Aaron Ford runs the Digital Advertising department for music distribution company The Orchard. He also releases records and manages artists under Lost Colony Music. He has previously worked for Sony Music and Grooveshark.
“The State Of The New Music Industry”
“Streaming Cannibalizes Downloads”
“Pandora Steals From Songwriters”
Sound familiar? These are just a few of the headlines you may come across while you’re trying to gain actionable insights into what it takes to create a sustainable career as a musician, label or songwriter. It might not sound sexy, but aside from being damn good at what you do, none of these buzz topics matter as much as metadata, binding agreements, recordkeeping and other non-controversial topics.
Yes, you read that right. These are the issues that can affect everything from editorial placement to your relationships to the discoverability of your music, not to mention the actual money you need to survive.
As we – “the music business” as a whole – shift focus from selling units to monetizing engagement, all revenue streams available to you can only be accounted for correctly through metadata. Metadata is the information that accompanies your album, song or other item. This information is inextricable from your work and is used for everything from categorization to payment, including information like: performer, composer, record label, release date, etc. And while we’re talking accounting, keeping accurate records is paramount to your success as an artist. An improper or lackadaisical approach to these elements could result in a complete meltdown of your music industry career. I don’t want this, Sonicbids doesn’t want this, and you definitely don’t want this.
So here are three tips to ensure that you are not completely blowing it:
1. Keep historical records.
No piece of information is too minute. Use Google Sheets or even a more robust project management tool to record events such as “recorded vocals in Alex’s closet on October 13, 2015.” It’ll take two seconds and will be invaluable when it’s time to complete your liner notes.
2. Have contracts for everything.
Handshake deals are great – heartwarming, even – and are built around trust. You should definitely shake hands… and then sign a contract. This doesn’t have to be awkward. In fact, it can be fun! I never leave home without Shake, an app with a signature mechanism that creates a legally binding agreement and distributes the executed document to the parties involved. When entering songwriting splits for your distributor, performing rights organization or music publisher, it may come in handy to have an inarguable and fully executed document. It may also save a valuable working relationship.
3. Create accurate metadata.
Learn, understand and apply key metadata terms because your life depends on it. Your distributor can’t deliver the right information to services and help you get paid (from all sources) without you knowing what these terms mean. Even if some services out there have been incorrectly applying metadata, that’s no excuse for you to ignore it. Here is a sampling of what you need to include:
- International Standard Recording Code (ISRC): Each of your songs should have a unique ISRC, which gets you paid by song download services, streaming services and internet radio services. ISRCs should be automatically generated by your distributor.
- Universal Product Code (UPC): Each release of your album should have its own UPC. For example, the CD, digital and vinyl releases should have their own UPCs and each should be registered with Soundscan.
- Recording copyright - ℗ refers to the copyright in the sound recording. The sound recording copyright occurs at the moment you have created said recording. I recommend that you register this copyright with the Library of Congress.
- Content/composition copyright - © refers to the package in which the recording is contained (including digital) i.e. order of tracks, artwork, any text used, etc. As with the recording copyright, it exists the moment it is created, but it is highly recommended that you register it.
Your art itself is the single most important piece of this puzzle. It is so important that you should spend extra time mastering these and other concepts to maximize your art’s value. Many times, these missing links between creator and distributor create inconsistencies, or worse, loss of revenue. Being a total pro in this industry is in the details, and you owe it to yourself to make sure you are creating as much of your own destiny as possible.