How to Double Your Income From Music

Liner Notes April 8, 2014

There are many ways to make more money in music, but this week I focus on one of the simplest.

It’s often overlooked as artists rush to chase more fans and fame. But it really is one of the easiest ways to instantly increase your income.

Register for the PLUG networking event on April 15th.

What products/services do you offer to your fans to increase your average fan value? 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.


The Power of Focus in Promoting Your Music

Liner Notes February 11, 2014

Jennine and I have been watching the Olympics this week. While watching the ski jumping competition I flashed back to my childhood and the “Agony of Defeat” guy on Worldwide Sports.

He got me thinking about what it takes to be an Olympic champion. One of the key elements is focus.

So how can you use the power of focus to launch your music career?


What is the ONE thing you are going to focus on this week in your marketing?  Leave your answers below…

So You Really Want a Record Deal

Liner Notes January 21, 2014

We recently got the chance to watch Artifact, the new movie from Jared Leto and 30 Seconds to Mars.

If you’ve ever wished for a record deal from a major label then you need to see this movie. It’s a great study in the new music business and how record companies are trying to adapt and evolve. Some would say they are making money at the expense of artists.

In this week’s video Neil shares what he got out of watching the movie and has some questions you might want to ask yourself as you watch it.


From the video:

Watch Artifact


What is more important to you – instant fame or controlling your music? Leave your answer below…

I’m Scared You Won’t Care About This Post

break from fearEvery time I click send or publish or call I pause and think “What the hell am I doing? Why on Earth would anyone want to read an email from me?” or “Why would this person want to talk to me?”

Self-doubt and fear are powerful. Honestly, sometimes they win and I talk myself out of whatever I was planning. But more often, I push through the negative-defeating talk and do it anyway. And then I’m surprised.

Recently I’ve gotten several such surprises. Jennine and I have been contacting other blogs in the music business niche about our House Concert eGuide. I’m glad Jennine is doing it, because each time she sends one out that thought flashes through my brain – “Why would this popular blogger want to hear from us?” But they do. They write back and it’s amazing the relationships we’re building by hitting send.

But I got a much bigger surprise in the past couple of weeks….

I wrote an email to share with someone about a video. I can remember sitting at the kitchen table one Saturday morning writing it. As usual I hesitated before I sent it. “Why would anyone care what I think about this video?”  But I swallowed and hit send anyway. Unbeknownst to me the person on the other end was about to be positively changed because of my email. I have since received several emails back telling me what a difference my email made in their life. I can’t share their story here in detail, but my email gave them hope at a time they most desperately needed it. I’m absolutely floored! And to think – I almost didn’t hit send.

Are you scared?

Musicians often struggle with fear and self-doubt. I’ve heard statements like “I don’t want to compromise my art.” or “I don’t want to sell-out and play that kind of music.” or “Nobody makes money in music.” What I hear is “I’m scared.”

  • I’m scared no one will like my music.
  • I’m scared people will make fun of me.
  • I’m scared that I don’t have the talent it takes to be a musician.
  • I’m scared to put myself out there because I might fail.
  • I’m scared my family is right.

I can relate. I’m scared every time I step out of my comfort zone. But like the popular quote says –

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”

Neale Donald Walsch

It’s true. So how can you push past the fear to take steps to get your music out to the world?

Why do you create?

The key to pushing yourself is to have a goal bigger than you. Jennine and I started Only Sky Artist because we believe in the power of music. (Read our bio to find out more) We know that hidden away in bars and basements across the country – and the world – are some insanely talented people. If we can give those people hope and skills to continue with what they do, the world will be a better place.

So, what’s your reason for making music? Why would you push yourself out of your comfort zone?

Some possible reasons might be:

  • the admiration of others
  • as therapy
  • the rush of adrenaline
  • to change the  lives of other people
  • to leave a legacy

Whatever your reason it’s up to you to push yourself to discomfort some days. You can only achieve your ultimate goal by challenging yourself to reach as many people as possible with your music. Sometimes you need to hit send.

What is your reason for creating music? Please share in the comments.






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.