performer / producer on the album, you can fill out just one Form SR instead of both forms.

    5.) Register for an International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) for your songs. The ISRC is a unique international identifier for songs (tracks) on sound recordings. The ISRC functions as a digital "fingerprint" for each track. Unlike a Universal Product Code (UPC), the ISRC is tied to the track and not the carrier of the track (CD, cassette, etc). In addition, the ISRC remains allocated to a track regardless of changes in ownership. It is an extremely powerful tool for royalty collection, administration, and anti-piracy safeguards in the digital arena. The ISRC is usually inserted onto the CD master during the mastering session.

    6.) If you include songs on your album that you have not written yourself (i.e. covers), you will need to obtain a Mechanical License from the Harry Fox Agency (via Songfile) that will allow you to manufacture and distribute up to 2,500 copies to the public. If you happen to know the songwriter(s) yourself, you can negotiate a fee directly with them or just write up a Notice of Intention to obtain a Compulsory License and issue it to them.

    7.) If you wish to have your own UPC Bar Code, you should become a member of the Uniform Code Council. Several companies, for example CD manufacturers, will offer you a UPC Bar Code free with their services. Keep in mind that in these cases the UPC Bar Code will belong to the CD manufacturer. If you produce another album, it will not have a UPC Bar Code unless you get another free one from them or someone else. Having your own Uniform Code Council account will allow you to assign all your music-related products a unique UPC Bar Code in your company's name.

    8.) As a songwriter and/or publisher, in order to get paid for the performances of your songs on radio, TV, nightclubs, in airlines, elevators, jukeboxes, etc., you should join a Performing Rights Organization (PRO). In the United States, you can join ASCAP or BMI. Another U.S. PRO is SESAC, but affiliation with SESAC is by invitation only (subject to review by their writer / publisher relations staff).

    9.) As a Sound Recording Copyright Owner (SRCO – e.g. artist, producer, record label), in order to get paid for non-interactive digital transmissions on cable, satellite and web cast services, you should join SoundExchange. They are designated to collect and distribute royalty payments to member Sound Recording Copyright Owners.

    10.) Add your songs to the Gracenote Media Database. When correctly updated, song titles and artist names will be displayed on media players (e.g. home stereos, computer media players, satellite and terrestrial radio, mp3 players, cell phones and other wireless devices, etc.) that take advantage of the Gracenote Media Database data. Alternatively, you could use a freedb-aware program to upload your songs into the database.

    PLEASE NOTE: The contracts displayed above are for educational purposes only. As with all contractual situations, you should have your contracts drafted and/or negotiated by an experienced music business attorney who is well-versed in drafting and negotiating these types of contracts. If you need help finding an attorney, you can start by going here.

  • #2

    Effective July 1, 2006, fees for Library of Congress forms SR & PA (including short form) have increased to $45.


    • #3
      1st let me also give my KUDOS for such a comprehensive, and capsulized reference source, and not a second too soon. I'm just making inroads and decisions about getting my music digitally published online, and hopefully later selling physical CD's at say, Flea Markets and churches, etc. My question is whether the ISRC is still necessary for distribution via iTunes, Rhapsody, etc? I'm not trying to cut corners, I just didn't see that media classification under that topic.
      Having said that, what I'm planning to do is collaborate with another musician on the actual chord progressions, while I would do lyrics and pretty much everything else in the studio. Check Songwriter / Publisher Share Agreement and Form PA (I'm not trying to hog everything, he's just got a lot of other stuff on his plate.) And I would fill out the SR Form since I'm doing everything else. Other than that, I'm guessing SoundExchange and Gracenote Services. Does that sound about right?
      Last edited by daddymack; 06-19-2014, 04:49 PM.

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      • #4
        if you have a real old song thats been covered a ton of times (a standard)
        take in my time of dyin- originaly by blind wilie johnson
        besides crediting the Johnson, are there any other steps for putting your cover of this song on your album?
        "Well I sort of don't trust anyone who doesn't like led zeppelin"
        -jack white


        • #5
          if you have a real old song that's been covered a ton of times (a standard) take in my time of dyin- originaly by blind wilie johnson besides crediting the Johnson, are there any other steps for putting your cover of this song on your album?
          The point isn't how many times it has been covered. The question is whether it is in the public domain, where you can freely cover it, or it is still 'protected' under copyright.
          Any 'covers' you want to do should be licensed or verified that they are public domain. The Harry Fox Agency (HFA) is your best bet for the licensing.
          Last edited by daddymack; 06-19-2014, 04:52 PM.
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          • #6
            Excellent post indeed. This is one of the most informative things I've come across on the internet related to protecting and publishing music. Thanks for sharing!

            I just set up an album registration with CD Baby and found that they took care of a few of the steps. Granted, I have this simplest scenario because I'm the exclusive copyright owner (the author, musician and publisher) of the album.

            CD Baby created the ISRC codes, offered licensing for use of the content (doesn't cover live performance, but does include movies, etc.) and gave me a UPC code. I found their offering to be very helpful and easy to set up. Very cost effective too. They don't do everything, but depending on your situation you can potentially accomplish a few of the steps with "one stop shopping" through this distributor.
            Ground Floor - Classics Rocked Right


            • #7
              Here's an explanation of how to submit to the Gracenotes database using iTunes, for those of you who don't know how:



              • #8
                Hi Sanctuary,

                Thanks for posting this. I wonder if four years later you have an update to this post?

                I also would suggest these are things to have someone else do. Hire an assistant or someone else like Derek Sivers' to take care of this stuff.

                I think these are all important and I'm grateful that you posted this. I would like to respectfully suggest that as much time and energy should be focused on marketing and interaction with fans. I know lots of bands that get bogged down in these operational and contractual details (which as you point out is often better handled by a legal professional) while the relationship with their fans suffer.

                It's been a little while since I put out an album, but even three years ago there were services that handled many of these tasks all at once.

                Thanks again, and I look forward to the updated top 10!




                • #9

                  Effective July 1, 2006, fees for Library of Congress forms SR & PA (including short form) have increased to $45.

                  $35.00 that is for online Registration only


                  • #10
                    Jeremy’s tips are valid and useful--still relevant four years on. But to his first two points I’d add that if you consider yourself (or your band, if you’re in one) to be the legitimate “maker” (i.e., owner) of the project and you also want the ownership/writing credits to any of your original material to remain with you then you should get ALL hired hands, not just the musicians and singers but also the producer, arranger and even the engineer, to sign a proper release form waiving any claim to writing credits AND ownership/controlling rights to the master(s). The master issue is especially important if they provide any part of their service for free or at a reduced rate (I would even get one from the studio in that case too). You can never be too careful in this age of rampant litigiousness. And never forget that anyone's mindset can change down the road. That unspoken understanding you thought you had with that person you thought you could always trust can all too easily disappear when their life situation changes or they want a piece of your newfound success.

                    Problems arise with things that fall into grey areas or through the cracks or with relationships that are created without clear understandings, and they most commonly only rear their ugly heads after the project’s well under way or been released, often once it starts earning serious money.

                    For instance, a producer’s, arranger's or musician’s role in working with you on a song might in his/her mind at some point cross over into the realm of co-writing. Then (or after the song’s done) you’d be faced with a dilemma: do you give them shared writing credits or do you not use his/her changes to the song or, worse case scenario, do you feel compelled to scrap the song entirely. Or, take the example of the outside musician who provided his talent for free on a song track that ended up breaking big time. Might he come back to knock on your door with his hand out for a royalty share claiming that he performed on the sound recording with the understanding that it was never intended for commercial release but only as a demo project?

                    Circumstances like these do happen. Things are not always so cut and dried as you might think. And when an artist is caught up in the machinations of planning and executing something as challenging and intricate as a recording project it is very easy for them to get overwhelmed and lose sight of these sorts of things. A properly constructed contract with the producer and properly executed release forms for everybody involved will go a long way toward protecting your interests. And, by the way, you don't always need an entertainment lawyer to deal with contracts. Consider finding a template for the kind you need and then seek out someone you know who's familiar with such arrangements and get their advice on your particular situation, or maybe an industry pro who does consulting on the side who works for a lot less than what a lawyer would charge. Then have your lawyer review the final draft before signing.

                    And, while Jeremy is correct when he says that the “Musicians Release Agreement” is not needed for fellow band members, if you are part of a band you MUST have a well thought-out-band partnership agreement. In fact, that should be in place early in the band’s history regardless of any plans to head into a studio.


                    • #11
                      I don't think this has been addressed, and I don't know if it's because everyone already knows it, but how about making sure you have a seller's permit so you can do online distribution legally (or do sites like Tunecore take care of that?), which would also necessitate a business license and like a DBA and stuff?


                      • #12
                        You missed the most important thing. GET A LICENSED RNTERTAINMENT LAWYER FIRST BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING. Don't use ANY "standard license release form" that you get from ANY book, magazine or website.

                        I would also boycot ALL download service sites and only sell you content directly. 10 of my recorded performances were sold through CD BABY and all of their on line distribution points and it took me over a year to get it pulled, and they addmitted fault, but won't settle unless i have an attorney. I also got an email from one of their employees several years ago before they sold to Diskmakers and they indicted they were getting something like 9 or 10 complaints a day and they weren't doing anything about it. The culprit behind selling fraudulent content is still selling other content for which is highly suspect since one of the musicians on some of the recordings didn't sign and contracts releasing the performances and CD Baby won't discontinue doing business with a record label/artist that has been caught selling illegal content. So word to the wise, before you go into the studio, work on songs together before they are published, GET A LICENSED ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER.


                        • #13
                          All you have to do today is:

                          a) register the song with your author society.

                          b) if you used an arranger, then either pay him, or give him some points in the song registration form under arranger.

                          c) if your song lyrics get translated to other languages, either pay the foreign lyricist, or fill him/her in with some points in the song registration form.

                          d) if you want further persons participating in the earning via the authors society, then also fill them in on the song registration form.

                          e) Nobody makes old fashioned publishing contracts today. Except the record company demands that, but then you should ask what they do for you for their share. This shares where 50%/50% in the US, or 60%/40% (composer lyricist/publisher) in Europe.

                          Today the share between composer/lyricist and digital distributors are 70% for the composer/lyricist and 30% for the digital distributor.

                          f) if you are the producer and you payed the production fee, then you can demand up to 50% of the net.

                          g) if the record company payed the production fee, then the producer percentage from the net can be 5% to 10%. Some times up to 35% if the artist is a well known and an established artist/band.

                          h) If you are not an American and your music gets released in the USA, then exclude the territory of the USA in the song registration at your local author society. This because ASCAP and BMI pays more to their own member then to members of foreign author societies. All other authors societies worldwide pay the same to all, no matter what authors society you are a member of.

                          Done all that and you are ready to licence your recording to a record company, or to a digital distributor.

                          That's all!


                          • #14
                            When this subject comes up at music conferences i speak at, I always advise artists to get soundscan credit for the CD's they sell.

                            Last time i checked over 70% of all independent music (not including digital sales) are sold at the artist's shows, with 87% being sold in the 15 minutes following an artist's set.

                            I used to recommend a company called Stretch the Skies which allowed artists to fill out a tally sheet then have the venue manager sign to confirm. The artist then faxed the form to Stretch the Skies by midnight each Wednesday. They charged you 10¢ per cd (billed) but would then report your CD sales to Soundscan.

                            Its not a requirement by any means, but most people who work in the industry wont take your word for it when you say you sold X number of CD's since artists sometimes exaggerate.

                            I know that Indie Hit Maker is now offering the same reporting service but must confess im not sure what they charge.

                            If your looking for what I call "Under the surface" promotion, reporting your CD sales is crucial.
                            David Codr



                            • #15
                              10 Things to Do Before You Release Your Album

                              8.) As a songwriter and/or publisher, in order to get paid for the performances of your songs on radio, TV, nightclubs, in airlines, elevators, jukeboxes, etc., you should join a Performing Rights Organization (PRO). In the United States, you can join ASCAP or BMI. Another U.S. PRO is SESAC, but affiliation with SESAC is by invitation only (subject to review by their writer / publisher relations staff).

                              This list has been amazingly helpful. I didn't want to make any mistakes before releasing music, so I spoke to an entertainment lawyer. It turned out to be an informal discussion because, once I laid out my plan, he didn't feel I needed to engage him unless I ran into infringement issues. One thing I was worried about was making the right decision on ASCAP vs BMI because there are tradeoffs with each and it apparently isn't easy to switch once you choose. The lawyer couldn't provide much insight on which to choose, but he indicated you don't need to choose right away and that you can register with a firm up to 9 months after it gets radio/TV play and still collect all royalties. This was a relief for me because it will be easier to choose which to select based on actuals rather than what you think will happen with the song. If it actually does get radio play, then it will probably be easier to have a meaningful discussion with these services.

                              This was an informal discussion with the lawyer, but he seemed confident you can register up to 9 months after the fact and still collect. When I look at BMI's FAQ, however, it implies that you must register immediately or risk losing out on royalties. BMI is of course motivated for people to register, so they may be overstating the case. Can anyone confirm whether or not there really is a 9-month window after radio to register and collect?