February 9, 2015

Protecting yourself as an artist – Decoded

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Protecting yourself as an artist – Decoded

Prior to the release of her pop album ‘1989’, Taylor Swift publicised her latest bid to protect herself from being exploited by third party organisations. The move to trademark certain phrases such as “this sick beat”, “nice to meet you, where you been?” and “party like it’s 1989” has once again highlighted the importance of intellectual property in the music industry.

In her own words, there is no naïve country girl here. We all know how essential it is to prevent plagiarism of our own material, but how far does this go? Artists need to be aware of the legal issues around songs, lyrics and artwork, and copyright is the foundation of the music industry. Intellectual property laws can seem overwhelmingly complex however these laws exist for your protection. So, as a Spinnup artist, how can you protect yourself and why is it so important?

1. Your music: Picture this. You’ve finally released the song you’ve been dying for the world to hear and you’re starting to map out your career. As you are eagerly awaiting the response from the musicsphere, you find that another artist has copied your work and is selling it as their own. Copyright laws exist for this reason – to stop people copying your work, distributing it, renting it, performing it and putting it online. For more information, click here.   

2. Your band members: In the eyes of the music industry, band member agreements are always a good idea. Issues such as which rights belong to who, how royalties will be distributed if the band were to separate and incorporation contracts can be addressed and agreed upon in writing in order to avoid arguments later down the line.

3. Your image: Artists should also consider how the use of their lyrics or imagery on merchandise, for instance, can exploit their image. Paris Hilton famously trademarked her “that’s hot” phrase after a three-year dispute over Hallmark selling a greeting card bearing those two words alongside her photograph. Musicians have to be much more rigorous in protecting their image, work and trademarks so they don’t become an advocate of a product they don’t endorse or associate with. Rihanna famously won a court battle against Topshop for selling T-shirts with her face on the front therefore battling the right to control her own image. Click here for the full article.

Be savvy, protect yourself from exploitation and always get proper professional advice when dealing with any legal issues. For more information on copyright laws, check out the following online resources:

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Recording – Decoded

A successful recording artist has to record music by definition. Without recording, you are just an artist and probably not a very successful one. Recording the songs that you have spent months or years crafting and trying to do them the ultimate justice in days or maybe weeks can be daunting. Being pragmatic in the early stages can make process and result so much more satisfying. 

If you are a solo artist and have written all your songs alone with only your instrument and recording is your first experience of playing with other musicians, you will want to prepare hard and have a very clear idea of how you want your record to sound. Speak to your producer and come up with a shared vision. A good plan might be to create a ‘mood board’ on Spotify. Collect inspirations to formulate ideas of how you would like your record sonically so you go into the studio with some idea of direction.

When you have a stronger idea of how you want the record to sound, you can start planning instrumentation and therefore the amount of musicians you will need to get in.  This will effect the recording set ups and the type of studio you need to record. This is why it is key to know your songs’ arrangements before you book the studio. The Polyphonic Spree could not have recorded in a small vocal booth.

The engineer will be there to, quite literally, engineer the sound to your liking. Most studios that you book will have their own engineer and therefore will be especially suited to the environment. However you may choose to go for an engineer you know or who specialises in your kind of music.

The studio is a very expensive place to be so make sure when you get in there you are ready to play those songs at the absolute top of your game. The recording studio is no place to rehearse, you are hemorrhaging money if you do that. Little mistakes your engineer can ‘fix’ or you can just leave them in if you like the messy, authentic Neil Young sound. Besides, fixing mistakes always sounds a little worse, so either get the part right or leave the mistake. With recording, like anything else in the world, preparation and hard work will see you through, it isn’t too much more complicated than that.

When taking any exciting steps forward you must also try to be wary of scams. For further reading see here.

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Mastering – Decoded

Mastering is the final step in the process, when your music bridges that gap from the studio to the public domain, it’s a magical feeling. To get your masters back and hear how it’s made all the difference in the world and at the same time seemingly little, it’s an invigorating time for any artist. You must be careful when you send your tracks off to be mastered that you don’t make the mistakes that have spoiled so many peoples hard work in the past. Remember these few key things before sending your tracks away to be mastered.

Avoiding over compression is essential, it is an irreversible mistake that mastering cannot fix. Always export you files in 24bit resolution, 16bit will sound dreadful. When mixing your tracks leave approximately 1/2 to 1db headroom in your files, whatever you do, make sure you don’t go into the red, no mastering engineer wants to deal with that.

An important thing to remember before you send your tracks away is don’t be a hero. Do not attempt in anyway to master the tracks yourself, before they are mastered professionally. If you have had to give reference files of your tracks to people and used digital limiting to make them louder, keep in mind that when you send them to be mastered, make sure you send both mixes, both with and without digital limiting. It will allow he or she who is mastering to hear how loud it should be, but still have the original mix to work with.

When you are sending the files to be mastered it’s a good idea to send them in one batch. This way there is no chance of inconsistencies between tracks. If you send your EP or album in separate batches it’s impossible to predict track to track juxtapositions and can lead to a lot of remastering needing to be done later in the process.

Success doesn’t have a magic formula but successful people do have certain things in common. Read more here.

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Artist Management – Decoded

As an emerging musician with ambition you will have researched, read and asked around about how it happened for other people. This means you will be familiar with the need of artists to have managers. This bond can take many different shapes, almost essentially so. Just as every marriage and friendship is different, so is the artist-manager bond as well. But how does somebody become your manager? You just ask the local bar owner, he gets you to sign a napkin and now he owns your caravan? No.

Make sure that when you are on the look out for a manager you actually need one. Looking for one too early could be vanity or procrastination or just not knowing, but get on with the first part of your career yourself and don’t rush anything. At the very beginning what is there that a manager can really do? You can manage writing your songs and posting on Facebook by yourself.

When you have written a bunch of good songs that you’re happy with and you are out gigging regularly it might be time that you became open to the idea of signing with management. A manager is crucially the person who ties all the elements together, they will have to have the charm, patience and organistation to deal with the record company, the publisher, live agents and more as well as having to make sure you are ok.


When you are taking meetings with various people and discussing what you want and what you see the future being, it might be a good idea to simplify the process by writing a short document that goes over money, division of labour, and the length of the agreement. Have it written down, in plain English, or Swedish or any real language as you will run into legal difficulty with made up languages. This should help prevent any arguments in the future. Also your manager should think similarly to you about the way you would like to go about music, your strategy and generally the route you’ll take. Although don’t be put off by some disagreements, it would be boring to hire a yes man.


Most management contracts are one year with an option at the end of that year to renew. This gives both parties a chance to find out if the working relationship is good for them. A manager should not be able to renew after a year without your consent. Be careful you do not get caught like this or you might be stuck with that awful person.


You can expect the average manager to take 15 – 20% of your earnings. This includes money from label advances, album sales and in some cases merchandise and songwriting royalties as well. Make sure you are informed and happy with your contract before you sign it – seek advice from a lawyer, as you cannot be too careful before signing any contract. Keep in mind a manager is not the same as a lawyer or an accountant as some people have confused in the past. You will want to keep all these people’s responsibilities very separate so as to avoid any potential trouble and conflicts of interest.


Lots of people see their manager as a member of the band. The artist-manager relationship will be one of the closest you have, so choose wisely. Ask around and most importantly trust your instinct. It’s cleverer than you think.

Popularity goes in circles. Things go out of fashion and then come back around. Here are 5 genres of music that are overdue a comeback.

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Intellectual property – Decoded

You make music – congratulations you are now intimately connected with and a part of the world that lawyers call ‘Intellectual Property’! Didn’t realise that? Well you are. And that is a good thing. Allow us to explain.

What is intellectual property? According to no less authority than the World Intellectual Property Organization:

“Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.”

So if you have an idea, a song for example, and that idea has a commercial usage, ie selling a recording of that song, then the concept of intellectual property and the laws around it come into play. If that sounds rather scary, it shouldn’t – for musicians, artists and songwriters who create original music, intellectual property law exists to safeguard their rights and how their creations are used commercially.


There are two main areas of intellectual property and they are both relevant to artists and writers:


·         Copyright. You’ve probably heard of this one – copyright covers artistic and literary works, in other words songs, melodies, lyrics and recordings. In most European languages other than English, copyright is known as Author’s rights.


·         Industrial intellectual property. This includes areas like inventions, patents, designs, trademarks and names. So from an artists’ perspective that covers things like your band name and logo.


Both types of intellectual property enjoy legal protections to stop them being taken and exploited by people who don’t own them. For designs and trademarks, as long as they are new and original they are legally protected. The legal protection coves any usage of the idea without the authorisation of the owner. This means that your band name and your logo, as long as they are original, cannot be used by anyone else, on a T-shirt for example.


For copyright, the key difference is that the law covers the expression of an idea. So an idea isn’t covered by copyright law until it is somehow expressed, for example written down or recorded. At that point the expression of the idea, eg the recording, is legally protected, and only the owner of the copyright can authorise any copying of the idea.


If a country’s legal system incorporates the concept of ‘Author’s rights’, for example in many Continental European countries, then there are certain rights that the Author always retains. The Author can issue or sell a license to copy their idea – for example to a record company so that they can issue and sell recordings – but the Author keeps hold of other rights, such as the right to prevent a distorted reproduction for example.


The other key point to be aware of when it comes to intellectual property is how long the legal protection lasts. For designs and trademarks, protection generally lasts indefinitely if they continue to be actively used by the owner of the marks. Copyright however varies by country, for example US copyright law offers a longer term of protection than most European countries, and the protection also varies depending on how the idea is expressed. In general recordings are protected for a fixed period of time (eg 70 years in the case of many European countries) while lyrics are protected for the lifetime of the author or authors plus a fixed period of time after they pass away.


Intellectual property can seem very legal and complex, but as an artist these laws exist for your protection. If you want to investigate more or see how any ideas of yours might be protected you should always speak to a qualified legal advisor.

Things like this can be pretty hard to get to grips with. When you have a manager they will deal with this confusing stuff for you. Make sure you have the right manager for you.

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Building A Fanbase – Decoded

“How should I treat my fans?” is a wonderful question to have to ask yourself. Fans are what make you possible as an artist. The label, producer, manager or tour bus driver, all they do is help you and your fans access each other. So how do you get fans? When you have them how do you keep them?

In this short guide we are going to ignore solutions as simple as ‘Be awesome at music’ and for the sake of argument are going to presume that you are. In fact we’re sure you are. No the key to building a fanbase comes down to one word, and that word is ‘Engagement’.

Putting it into simple terms, the more of you there is then the more there is for fans to like. Let us explain. What we mean by this is firstly you must be gigging regularly. The more you gig, the more people see you. You should tour around, try to go to places you haven’t been before. Bigger towns have greater numbers of potential customers, but don’t forget that smaller towns get fewer visiting artists and so there is less competition among gigs. And as amazing as it is to have everyone in the audience fall in love with you, even if only 10 people out of an audience of 100 leave the gig as fans of yours, you’re 10 fans up on the deal which makes it still totally worth it.

Before the Arctic Monkeys were signed they used to give away copies of their demos for free after they played a show. This meant the people who had been and enjoyed it would have something tangible in their hands to remind them of that incredible band they saw. They became fans, they put these demos up on the internet and more people heard the music and the number of people at the shows grew. Other bands give away t-shirts, bags or lighters. Whatever it is,  by doing this you implant yourself in the audience’s memory, which can only be a good thing.

Enter Shikari in their early days would go around the UK playing small gigs and then afterwards spend the evening hanging out with the crowd, being friendly, talking about the show. This gave all the people discovering Enter Shikari for the first time a lasting impression of them. Their website data showed that it was a lot of those people who came from all over the country to help them sell out their first big gig at the Astoria in London.

All these things gear toward one simple bit of information. Engagement with the fans makes you prevalent in their mind, which increases the chance they will buy your recordings, your stuff or come and see your show. When somebody tweets at you or writes on your Facebook wall, make sure you write back and engage with them. Think of the fans like your boss, they pay your wages so make sure you’re nice to them. Make your music easily accessible, respond and thank fans who are messaging you and perform in front of as many new people as possible. That way you are increasing your chances of not only being heard by new people but being remembered by those that already have already heard you. Be active, be responsive, be busy.

To help you build this fanbase here are 5 things you should know about music consumers.

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Social Media – Decoded

Social media has changed the way that artists promote themselves – in today’s world you can build a fanbase in your bedroom wearing nothing but your pants. In the past there were never the same opportunities for connecting with fans whereas now, when used correctly, social media can be very powerful in helping to spread the word about your music. It is an essential tool for all artists, from the very newest to the biggest and most famous in the world, so here’s what to bear in mind when establishing your social media strategy.

The key word to remember is ‘social’: it is called social media, not self-promotion media. This does not mean that you must never self-promote, rather always remember that you must be social. Try not just to inform people of gigs you are doing or things you have for sale, people will soon tire of having you endlessly trying to sell them things if you are not also giving a sense of yourself. Don’t overdo the retweeting, especially when it is from other people praising you – this only comes across as either being conceited or insecure or both. Ignore people when they are trolling you, they are not worth it. It never looks good to engage in a war of tweets and it shows that they have gotten to you. And it’s never advisable to be hateful on any form of social media, that will only make people dislike rather than admire you. It’s the kind of attention that never works out well for anyone.

What people want from any artist on social media, and the reason it has been exploding, is the sense of their idol’s personality it shows. If you post images or videos that you like you are giving people the opportunity to enjoy something you think is beautiful. People will appreciate the chance to discover something new and remember you for introducing them to it. They may even try and start a dialogue with you or listen to your music on the strength of you recommendation. Be active, honest and friendly, just as you would be in real life.


As well as using Spinnup to publish your music online on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and other digital stores you may also want to think about what you make available on services like YouTube or SoundCloud. You want to be showcasing your music wherever fans go. And make sure you regularly publish new music so there’s a great representation of what you are out there online so people can find you and listen to your music when they are looking for you.

Finally make sure all your profiles look clean and professional and have consistent names. Maybe use different variants on your logo for different banners and backgrounds. The more professional your pages look, the more pleasing they are to visit. The first impression many people get from you is going to be your internet presence, so make sure it’s the best one you can possibly give.

Social Media is just one of the things it’s important for a new artist to keep a close eye on. Here are 5 things every unsigned artist can change so don’t worry too much about.

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Publishing Deals – Decoded

The most famous and attractive part of signing a publishing deal is getting an advance then buying cake, shoes and a new house for your Mum. However, a publishing deal means far more than just the advance. Allow us to explain.

Your songs legally become yours the moment you record them to any device or write them down, essentially the moment there is proof that the song came out of your brain (or brains) first. This is how easy it is to copyright your songs. And if more than one person wrote the song then the copyright is split between everyone who was involved in the writing, and it’s up to those involved to agree what the split should be.

There are two different copyrights when recording songs – writing and recording. If you are lucky enough to sign a publishing deal this will look after the writing copyright, with record deals not surprisingly looking after the recording copyright.

Publishing agreements vary but the essential characteristic is that the publisher represents the songwriter and their songs. In return the publishing company takes a percentage of the income earned from the songs, 25% for example, although the amount is generally negotiable. If you receive an advance this will be recouped by the publishing company through your share of the income. So, the advance is like a loan but you only pay it back if you are generating income from the songs you have written.

What the publisher does for that money is gather royalties on your behalf from what are known as ‘Collecting Societies’. There are two main types of royalties – ‘Mechanical Royalties’ which are earned every time a song you have written is sold, for example on CD, downloaded digitally or listened to on a streaming website such as Spotify; and ‘Performance Royalties’ which are due basically every time a song you’ve written is publicly performed. This could be in the background at a bar, on the radio or at a gig you are doing. The more people that hear your songs, the more royalties you earn.

Publishers will also try and get your songs picked up for other commercial uses  – for example TV and film productions, marketing and advertising campaigns, computer games, toys, you name it. This is called ‘Synchronisation’ and you should always make sure you agree with the publisher representing your songs what the ground rules are so you don’t have to worry about your song appearing on the advert for ‘The Evil Cat Haters Extra Painful Kitten Traps’. Approval rights over what your songs are synchronised with are common but negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

A publisher may also have people whose job it is to pitch music to producers and agencies who need music and may also be able to hook you up with other songwriters and introduce you to recording artists looking for people to write with, contacts which you may never have made without a publisher. If you are lucky enough to have an offer from a publisher, asks question about each of these areas to get a feel for how they will work with you and how effective they will be.

A publishing deal isn’t compulsory. You could decide to self-publish – in other words register with the collecting societies yourself and pitch your songs to advertising agencies, record labels and other people who may want to use your music. There are a lot of collecting societies, more than one in pretty much every country in the world, and a good publishing company will have a network for receiving money due from all of them. You may be able to rely on your chosen collection society having reciprocal agreements with other societies so that royalties from other countries still find their way to you, but you should check this point with the society before becoming a member.

Ultimately it’s up to every songwriter to decide what works best for them. A publishing deal is a great step in any artist’s career, but they do take a fee. In any event, always always consider your options carefully before making any decisions. A publishing deal is a legally binding contract that may assign rights in your music to a publisher for your lifetime and beyond. With that in mind, make sure you seek independent legal advice before signing anything.

If you’re looking for a blueprint for success you can’t look much further than The Beatles. Read more here.

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