Music Business Thoughts & Tips

How Can You Copy Record Store Day?

Liner Notes April 22, 2014

Record Store Day is becoming more and more popular each year. How can you use the same concepts as Record Store Day to promote your music?

Did you get out on Record Store Day to your independent record store? Chime in below…

Registering Your Song with a PRO Doesn’t Protect Your Copyright

Why ASCAP and BMI don’t protect your rights as a songwriter

The music business has a lot of moving parts. So many acronyms get thrown around on a regular basis that even seasoned music veterans get confused about who does what.

That’s why you might be unsure about the differences between registering a copyright and registering with a PRO (performance rights organization).

Professor Pooch - Copyright vs PRORecently I called up David Spangenberg to get some insight. More commonly known as Professor Pooch, David has been a music business consultant, educator, mediator and contract specialist for almost 30 years.

Pooch explains it like this…

 “Copyright is to protect you, and a PRO is to pay you.”

Many musicians have the mistaken idea that registering with BMI protects a song from copyright infringement; or that registering a song with the government will ensure getting paid. Both ideas are wrong. “They are two separate animals. One has nothing to do with the other,” says Pooch.

The Purpose of a Copyright

According to the US Constitution, the purpose of copyright law is “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Copyright defines who owns a tangible creation of intellectual property. Copyright applies to many other areas besides just music. All the following forms of authorship are covered under US Copyright Law:

  • Literary
  • Musical
  • Dramatic
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • Audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Derivative works
  • Compilations
  • Architectural works

You cannot copyright a word, title, phrase or idea. That includes your band name or album title. These items are governed by trademarks. You can learn more about the trademark process here.


As soon as you create a tangible version of a song (you write it down or you record it) it is automatically copyrighted to you as the author. But that’s only half the battle. Just because you know you created a song doesn’t mean the rest of the word does. That’s why you must register your new creation with the US Copyright office.

To register a work costs $35. You can register either a song or an entire album of songs for the same cost. Fill out form PA on the website. Once your registration is completed you will receive a date the song was registered and a registration number.

Pooch points out that this number is very important. “If you ever need to assign your publishing rights to another publisher, they will require your copyright registration number. It’s part of an assignment of copyright form.” The number is also used if you ever need to defend your creation in court.

So what exactly are you copyrighting when you register a song? “A song is lead melody and words,” says Pooch. You can’t copyright a riff, chord progression or drum beat as part of the song. A famous example is Andy Sumner’s guitar riff on Every Breathe You Take. Some would argue his guitar part makes the song, but Sting owns 100% of the copyright from that song. Andy is not happy.

Many songwriters have heard of the “poor mans’ copyright.” For years people have talked about mailing themselves a CD and not opening the contents when it arrives. The theory is the postmark will prove the recording was made before that date. The Professor got a little animated when I asked him about it. “Totally worthless! It’s an old wives’ tale. The only thing that protects you is”

Professor Pooch also wanted everyone to know that in addition to copyrighting the writing of a song, you can also copyright the recording of a song. “The song and the recording are separate animals. They are separate copyrights, they are separate forms of income and they are separate registrations.” If you’re an independent artist and you paid to record your song, then you own the copyright to that recording. To register a recording use form SR on the website.

It’s a good idea to own as much as you possibly can when it comes to your music. And having the copyright proves your ownership. Pooch preaches income for musicians. It’s his goal for musicians to make a passive income stream. “The idea of owning everything is to never give anything away or sell anything. You license it.” Great advice.

Here is another resource to help you learn about the copyright process.

The Purpose of a Performance Rights Organization

Logo_bmiThe purpose of a performance rights organization (PRO) is to provide intermediary functions, particularly the collection of royalties, between copyright holders and parties who wish to use copyrighted works publicly. PROs such as BMI and ASCAP collect money on your behalf from radio, television and live performances of your song.

Of course the PRO takes a percentage of what they collect to cover their expenses and make a profit. But if you were to try to collect money from everyone who used your music individually it would take you untold hours. And you would miss out on a lot of income.


The first step to getting paid by a PRO is to sign up with one. The two most common organizations in the US are BMI and ASCAP. Everyone seems to have their favorite – kinda like Ford vs Chevy. BMI is free to join as a songwriter and ASCAP costs $75.

If you sign up as a publisher (more on that in a moment) BMI is either $150 or $250. The difference depends on how your company is structured. ASCAP is still $75.

It’s important to know that PROs are for songwriters and publishers. Pooch points out, “Artists and producers don’t sign up with PROs. If you don’t write the songs, you’re not involved with PROs, unless you own a publishing company.”

Once you sign up with an organization, it’s important to register your work with them. “Signing up with a PRO doesn’t automatically get you paid,” says Pooch. You need to tell them what songs you are releasing so they can enter you into their database and begin looking for those songs.

There are many factors that go into the amount of money each play of your song is worth. Radio is different than television. And a theme song on TV is different than background music. But once the PRO finds your song being used they will mail you a check quarterly (or semi-annually, when applicable) based on a complicated formula of venues and plays for live performances.

To get the most out of a PRO it’s important to sign up as both the songwriter and the publisher. Pooch recommends forming your own publishing company and hiring yourself as a songwriter. It may all sound complicated, but in the long run it’s the best way to get the most revenue from your creative works

Professor Pooch had one last bit of advice for independent artists. “There are so many ways to make money from songs. PROs are just airplay.” In his book, The Music Biz Book, he lists ten ways to make money from a song. Pooch suggests educating yourself about the business side of music to get the most you can for your efforts.

Professor Pooch - Copyright vs PRODavid Spangenberg, Professor Pooch, can be found at He specializes in helping artists and others with the business and contractual sides of music. Having lived the business, in almost every role, he offers real-world advice and services for independent artists and others.


Keith Urban Sells Out!

Keith Urban Guitar collectionLate Saturday night while America was watching Saturday Night Live, Keith Urban appeared on the Home Shopping Network for two hours – selling guitars! He performed a few songs, including songs from his new album Fuse and talked to some fans on the phone. But mostly he spent the night telling the host, Colleen Lopez, how much he loves his new line of entry-level guitars.

The Urban Phoenix Guitar Collection is made up of an acoustic, complete with EQ and built-in tuner, and a Les-Paul like electric. On Saturday night each guitar was selling for an introductory price of $289.95 (they have since raised to $389.95) which included a case, an amp and an instructional DVD of Keith showing you what a pick is and how to play a chord.

Keith Urban on HSNAlthough the guitars are obviously geared to the learner market, they also include some high-end details. The guitars have a phoenix motif running throughout. From the inlaid headstock to inlaid fretboards to a phoenix inlay on the back – all matching Keith’s iconic phoenix forearm tattoo. Each guitar is available in four colors: Brazilian Burst, Rich Black, Emerald Brazilian Burst and Vintage Natural Ivory.

Or, I should say they were available in four colors. Because on Sunday morning Keith sold out! The Emerald Green color was extremely popular and was reported to sell out overnight. As of Monday, the black is no longer shown on the HSN website. In two hours (from midnight to 1AM on the East Coast) they sold over $2,000,000 worth of inexpensive guitars. I bet it takes Guitar Center a whole lot longer to sell that kind of volume.

But the real question here is…

Did Keith sell out his musical integrity and pop-star status by becoming the next Esteban?

I say no.  Actually I say the exact opposite. Whether it was Keith or his management, whoever came up with the idea to sell guitars using his name was a genius! Obviously the guitars are a commercial success, but I think they also position Keith as Guitar-God – something he doesn’t get a whole lot of credit for.

An affordable guitar just before Christmas means lots of kids will be getting a Keith Urban guitar under their tree this year. And if you got a guitar from Keith Urban, whose songs would you be learning to play on it? This guitar is sure to make a new generation of Keith Urban fans who identify him with guitar, not Nicole Kidman. And unlike Esteban, Keith’s music is safe and relatively cool for a young kid to learn to play.

Parents with children interested in music are clueless when it comes to purchasing a first guitar for their kid. My parents had no idea what to get me. They were reliant on the clerk at the local music store. Keith’s endorsement will make it easier for parents to feel good about buying their kid a guitar. And that’s a great thing for the future of music! As twisted as it may sound, I believe Keith is actually doing a public service by selling guitars.

Keith Urban Guitar MarketingBut on Saturday night, most of the people calling in to buy guitars were Keith Urban fans. If you never thought your fans would buy anything more expensive than a $25 t-shirt, you’re wrong. Now not every fan will shell out $300 to buy your signature whatever, but obviously Keith’s fans were hungry for something more tangible than a Light the Fuse tour photo book. I’m guessing many of these guitars will never see much playing time. They were bought as eye candy. But I’m sure the Urban camp had that figured out since they made the guitars very flashy and colorful.

As great a success as the launch of Keith’s guitar line has been, there are risks with this plan. If people get the guitars and they are crap, they have Keith’s name all over them. Let’s hope they did extensive testing on these to make sure they’re well made. Otherwise, Keith could become the guy pitching garbage guitars. Social media is a powerful advocate for the scorned consumer.

It’s also important that Keith continues to position his reason for selling guitars as a positive one. So far he has talked about how much he loves to play guitar and how his life would be different if he hadn’t learned to play. So he’s really pitching his guitar as a great way for kids to break out and learn music. And that’s a good angle. He can’t ever talk about making guitars so his fans will have something more expensive to purchase, even though I’m sure that was a factor. He can’t risk looking like he’s taking advantage of his fans.

Overall I think Keith Urban’s guitar launch was a huge success. It once again proves that music is no longer the product, but the marketing. Keith’s music is what made people pay attention to him so he could sell guitars.

What products could you offer your fans that are more valuable than a $15 CD?

6 Business Lessons Walter White Can Teach Independent Musicians

**************Spoiler Alert – If the final episode of Breaking Bad is still on your Tivo, you might not want to read this****************

The business of creating musicIt’s only been two weeks and I already miss Walter White deeply. I can’t understand why he affects me so, but the image of him fondly gazing at shiny meth lab equipment in his final moments still sends chills through me.

The final scene proves what I always suspected – Walter White was an artist. Cooking meth was his muse and she made him feel alive. But unfortunately, like many artists, he loved the process and creating far more than the business side of art. In the end his business missteps not only took his art; they took his life.

Through the years we watched Mr. White learn many business lessons the hard way as he morphed from meek chemistry teacher to international drug-lord. In his memory I’ve assembled six things Walter White did (Walter White Win –WWW) and didn’t (Walter White Fail – WWF) learn about the business side of his art.

Networking for musicians Build a network of good people (WWF)

Walter got half of this equation right. He did an excellent job of building a network of people who helped him build his business. It’s possible to connect the dots of people who helped him along the way; starting with Jesse Pinkman and ending with Uncle Jack.

Walter was excellent at asking the current people in his life if they knew anyone who could do whatever it was he needed that week. He was also excellent at understanding how each person’s unique skill fit into his business.

You should be asking associates as well. Ask your friends who they know. Let them know what type of person you need to meet to improve your network. “I’m looking for a producer” or “Do you know any good booking agents?”

It was ultimately Walt’s relationship with attorney Saul Goodman that led to catapulting his meth empire. Saul is what I like to refer to as a connector. He may not know everyone intimately, but he always “has a guy.” He’s a great type of person to know if you want to expand your circle.

Unfortunately for him, Walter missed the ‘good people’ part of this formula; maybe it was because he was too busy using people. But for whatever reason, Walter never was able to see how people had their own conflicting agendas. I think his rush to get to the top got in the way of good judgment.

Of course, in his business, Walt wasn’t able to use a contract to solidify any of the agreements he made. But maybe you should think that way as well. Ask yourself “would I trust this person if we DIDN’T have a contract?” Don’t let contracts override good sense.

Make good music+ Make good shit (WWW)

Walter and Jesse got this one right on the money! Walt’s obsession with science and his uptight nature led to making the best art (meth) available.

Their customers loved their stuff! Walter (Heisenberg) had a reputation for making the best meth in the Southwest. Because of this he created a following of loyal customers/fans.

Walter understood the importance of having a reputation for making good shit. The few times when things didn’t go right in the kitchen he wouldn’t let Jesse sell a half-assed product. His customers deserved better.

Tracking their progress pushed Walt and Jesse to make improvements and set goals. Remember their detailed notes of each batch? They always knew what they had tried and why it did or didn’t work. That batch was 92% pure, that batch produced 50 kilos, etc.

Getting a reputation for not being professional or for phoning in a live performance will kill your business. Setting goals will help you improve each performance or recording. Always look for opportunities to improve your past efforts.

Above all, there’s no better marketing than having a great product! No amount of money or hype will make up for the fact that the music sucks or is recorded poorly.

hiring a music managerDon’t abdicate your career (WWF)

While Walter was making an awesome product, he had no idea how to market or sell it. For this he was forced to rely on others such as Jesse or the Chicken Man. Actually, he wasn’t forced. He CHOSE to rely on others and that was his mistake. In the end this caused him to make poor decisions and to trust the wrong people.

It’s one thing to hire others to manage areas of your career where you don’t want to handle every detail. It’s actually a good thing. You don’t have unlimited time. You need to focus on what you’re best at – making music.

The problem comes when you don’t pay attention or care about what these trusted advisors are doing. This is called abdicating your responsibility or sticking your head in the sand. It’s how so many high-profile artists end up owing the IRS millions of dollars; because they didn’t take the time to learn about all aspects of their career.

unique selling propostition+ Have a unique selling proposition (WWW)

What color was Heisenberg’s meth? BLUE! In a world filled with choices for addicts to buy methamphetamines, Walter stumbled on a way to stand out. He made a blue product.

His customers/fans instantly knew his product from the next. This gave him a USP or Unique Selling Proposition. FedEx had “when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Burger King had “have it your way.”

What is your unique selling proposition? How do your fans identify with you? The world is filled with musicians and bands. You need something to make you stand out and to let your fans connect in a unique way. An off-the-wall example in music is The Naked Cowboy. Who knows if his music is any good? But you instantly know and remember him.

Think of your favorite band/artist. What sets them apart from other acts in their genre? Chances are that’s their USP.

setting goals in music Know yourself (WWF)

In the end Walter got this right, but by then it was too late. I think staying in the New Hampshire cabin gave him time to stop and assess. He was able to work things through in his mind and come to understand his true motivations, strengths and weaknesses.

My favorite line in the final episode is “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really … I was alive.” It proves to me that Walter had finally come to terms with his real goal – to feel alive.

What is your real goal? Why do you make music? It’s important to come to understand your motivations in life. If you don’t have a clear understanding of why you’re doing music then you’ll never be happy doing it.

Beyond goals you also should have an honest understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. Insisting you’re an amazing singer when your real gift is songwriting will lead you down a path of disappointment. Be honest with yourself.

Love what you do as a musician+ Love what you do (WWW)

Walter White found his true calling in life. He loved the art of making meth.

It was his love of the process and creating meth that allowed him to make such an awesome product. Each time he cooked he gave it everything he had because it was his true joy. His customers probably couldn’t articulate it, but they subconsciously knew whoever was making their stash was following their true calling.

Can your fans say the same about you? Does your love for creating music show in everything you do? We all have a BS meter and can tell when someone is phoning it in or doing it for all the wrong reasons.

As Baby Blue played (love that song!) and the camera panned away from Walter’s dying face I could feel the love he had for his art. It was in his eyes. He was truly happy. We should all feel that way about what we do.