Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Music Biz and Me

A few weeks ago I had this grand idea to get a song sung by Fred onto ITunes. So I started navigating the music industry to find out what it takes to get a song on ITunes. First, I learned some terminology:

1. Permanent Digital download - this is what you download from ITunes
2. Backing track - a recording used for accompaniment; sometimes called a practice track or karaoke track
3. Sound recording - a musical recording; could be instrumental, singing and instrumental, etc
4. Tracking - the process of recording music in a studio

Then I learned about uses and licensing. What you need to know about uses is there are personal uses and then there are commercial uses. Karaoke tracks you purchase and download are personal use tracks; normally, they can be used in performance, but they can't be used commercially in projects such as a new sound recording unless separate permission is given - this permission comes in the form of "Master Use" and usually comes with an additional price and license.

At this point I should back up a bit. Anyone can make a backing track (i.e. anyone can get the sheet music for a published song and record their own backing track). However, if you don't have the musical skills to create your own backing track, you have to hire someone to create it for you. If you hire someone to create a custom backing track for you, you are going to end up paying for their time and as well as studio time; consequently, buying a prerecorded backing track is generally more economical than having someone else create a custom backing track for you.

Then there is the matter of royalties. Once a song has been released commercially it is fair game for sound recording. However, if you record someone else's song you have to file the appropriate compulsory licensing paper and pay the appropriate royalties. Royalties are done on a per download basis when you are dealing with permanent downloads; these types of royalties are what are known as mechanical licenses or digital download licenses (FYI - I've found mechanical licensing to be interchangeable with digital downloads and licensing a song for use on a CD).

For those keeping track at home, there are (a) fees for the backing track master use license and (b) royalties to use the sound recording to be downloaded from ITunes.

The most important part of getting your song ready for ITunes is the tracking. Once you have the backing track, you can take it down to your local recording studio and get your song recorded. You ought to make sure you have a capable tracker for this and a good producer as they ultimately determine what ends up in your recording. Some studios include a tracker in their hourly recording rates. From what I understand, you should plan on 1 hour of editing for every hour of recording.

Next are the matters of getting the song copyrighted and also getting the song on ITunes. Yes, you heard correctly; in music the composition gets copyrighted and sound recordings can be copyrighted too. Yes, there is a fee to copyright the music too.

What about getting the song on ITunes? You actually can't put a song directly onto ITunes. ITunes requires you to upload your song through an music aggregator. Of course there is a fee for that too; not to mention ITunes keeps 29 cents for each 99 cent digital download sold.

So after all of this, you get a song that is listed on ITunes. What are you looking at as far as cost?

- Backing track $50 to $350 (some have limits to the number of downloads you can have - i.e. less than 5,000 - and a per download royalty for the number of downloads after the limit has been reached (i.e. 23 cents a download after 5,000 downloads))
- Music aggregator $9.99 for a single song $49.99 for an album (tunecore.com)
- Tracking $75/hour (does not include producer rate)
- Royalties 9.1 cents per permanent digital download (you generally advance royalties based on expected downloads - minimum of 25; if you go through an agency, there is an application fee of $14 to $15 per track)
- Sound recording copyright $65

I can see how someone producing their own album could spend thousands of dollars; from what I understand, it is not unusual for people to spend thousands of dollars to produce one song.

Based on my numbers, I could produce a song for Fred to be on ITunes for between $310 to $750 depending on the backing track purchased and the amount of tracking time (Fred's vocal instructor has volunteered to be Fred's producer at no charge).

I'm investigating funding the project through kickstarter.com. Kickstarter is like a PBS fund drive for indie artists. This is because you have to come up with "Rewards" for people who donate to your project; the "Rewards" tend to relate to the project being funded (i.e. a reward could be a personalized thank you letter from the artist or a pre-release of the single/album, etc). I am open to suggestions on this front.

Kickstarter gets 5% of the funding; while Amazon charges a credit card fee between 3% to 5% on funding by credit card; thus, it looks like funding through Kickstarter leaves you with 90 to 92% of the funds collected after all is said and done. However, if a project doesn't get fully funded, then no funds are collected from anyone and the project doesn't get funded (it's all or nothing funding).

I'll keep you posted as everything progresses.

None dare call it conspiracy

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Monster Miata

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Flying in a squirrel suit

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