In many ways, the music industry is much more accessible to independent artists than it ever was before. You can write a song, record it, distribute it, and promote it online, all by yourself, and be very successful. Despite this, the music industry can still be complicated, especially if you're facing it without the help of an experienced manager, lawyer, or mentor – and even today, there are so many misconceptions that musicians still believe. In this article, we'll bust three of the most common myths in the music industry and shed light on the facts.
1. A poor man's copyright will protect you in court
In the US, federal registration is not required for copyright protection, so many artists skip the registration fee in an attempt to save money. Instead, they mail a copy of the music to themselves, using the federal postmark on the sealed envelope to date the ownership of the piece. Alternatively, electronic file dates marking the creation and last modification have been used to prove ownership.
While these options are better than no proof at all, they don't hold nearly as much weight in court as a federal registration. Not to mention that a federal registration is required to sue for infringement. That means that if someone really did copy your song, you wouldn't be able to take them to court and use your poor man's copyright without a federal registration anyway. If you're serious about protecting your rights, it's worth registering federally.
2. Artists earn money from US radio play
Radio has always been a big deal in the music industry and synonymous with success. Being on the radio, however, doesn't always mean you're making the big bucks, especially as a recording artist. In the US, recording artists don't get paid for radio play, so if you didn't write the song, you won’t see a dime from traditional radio play. There's not much reason for this other than the fact that it's always been that way. Many other countries give recording artists royalties from radio play, but it's not yet something the US law recognizes.
If you're a songwriter, there's no set dollar amount for each time your song is played on the radio. There are hundreds of thousands of radio stations in the US. Some are independent, some are huge corporations, and they play every genre of music from jazz to country to EDM. Because of this, payouts from PROs are a percentage based off an equation using small samples from radio stations around the country. There may come a point when radio stations have the technology to keep track of every single song they play and PROs would be able to quantify that data into real payouts, but unfortunately, it's not here yet.
3. Sampling is legal if it's only a couple of seconds
Sampling is still a bit of a blurry topic in the music industry, but with the growing popularity of electronic music, sampling is becoming more and more mainstream. Samples are mixed to the point where they sound only vaguely like the original and are looped into beats, but in the end, you're still using someone else's work and that requires permission.
In the music industry, it's a common misconception that sampling is legal as long as you stay under three or five seconds. In reality, there's no "second rule" in copyright law. Even the shortest sample could be considered copyright infringement. On top of that, there's no statutory rate for samples, and price can vary depending on the length and importance of the sample. For example, a five-second sample taken from the hook of a very popular song will probably cost more than a 15-second sample from an obscure song.
With that said, because sampling is very much ingrained in the electronic music culture, many artists freely make their masters available online. Often, you can simply reach out and ask for permission, and some artists even use Creative Commons to manage the use of their music. Many electronic artists use sampling as a means to collaborate and cross-promote each other by including the sampled artist's name in the title. Despite this, it's always better to at least ask before you use a sample.
As you can see, the music industry can be pretty deep and complicated, but with the right tools, strategies, and mentor, you can achieve success. In the New Artist Model online music business courses, you'll learn how to turn your music into a successful business – a business where you're the CEO! You'll create an actionable and personalized plan that will help you achieve a career in music, and you'll be able to do it all with the resources you have available right now. You can see a free video miniseries here on musician strategies, team building, booking gigs, copyrights and setting up multiple revenue streams.
Dave Kusek is the founder of the New Artist Model, an online music business school for independent musicians, performers, recording artists, producers, managers, and songwriters. He is also the founder of Berklee Online, co-author of The Future of Music, and a member of the team who brought midi to the market.