A musician’s job is to create music, and nothing more. Any other responsibility corrupts his or her artistic integrity.
OK. That’s an adorable idea, but let’s get real. These days, artists are able to exercise individual control over each aspect of their careers, but that can be a lot of work. The good news is that technology has created lots of efficiencies in everything from recording, marketing, to booking. What once took huge teams now can now be accomplished with anyone with a decent laptop and an internet connection. Yet there are spaces where DIY hasn’t gained much of a foothold.
Here’s one area that has, historically, been difficult for DIY artists to navigate on their own: acquiring a legitimate mechanical license for recorded cover songs (in other words, songs written by someone besides yourself). There are two kinds of licenses you typically want to acquire to release a cover tune:
This is the licensing of copyrighted musical compositions for use on CDs, records, tapes, and certain digital formats. It’s based on a rate of 9 cents per manufactured copy. Labels have to pay this, too, and the money goes to the songwriters and publishers.
This is the licensing of copyrighted musical compositions in digital configurations, including full downloads, limited-use downloads, on-demand streaming and CD burning. Same deal: the money goes to the songwriters and publishers.
Once upon a time, properly dealing with mechanical royalty payments meant someone on the legal team at your label would dig through the Harry Fox Agency (HFA) registries. Or you would. Either way, it could be slow going (and possibly expensive).
Enter Limelight. Limelight — as a part of the digital licensing and royalty service provider Rightsflow — advertises itself as “a simple way to clear ANY cover song.” The website serves as a one-stop shop for acquiring the proper licenses for publishing cover songs on digital, physical (CD, vinyl, etc), and ringtone formats. FMC has kicked the tires on the service, and we think it’s remarkably simple to use. The licensing page features an intuitive fill-in-the-blank and drop tab interface. Anyone who has ever made an online purchase should have no problem with this site.
An example: Let’s say on my musical alter ego’s next album I want to include a cover of The Beatles’ “Good Morning Good Morning” from Sgt. Pepper’s. I go to Limelight, enter the song title, as well as the performers and the songwriters in separate tabs. Below this I enter the name of MY album (Up in ur Album, Coverin da Beatles), MY name (DJ Don Scraper), the length of my version of the song and the release date. Lastly, I enter some information about how many “units” you hope to “move.” (The biz may change, but the lingo never dies!)
Let’s say I am expecting 100 digital downloads (one type of license), 1000 physical records (another type) and 50 ringtones (the last type). After this I get my quote: I owe Limelight $150.35. Once I pay, they review my request individually and get to work. In 10-15 days, I have my license and Limelight then disburses the money to the publisher and songwriter. In terms of actual work on my end, this takes maybe 10 minutes.
Basically, acquiring a proper license is now as easy as buying a Snuggie.
The independent musician in 2010 is like the itinerant bard of days gone by — self-sufficient, beholden to no man, and vulnerable. The threat today, however, isn’t so much highway robbery as it is accidentally fumbling your way into a lawsuit. Think of Limelight as your champion, your knight in shining armor. Leave the accounting and disbursements to them and go forth in bold legality!
PS. Rightsflow president Patrick Sullivan will be at the FMC Policy Summit on Tuesday, October 5 for a conversation about “Music in the Cloud”. Register today!