You've planned for food, travel, and a place to spend the night while on tour, but have you planned how you'll get royalties for your performances, make recordings, and hire extra musicians? The following tips help explain how copyright can affect you and contribute to your bottom line while on tour.
Get performance royalties
One of the ways that you, as a songwriter, can get compensated for live performances is by making your performance rights organization (PRO) aware of your performances. Reporting performances is typically done by submitting setlists to your PRO. Fortunately, each of the three PROs in the USA (ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC) has an online submission process for this purpose. When reporting your setlists, be prepared to provide the titles of songs, names of writers and performers, the venue addresses, dates of shows, and venue capacities.
How to report setlists to your PRO:
Play at licensed venues
Venue owners are required to obtain performance licenses for all public performances. PROs charge fees for these licenses and in turn pass on the money they collect to the songwriters whose works are performed. Ask your venues if they have performance licenses. If venues resist getting a license (or if the owners try to make you pay for a license), then consider reporting them to your PRO. Ultimately, the business that benefits from the performance is responsible for obtaining the performance license, and if they don't have a license, you may miss out on performance royalties.
Getting a recording from venues
If you want to record your performances while on tour, then make sure you understand each venue's recording policy. Because of the licenses needed to make recordings, and the additional copyright ownership that arises when recordings are made, venues are often squeamish about permitting recordings of any performances. It may be possible to combat this fear of breaking the law and getting sued by performing only songs written/owned by your band. Another approach is to request a recording for personal archival purposes only, agreeing that you will only use the recording to evaluate and archive your performances, but will not distribute the recording to the public.
Hiring musicians while on the road
Venues, local musicians' unions, and local music schools can often recommend musicians to sub in or provide backup when you need it, but you should have musicians sign a service agreement and release form to avoid problems over payments and copyright. An attorney specializing in entertainment law should be able to provide you with an agreement that will allow you to quickly lay out the number of hours and pay schedule for the service, as well as to transfer ownership of any copyrights created during the rehearsal/performance to you. Consolidating copyright ownership is especially important if there will be any recordings made, or if you may write any new material during rehearsals. Having a signed agreement with the hours and pay will also help you avoid any uncomfortable misunderstandings when the gig is done.
Jamie Davis-Ponce is a professional musician and graduate of Northeastern University's Master of Music Industry Leadership program with a concentration in entrepreneurship. She has been a music lecturer at Ithaca College, and is deeply involved in Boston-area arts and music organizations, having worked with ArtsBoston and held internships at Handel & Haydn Society and Boston Symphony Orchestra. Jamie is currently an administrator in the Professional Performance Division at Berklee College of Music. You can view more of her writing on her blog on Music, Business, and Creativity.