The internet is a great resource for any producer, whether veteran or beginner, from insightful interviews to technical tutorials. However, there is also a lot of misinformation floating around.
Here are six producer myths that have spread faster than the latest Kanye West tweet.
1. "You have to protect your music from copyright infringement by mailing it to yourself."
Did the post office start this rumor? Mailing yourself your own work on CD does not register your song with the copyright office.
Per the U.S Copyright Office:
“The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.”
According to their website, your music is considered copyrighted the moment you either write the music down or have it recorded “either directly or with a machine or device.”
If you’d like greater security, the easiest way to register your music online if you're in the United States is by visiting the eCo website. It only costs $35 to register.
2. "The producer must clear a sample before he or she sells the beat."
No. The record label has to clear the sample. I repeat. The record label has to clear the sample.
OK, but what if a record label isn’t involved? If an artist is creating and releasing music independent of a label, that means he or she is the de facto record label. (If you don’t want a boss, that means you are the boss, which also means you have a boss' financial responsibilities.)
When a sample is cleared for use in a new recording, the sampled songwriters/artist (or whoever owns its rights) might issue a stipulation as far what the song is about. For example, this is why “School Spirit” on Kanye West's The College Dropout is censored on an otherwise uncensored album. From West’s then-manager, Gee Roberson, in an interview with Complex: “The stipulation was that it had to be clean, which is why [it’s edited even on the album version].“ Furthermore, it’s impossible to sign off on the lyrical content of a record that is just a beat.
Right holders also often want to know who the artist is when negotiating songwriter/publishing splits. If it’s a megastar, like JAY-Z, they'll want a much bigger slice of that royalty pie.
For a quick and easy clearance process, there’s a new service called Tracklib that offers anything-goes sample clearance for tracks available on their website at a flat rate of either $50, $500, or $2,500, depending on the song itself.
3. "If an artist or record label purchases your beat online, you’re not owed any royalties from the sale if the record eventually blows up."
Earlier this year, a meme spread this vicious lie and dangerous rumor across all three major social networks (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook) following Jermaine Dupri’s January interview on The Breakfast Club.
As with anything else in life, it all comes down to what you, the producer, agreed to in writing. Wherever or however you sell your beats—in person, online, the ancestral plane—it doesn't matter. You are owed publishing and royalties unless you sign a contract that specifically states you are signing away all rights and are not owed future royalties. If you feel unsure about the terms presented in a contract, DON'T SIGN IT without first speaking with and having a lawyer review it. Which brings us to myth number four...
4. "You don't need, nor can you afford a lawyer."
This must be how Rick Ross felt when he found out Birdman doesn’t really own all of those cars. It must have been heartbreaking.
Don't let anyone trick you into thinking you need to sign paperwork without first having a lawyer review the fine print. In fact, 90% of the contracts I've seen and signed during my career actually encourage a lawyer review within the agreement itself.
There are also A LOT of entertainment lawyers who are willing to work on a percentage basis rather than a standard upfront fee. Personally, I'd rather give up 5-10% of a check knowing full well the business is A1 than keep 100% of my advance only to later realize I'm getting no royalties because I overlooked paragraph No. 4,080. Insert shameless plug for my lawyer, Benjamin Cline, who has always kept my agreements in order.
5. "You can be a member of both ASCAP and BMI at the same time."
A quick crash course on performance rights organizations, or PROs for short: Being a "writer" means either you wrote either the lyrics or the melody to a song. This is why, when you read album credits, you'll notice even the producers are listed as "writers." Sampled or not, when you make a beat, you have written new music. Every time a writer has their music played on the radio or on a TV show or at other specific venues, it earns money. Your PRO's job is to collect that money for you. ASCAP, BMI, and Sesac are three PROs available to you for the collection and delivery of your money. All three parties state directly on their websites that they do not accept writers who are already affiliated with another PRO.
From ASCAP’s website:
"You can only belong to one society at a time as a writer for licensing public performances in the United States."
When enrolling with a PRO, you must confirm you aren’t a member anywhere else. Attempting to sign up for multiple PROs is fraud, which isn’t the best way to kick off a career in music.
6. "You should get $50,000 for your first album placement."
Full transparency here: My very first placement was a co-production credit on Ice Cube's 2008 album, Raw Footage, with my friend and collaborator Yung Fokus. We received a $3,500 upfront payment, which we split in half. That’s $1,750 apiece. For an album placement. Before lawyer and management fees.
When I told several family members, I heard, "You know, Timbaland is getting a half-a-mil for his beats; why are you getting a couple grand?"
Landing a beat placement on a big-named rapper’s project doesn’t mean you’ll be jumping into Scrooge McDuck’s swimming pool full of cash. Especially if the beat placement is on a “mixtape” and not an album. Sure, they might be rapping about all these expensive things over your beat, but don’t get it confused—$3,000-5,000 is the norm. For your first placement, that number is very respectable.
As far as mechanical royalties, three points (percent) on the album sales is also considered standard. If there are no samples involved, you should be entitled to 50% of the writer and publisher share of the song as well. I'd take that deal all day, every day.
So there you have it. Next time someone hits you with one of these, kindly refer them to this list. You'll be doing them a favor.
Editor's note: A previously published version of this article incorrectly stated that it costs $35 to register a single track to the eCo website. In fact, it costs $35 to register, but users can upload more than a single track within the stated time limit.