Recording Public Domain Songs for Production

Classical music and other public domain songs make for excellent source material for production music. But utilizing these compositions and then legally licensing your recordings can get tricky. With a little forethought, research, and knowledge of copyright rules, you can avoid inadvertently infringing on another composer’s copyright. Give your tracks a copyright tune-up. Here are some things to consider:

copyright1) Research the song. First and foremost, you need to know exactly when the song was written and published. Take careful note of this, as copyright terms expire after a specific time, as determined by where the music might be used. In the United States, works published prior to 1923 are currently public domain. For example, the common song Happy Birthday was written and published after 1923, meaning that song, as common as it is, is still under copyright and cannot be used. There are some caveats, however. So…

2) Research your composer. Know some basics about your composer. Is he still alive? This is important as copyright status depends largely on the composer’s date of death. Find out when the composer died. If he or she is still living, chances are you cannot license any of their music. In the United States, for all works published after 1922, if the composer is no longer living, the copyright expires 95 years from the date the song was written and published. That means that any work published in 1923 will enter the public domain in 2019.

3) If there are lyrics, the lyrics must also be in the public domain. This makes operas, arias, and classical songs a royal pain. You cannot reproduce a song with its lyrics unless the lyrics are also in the public domain, as the lyricist still has rights in the piece. Research this carefully if you are considering producing a recording of any popular operas. Puccini operas are a prime example of this — depending on the lyricist, some operas are now public domain, and some are not.

4) Never, EVER, sell or license a recording you did not make. Period. Don’t do it. Because of the complexities of copyright law, absolutely NO SOUND RECORDINGS are currently in the public domain. Sound recordings have their own copyright, so all recordings must be licensed from the producers or owners of the recording, i.e. the record label that produced them.

Considering producing a classical work for your next round of library music tracks? Be sure to carefully research every aspect of a song before you dive in. This will save you huge headaches, legal trouble, and lots of time.

Sonic Branding – Using Music and Sound Effects to Create a Brand

by Bruno Strapko

The idea of using sound for branding is not new, but particularly in Europe, is considered an important marketing speciality. Using all of the usual marketing techniques of research, trial and retrial, entire agencies target sonic branding. It is the least used branding method and considered the technique with the most growth potential.

Contributing audio and music to marketing and branding campaigns can be a lucrative source of income for the stock music composer.
Contributing audio and music to marketing and branding campaigns can be a lucrative source of income for the stock music composer.
At the 2012 Audio Branding Congress at the University of Oxford, virtually every research project and branding development came from Europe. Speaking to other attendees, they were surprised at the lack of American participation when they felt American development was extremely mature. Cases cited included Harley-Davidson’s famous exhaust tuning studio, Intel Inside, and the omnipresent McDonald’s audio logo. New work presented at Oxford included sound design for the atmosphere in Harrod’s famous toy department in London featuring regenerative soundscapes, audio logos for two famous European companies, and an entire suite of sonically different logo-based music for use throughout the Dell Computer organization.

Recent literature that sum up current directions in sonic branding include “Sound Business” by Julian Treasure of The Sound Agency and “Audio Branding”, a compilation of articles and studies representing all issues associated with creating effective audio branding.

While considered a niche, sonic branding can be a differentiating part of the portfolio of a sound designer and/or composer. The unique chances to present their work from typical broadcast and the Internet to prestigious and renowned public spaces can be a fulfilling and challenging opportunity. Presented properly, any sound design student can be introduced to opportunities very closely tied to the main thrust of their education track. With awareness of jingle writers and sound designers in studios for traditional advertising media, adding the potential in sonic branding is worth investigating.

Are your sound effects and stock music tracks legal?

I came across this story the other day talking about how Warner/Chappell Music is being sued for demanding royalty payments for the usage of the song “Happy Birthday,” and it brought to mind some important misconceptions about what it means for a sound effect or stock music track to be in the public domain.

As much as I personally dislike large music publishing conglom-a-corp-a-plunderbunds because I think large companies don’t have artists’ best interests at heart, but the fact remains that the song Happy Birthday is still under copyright. Just because the song is popular and well known doesn’t make the plaintifs case that “the song should be dedicated to public use…” Under that logic, MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” should be public domain because it is both popular and well known. Not true.

With that in mind, the question both video production companies and stock music and sound effects producers alike should ask themselves when considering a piece of stock audio for purhcase or sale is “Is everything in this track legal?” Of course, if it’s 100% originally composed and produced, like most music on Productiontrax, then of course it is legal. Even though the tracks are under copyright, they’re still licensed royalty free. But, if the sound effect or music track has audio in it recorded live, you have to check it for copyrighted sounds before uploading or downloading (uploading content that contains copyrighted sounds to Productiontrax is against the terms of service).

For example…
Is there a snippet of copyrighted music in it? Not legal.
Uses sample software or sampled sounds to produce the track? Legal.
Contains a sound of a tv or radio playing a copyrighted song? Not legal.
Contains a human singing Happy Birthday? Not legal.
Contains a piano playing a Chopin Waltz? Legal.

You get the idea. The key here is to double check your work. We triple check at Productiontrax when we can to make absolutely certain that the media you find here will be 100% licensable and not get you into a legal battle with a plunderbund, but keep these tips in mind when looking for sound effects from your favorite sound effects sharing site, or from some other music library that has some hard to find stock audio clips from 1950s television. Your legal budget will thank you.

Bridging the Gap With Stock Music

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s true, paying for music and adhering to copyright laws does create jobs, like in this post.

And yet, the “free music economy” persists, as more and more internet surfers demand cheap or free content to use as they please. But I think there is a happy medium between the “free music economy” and prohibitively expensive licensing, and that happy medium is stock music. As computer and mobile devices become increasingly more capable, and barriers to entry in creative tasks fall, more and more people want that soundtrack for their slideshow, presentation, home movie, or viral YouTube hit. I would say most infringers steal because they simply can’t afford to play the music industry’s game, nor is their project worthy of that kind of scrutiny.

Instead of stealing, though, which I think we can all agree stifles creativity and hurts content creators, keeping food off their tables and forcing otherwise talented artists to find work elsewhere, stock music is a reasonable, affordable alternative. Artists should look at ways they can bring their products to market in ways such as this as a more desirable alternative to giving away all their stuff for free. Doing so would counteract the pirate culture. I see stock music as bridging the gap, either to bring out an unknown’s work to the public, or to lengthen the revenue tail of a song that has fallen by the wayside amidst constant musical innovation.

Similarly, multimedia authors need to step back and do things the right way. Afterall, they probably wouldn’t like it if we broke into their home and took their family photos and plastered them online… unless they already do that on Facebook. There are options for affordable projects — and stock media is one of them, which effectively keeps musicians and artists employed and the economy running so that there will be new music for the next project.

Production Music and Creative Commons

When licensing production music, there are a few options out there. There’s some interesting discussion over at the Copyright and Technology blog about the usefulness (or lackthereof) of Creative Commons as a licensing tool.

Here’s the full story.

I commented briefly, but thought I’d post here to get our users’ feedback. We deliberately chose against using Creative Commons when developing Productiontrax.com. With no enforcement mechanism built into CC, it really is just like a garment-care label. With royalty free production music licenses specifically developed for our artists and end-users, we are able to provide better legal protections for all parties involved and actually police usage to a point moreso than we’d be able to with CC.

What’s your take on Creative Commons and it’s role in music licensing?

Thinking of Going Exclusive? Don’t.

Thinking of going exclusive? Don’t. Exclusivity can be good for some, but for most, it’s just a bad decision. In this day and age, with all the economic uncertainty, it baffles me as to why anyone would go exclusive in anything, let alone their music licensing. Before you sign that agreement, make sure you consider the ramifications of your decision, by examining each of these points in detail, so that you don’t lose out in the long run.

1. Commission Rate Bait and Switch
Most libraries and marketplace sites offer a slightly higher commission rate if you go exclusive. Many offer between 50 and 60% as opposed to their normal 25-50%. While this seems like a good reason to go exclusive, many libraries will give you this higher rate as an introductory rate, and then lower it dramatically if your tracks don’t sell past a certain quota. Then, you’re tied into an exclusive contract and making far less money than you were originally promised.

You should diversify your sales channels for the same reason your diversify your investment portfolio. If one library tanks, or if sales patterns change, or you don’t perform as well on one, the others keep you in the game. Furthermore, you can make a higher average commission and gross income by spreading out, rather than selling in one place.

FACT: Productiontrax always pays 65% commissions on the prices YOU set.

2. Number of Sales vs. Price per Sale
Some libraries are notorious for setting low prices to gain a competitive edge. They then lock you in to exclusive contracts to sell your music for a few bucks (some as low as $1) a piece. Think about this for a second. They are giving out sync licenses (which most artists get paid THOUSANDS for) for less than $10. While they may sell more tracks (until their marketplace becomes so bloated with tracks that you might sell one a month…) your music is being devalued, and given away. You also have no control over the price of your music. The library you signed with can set any price they want, and some strategically price it just low enough that you can’t make your payout balance.

My advice, don’t sign an exclusivity agreement unless they guarantee a minimum price that you are comfortable with. Some smart copyright owners also ask for a minimum payout guarantee every month.

FACT: You control your pricing on Productiontrax. Period.

3. Hidden in the terms of service…
Read your contributor terms of service agreements carefully. Some libraries have started working with a companies like GoDigital and others to “track usage in and be appropriately compensated for internet streams”. These companies employ a technology that finds your music (that you already licensed out) in your customer’s projects. They then insert advertisements (or just claim copyright infringement) and collect revenue. This seems wonderful, until you realize that the contract you signed allows your library to keep 100% of any advertising revenue generated by your music.

Not only are you getting screwed there, with your library making tons of money without paying you a dime, but your customers are not getting what they paid for – and they are getting angry. See if they buy one of your songs again, knowing that YouTube is going to hijack their project.

FACT: Productiontrax never hides your royalties. We do not work with these “monitoring” companies, and we advocate for BOTH our clients (who are also your clients) and our artists.

4. Competition
Before going exclusive, ask yourself how big of a contributor base does the library you are signing with have? The larger the base, the harder it is for you to sell because there is more competition. That means more of the same sounding music, more choices, and lower chances of being selected. Think about it: a customer is on a huge community library with 1,000,000 artists. They look for a piece of dance music, and get your track among about 5,000 other options meeting their criteria. That gives you a 1 in 5,000 shot of selling your track to that customer. Might as well play the lottery with those odds.

If you diversify, you give yourself a greater chance of success because your music is in more places. If you are on 10 smaller libraries and each has, oh let’s say, 500 matching options for a given customer’s music search, you’ve just increased your chance of selling to 1/50.

Think about what you can do if you have 10 tracks in every category, on every site.

Diversification just makes more sense. Unless a library is making some very specific guarantees that you just can’t get anywhere else, always stay non-exclusive. This way, you stay in control of your financial future, and your hard work.

5 Tips for Promoting Your Music with Social Media

Social media has become the standard for promoting your music online. According to Alex Pham of the LA Times, “musicians who don’t take advantage of social networking tools will soon perish in the La Brea tar pits of old-school media.”

According to Pham, and a panel of social media rock-star experts, the five following tips can help you maximize your usage of social networks, and take your next album from bronze to platinum.

1. Be real. “It can’t just be about commerce. People want to connect with you and get to know you. They don’t want to connect with you if you’re just telling them to go buy your record. They don’t want you to be perfect, either. They want you to be real.” — Evan Greene, chief marketing officer, the Recording Academy

2. Pick a couple of services you like and focus on them. “There are so many services out there that trying to do everything and be everywhere is impossible. Play around with them. It’s okay to mess up. And don’t have a PR person handle your tweets. It should be all about having a real conversation with your fans.” — Kevin Rose, founder, Digg

3. Have something unique. “There’s so much already out there, and people have so little time that having something unique about yourself and your music can give you a competitive advantage. Figure out what’s unique about you and ask: What is the distilled message? It has to be something so remarkable that other people will have to share it.” — Pete Cashmore, founder, Mashable

4. Share things that you are most excited about. “Share things you find, love, hate and create. Share the things you’ve made, even if it’s not finished yet. That’s what makes it engaging.” — David Karp, founder, Tumblr

5. Embrace anarchy. “We had an event called the summit. A thousand people would participate and become part of the recording process. I got a Twitter message from someone in Iran who was frustrated they couldn’t come. We came up with a program that allowed them to sit at home and participate. It’s a world of chaos at times. But there are lessons. It’s a fertile ground for creativity.” — Jared Leto, vocalist, guitarist and songwriter for the band 30 Seconds to Mars

Do you do these already? What else do you do to stay in touch with your fans and your customers?

NAMM 2010: New Sounds and Software for your Studio

MOTU Updates Performer, Plugs

MOTU showed off their new plugins on a new version of Digital Performer (that thing is still around???) — some high quality stuff. Directly competing with Apple’s built-in plugins for Logic Pro, MOTU’s line of plugins features the following:

Electric Keys, a low latency 40GB keyboard sound library of electric pianos, organs, clavs, tape samplers, string machines and more classic and vintage instruments. Nearly all are sampled at 24 bit, and the plugin is 256-note polyphonic, and is complete with an effects rack and amp simulator.

BPM, which looks remarkably similar to Apple’s drum sequencer, gives you the ultimate rhythm programming experience. Includes plug-and-play support for hands-on pad controllers like the Akai MPD32, which is good news for many sample pad enthusiasts, but now with unlimited sample layers per pad (or as much as your computer can handle). Awesome tool for electronic music performance and beat sequencing.

Ethno2 delivers stunning ethnic and exotic instrument sounds from Africa, Asia, Australia, India, South America, and more. I may have to buy this just for the penny whistle and Celtic instruments, and the Flamenco Percussion and guitars.

I didn’t get to hear the Symphonic instrument, and I have a hunch that it may fall a little short compared to other libraries (ie Vienna and EastWest). If you’ve heard it, let me know what you think.

http://www.motu.com

BigFishAudio and Vir2 Instruments Ready to Release Electri6ity

Electrici6ity is the most epic electric guitar virtual instrument to hit the market (ok it’s not out yet, but get ready). This awesome instrument contains some of the most advanced, detailed, and versatile collection of guitars ever. The plugin features the Strat, Tele, Les Paul, P90, Rickenbacker, Danelectro, ES335, and L4 and uses 24-bit samples from each, with three pick up options for each. Every, and I mean every fret of every string was sampled for this library. Downstrokes, upstrokes, ghosting, mutes, hammer-ons, slides, pulloffs, and more are included for every guitar. Articulation and Velocity morphing adds depth and seamless transitioning between effects, while the advanced AI adapts to your playing, allowing for fluid lines, 2000 different chords and positions, and more. If you sequence guitars, this one is a must have.

http://www.bigfishaudio.com
http://vir2.com

Piano Sounds from Synthogy

If you’re looking for some fresh Piano samples that hit the spot with realism and features, you have to check out Synthogy’s new Ivory II virtual instrument. Featuring tons of pianos and synths from uprights to grands to synth combos, this piano instrument has half-pedaling, pedal noise, lid position effects, tuning tables, and even sympathetic String Resonance. Check it out at Ilio.

http://ilio.com
http://synthogy.com

NAMM 2010: Take Your Music With You

Cookie Monster is here today, but many big names in the music industry are missing this year from NAMM, (like Apple, and our friends at East West, and I can’t find Protools anywhere!) while many others have really scaled back (TC Helicon rocks a tiny booth, Korg shifts it’s attention to Marshall). With the struggles of 2009 fresh on everyones minds, the focus for new hardware has been turned to small things, and products aimed at the travelling musician.

Roland put on display its line of battery powered electronic instruments and speaker systems with performances by the Battery Band, who rocked guitars, vdrums, axes, and vocal effects all on a couple packs of energizer AAs. Roland also released their new Mobile Studio Canvas to control Cakewalk via USB, complete with a built-in sample set, wheel scrub and transport controls, and built-in effects processing (and it also runs on batteries, USB power, or AC adapter). The Mobile Studio Canvas is the perfect complement to a mobile studio.

New field recorders (perfect for you sound effects producers) lined the shelves at Korg, Tascam, and Sanyo. Take your pick, now is a great time to buy and start expanding your personal live sound libraries. Check out a more comprehensive post tomorrow about these field recorders.

Play and Sing Along

There were several new products released that continued the sing-along/play-along rush geared towards educators and students. Roland/Boss presented its new eBand, a full featured guitar amp and effects simulator with onboard vocal effects. Just plug your guitar in, and a full band plays along with you at any tempo or key — great for learning licks and songs, or performing live. The same company rolled out a vocal effects processor similar to the TC Helicon models that have rolled out over the past few years (yes, TC Helicon has also upgraded their Harmony-G by adding an XT Line of vocal processors), with pedal controls, and real-time harmony, and programmable banks to accommodate full sets.

Fun With Drums

Korg, who normally displays new keyboards and synths, showed off a different side of their product line this year, with tons of new guitars, amps, and drums — notably the wavedrum, which acts as a melodic instrument, with different pitches and sounds triggered by playing a single drum head.

Guitars, Guitars, Guitars

No NAMM show is complete without a dizzying array of new and exotic guitars, and cool guitar toys. That’s where TC Electronic hits the mark this year, releasing the worlds first Poly-chromatic tuner. In English: this guitar tuner can tune your guitar from a STRUM. Simply strum your strings, and the PolyTune shows you on one screen which strings are sharp or flat.

Oh, and Moog launched their new Moog Guitar — kinda cool.

Licensing Previews is Absurd and Just Bad Business

In this article, Greg Sandoval writes about the “plight” of todays artist when it comes to digital music sales:

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/09/17/tech/cnettechnews/main5318276.shtml

In my personal opinion, performing rights societies are starting to overstep their bounds, trying to get more from an outdated business model, instead of adapting to the new market. Let’s go through this one point at a time, shall we?

“Songwriters, composers, and music publishers are making preparations to one day collect performance fees from Apple and other e-tailers for not just traditional music downloads but for downloads of films and TV shows as well. Those downloads contain music after all. “

Collecting performance fees from retailers is absurd. They already pay the copyright administrators to carry and sell your product in their sales commission/revenue split. The fees for music included as part of films and TV shows are included in synchronization contracts, and are negotiated at that time. It is ridiculous to charge the vendor of your finished product for your manufacturing costs. That would be like the grocery store that sells Kraft cheese having to pay Kraft’s dairy farmers. That is Kraft’s job. iTunes should not have to pay John Williams every time Star Wars: Episode 47 is downloaded from their store — they pay Lucas Films, and Lucas Films should be responsible for paying John Williams.

“These groups even want compensation for iTunes’ 30-second song samples.”

Charging music retailers a public performance fee for previews is absurd. It would be like charging a store that sells CDs every time a customer picks up a CD off the shelf to see who is on it before they decide to buy it. Currently, 30-second previews are covered by standard digital download mechanical licenses, and are a necessary part of selling the music online. People won’t buy a song unless they know what they are buying — just like I won’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on first. Charging music services for this will undercut digital music distribution in general and is bad business for an already suffering retail music industry. Like another blogger wrote: …”according to ASCAP/BMI’s logic Macy’s should have to pay Ralph Lauren money for people to try on clothes in their store.”

“But these royalty-collection groups say they’re at the bottom of the music-sector food chain and aren’t trying to gouge anyone. They say their livelihoods are threatened and wonder why movie studios, big recording companies, TV networks, and online retailers are allowed to profit from their work but they aren’t. ”
“We make 9.1 cents off a song sale and that means a whole lot of pennies have to add up before it becomes a bunch of money,” said Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters’ Guild of America. “Yesterday, I received a check for 2 cents. I’m not kidding. People think we’re making a fortune off the Web, but it’s a tiny amount. We need multiple revenue streams or this isn’t going to work.”

Articles like this make it sound like composers aren’t getting their fair share. And it is simply not true at all. Any composer who is good at what they do, and has successfully marketed their work, and intelligently structured their contracts, is making a living. And Rick Carnes?? Who has heard anything by Rick Carnes?? THAT is why he only got a check for 2 cents. HE HASN’T WRITTEN ANYTHING ANYONE LISTENS TO!!!! Look him up on ASCAP or BMI. So he’s written a few hundred tunes that no one has ever heard of. SO HAVE I. So have 95% of Americans in the shower. That doesn’t mean he deserves to pay his bills with his music. He simply has not met the demands of the music marketplace with his product. Sounds to me like he is asking for a bail out. Why don’t we try quoting a musician who is actually making music that is in demand by the public?

I agree with Potter’s position — songwriters ARE getting paid for their download — they are getting their mechanical fee, which is 9.1 cents per copy (which happens to be set by law), they are getting their sync license fee for video downloads (which is determined at contract negotiation).

“In 2005, ASCAP entered into a rate-court proceeding to set licensing fees for the music services of Yahoo, AOL, and RealNetworks. A U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York delivered a blow to composers and songwriters by ruling that downloading music from a Web store was not a music performance. On the other hand, the judge found that streaming music was subject to a performance fee.

“The songwriter gets a performance fee if the song is streamed without the video,” Carnes noted. “But if it is downloaded within an audio-visual work like a movie we don’t get a performance fee–same song, no money.”

Carnes is manipulating terms here, making it sound like the judge’s ruling was unfair. Songwriters don’t get performance fees from VHS or DVD sales either. No one complains about that! That’s because they get their mechanicals and sync fees, which they are (or should be) getting from downloads of those same movies. A download is a physical product sale, not a performance. Streaming is different than downloading. Streaming implies a real-time broadcast. In other words, if a download is a performance, then why am I still paying sales tax (tangible personal property tax) on a downloaded product? Artists have no right to collect a performance royalty for a product they are already being paid for. If the artists want more, they need to change the terms of the mechanical and sync payments. Change the mechanical fee to 15 cents a copy. Negotiate for better splits on sync rights. Don’t take it out on the consumer who has made you popular in the first place.

The moral of the story here is that ASCAP and BMI (and others), with all their good intentions to protect the intellectual property rights of their members, are now crossing the line and are further destroying the business of retail music, blaming it on technology, rather than embracing new media distribution channels. They are diminishing product availability, which hurts the two groups that ultimately pay the songwriters’ paychecks — the retailers and consumers.