Cut & Thrust (Part 2)
Cutting A Record
When push comes to shove - part two of MT's guide to releasing and promoting your own record
In the concluding part of our feature on dealing with the music biz, MT guides you through the minefield of recording and publishing deals, catalogue numbers, bar-codes and distribution...
So you've recorded your chart hit, you might even have pressed up a few promo copies - and no doubt you're dreaming of pop stardom... What should you do next? Well, you should think seriously about copywriting your music. The value of recorded music lies in both the song that was written - the creation of the song-writer - and the way in which it was captured as a sound recording by the performer and/or producer. Music industry law revolves solely around these two so-called 'intangible quantities', known as the Publishing Copyright (which 'exists' in the song ) and the Sound Recording Copyright (which 'exists' in the recorded work).
For copyright to exist in either of these, the song or recording must be set down in a permanent and repeatable form (no, you can't copyright a passing tune in your head!). For a song this repeatable form can be the music manuscript, a (reasonably substantial) sequence of notes stored on a floppy disk from a sequencer, or even a clear enough dictaphone recording of the melody. For a sound recording copyright, you must have made some sort of (reasonably substantial) permanent recording of a performance.
And that's all that'll be said here! In his two-part article Copyrights and Wrongs (MT October and November '92) Anthony Braine of the MCPS covers the subject of copyright thoroughly. In fact, I strongly recommend you read the article and digest every detail.
Whether or not you want to protect your own songs and recordings is up to you, but understanding the difference between the duties you owe on both song and sound-recording copyrights is essential if you intend to release a record which uses someone else's bassline, drum break, vocal stab, or even their original song.
Making sure that you agree payment of a percentage of your record's dealer price (Published Dealer Price - or just PDP) is also a legally binding obligation. Remember, a share of your income must go to both the songwriter (who, of course, may be you) and any performers or owners of the samples (who, again, may be you). For the fuller consequences of the "sample-and-screw-'em" attitude speak to M/A/R/R/S, James Brown or K.W.S..
The flow diagram accompanying this article shows all the questions you need to ask yourself whenever you record someone else's song, sample them, use their sequence or employ performers. If your record contains not a single bleep of anyone else's toil, then you can move on to the further stages on the check-list.
Once you've cleared all those Beatrix Potter samples, and the house diva has finally agreed on her cut of your potential chart hit, how do you raise the interest of those men in white coats at the Gallup office (the research bureau which compiles the official industry charts)?
Whenever feasible, Gallup will try to make all reasonable attempts to identify sales of 'underground' releases. However, if you take a little extra trouble to help them identify your record when it's being passed over the counter, you're giving your record more of a chance to get noticed.
Whilst creating a 'buzz' with initial white labels is very useful for raising the profile of your record, unfortunately many records sell more when they're on white label (ie. in advance of the formal release date, before they get official sales tallies) than after, when Gallup start counting your sales towards the weekly charts. Thus, many records are released and never see a chart in their entire lives. If this is acceptable to you, you need never worry about the nature of your single or album. Otherwise...
First check that your single actually is 'a single', and/or that an album has all the right (and proper) 'attributes' to qualify as an album (otherwise it won't be counted, and will not be 'chart eligible' as far as Gallup are concerned). Essentially, a single can be a CD single, a vinyl 12" or 7", or a cassette single. Each format has a minimum dealer price (the price agreed with the record shop) and a maximum prescribed length for each of its tracks (around 20 minutes), together with a maximum number of tracks (no more than four, usually). However, it can have any number of remixes (within reason).
Your record must also have some means of identification. That means either a correct barcode (we'll come to that shortly) or a correct catalogue number. Every record that ever got into the charts had to have a unique catalogue number. With today's proliferation of formats, there must be a different number for the CD version, the 12" version, the mini-disc version, and so on... There's nothing to stop you choosing a catalogue number yourself, but after you've done that you'll need to contact the Gallup chart department and check with their Gallup prefix list. If you use a number that's been used before, then as far as Gallup are concerned any sales of your record will actually count towards someone else's!
If you have no catalogue number then you'll need a barcode. Having one of these will help speed your hot record through the chart computers and the cash-registers of the Groove Nation. The Article Numbering Association has a set format for record, CD and tape barcodes, so call them on (Contact Details) and ask for a list of film master suppliers (people who will print the bar-codes and/or stickers) and an information pack. Also helpful is the B.P.I. (The British Phonographic Industry) who have specific details of barcode formats for suppliers. They can be contacted by fax on (Contact Details).
Who are the B.P.I. and should you join them? The British Phonographic Industry is essentially a record labels' club which exerts influence on people like record shop owners, politicians, tape bootleggers and other nasty little men! With an open policy on membership enquiries, an equal vote as an ordinary member (Horatio Nelson Records has one vote, so does Sony Music Entertainment), and other perks, joining is something worth considering. Remember, however, that really big policy decisions are made by the BPI Council - which, coincidentally, are made up of the major record companies! The choice is yours...
Distribution is indeed an art. Getting the right records to the right shops at the right time (Mondays) is essential to get the best 'performance' from a release. There is little value in carefully allowing 4-5 weeks club, press and radio promotion of your forthcoming 'eighth wonder' recording if your records arrive late.
Most distributors will simply make an advance order for 'x' number of your records, basing their decision on a number of factors including their assessment of the saleability of the record. If the record is selling well on promo, the advance order (or pre-sale, as it's known) could be as much as 25,000. They'll then pay you for what they sell and give you back those they didn't manage to sell.
A dealer price for the single or album will be negotiated, on top of which the distributor will add about 30% for his time and trouble when he sells them on to the shops. The shops then buy them in at this new price (usually a little over half the final retail price, whether for a single or an album - and yes, this too is subject to Gallup regulations) before selling them for the end price that you see on the record racks. Typically, for a 12", the figure of £1.70 (+ VAT) is the label's or artist's sale price to the distributor, who then charges around £2.30 (+ VAT) to the shop, which in turn charges around £4.50 including VAT to the punters.
If most of the above is news to you, and you have what you're convinced is a strong record, get a manager. These usually elusive gentlemen are two-a-penny when you mention that you have a record to chart. Choose carefully and use the following criteria:
Who else does he/she manage?
Are they happy with him?
Does the manager really like your work?
Is his management fee (usually around 17% of all artist earnings) worth his input?
Does he come recommended by anyone else?
Also, try to get to know the manager - appearances can be deceptive.
With all this work behind you, you might consider that a record label, whether big or small, would have little to do. Indeed, many acts do sign successfully for this reason, ie. that they have released a record under their own steam, and thus have something that many labels are surprisingly grateful for in their artists: a good basic understanding of the music industry.
Yet labels can, and should, do more for you than simply releasing your record. A good label will invest money in promoting you through videos, press, radio and even TV adverts, through backing you with a recording advance (a recoupable loan of anything up to £500,000), and through a team of press officers who will ram your 'story' into music journalists' faces.
The size of an advance is purely based on the record company's assessment of how many albums and singles you'll sell for them during the period of your contract. They will hope to recoup this investment and more from the money they make off you.
The situation is exactly the same for a publishing company. If you assign your publishing to such a company, they will make a publishing advance, perhaps to help you record you music, that they will hope to earn back from the royalties on the songs you write for them. In fact, the most common reason why an artist gets dropped from a label or a publisher is that the company haven't been able to recoup their outlay.
Sound-recording and publishing contracts are called royalty deals. This is because payment to the artist is made through a fixed percentage, or royalty, for each and every record sold (once the label has got back the advance it paid you, that is.) It's also helpful to know that some labels (mostly independents ) will offer a 'profit-share' deal. Put simply, because a smaller label cannot advance the same cash as a major, it will instead share out all profits (often up to 50%!) once both you and they have covered costs.
Deciding which deal is best is down to you and your impression of how much real investment and enthusiasm the label looks to be offering. The golden rule here is read the contract - again and again - and seek professional advice where large sums of money are involved.
After the promos, the press, the distribution, the contracts, sample clearances, and maybe a record deal or two, there's an essential ingredient which is always part of a Number One chart hit: good luck. We wish you much of it.
(The author points out that all contract rates, fees, sale prices, and certain methods of trade are purely guidelines, and should not represent authoritative figures, or universally-applicable methods of business.)
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