The Wedding Planner

One of my former bands, Legend, benefited from a reasonably successful and lucrative twelve year long run on what I referred to as the ballroom and festival circuit.

For the most part that meant playing the festivals and fairs, corporate, government and company dinner banquets and dances as well as the inevitable wedding engagements.

I was never particularly attracted to or fond of weddings both as an invited guest and as a musician performing for a captive audience with disparate musical tastes. Our set list for weddings was massaged and tweaked, of course, to accommodate these wide ranging musical views and preferences and the wedding party injected a number of mandatory selections that would never make the cut for our usual gigs. These are songs that resurface regularly,seem very popular with the wedding crowd but are intensely disliked by most musicians I am acquainted with.

But of course a wedding is a very important day for the wedding party and family and their main focus is to ensure that the day transpires exactly as they have anticipated and meticulously planned.

We were fortunate through the years to have employed a very competent three person stage crew; Jerry and Jerry and the sound/lighting technician, Thomas. They were responsible for load-in/ load-out at the various venues we played and more specifically, the delivery and set up of the stage equipment, sound system and lighting clusters. In order to ensure that the staging proceeded as efficiently as possible and to accommodate substitute personnel when necessary, I provided the crew with a procedural portfolio which was conveniently stored in the road case marked “band”. The band case was only to be opened by band members upon their arrival at the venue with the exception of the retrieval of the very important portfolio by the road crew.

The portfolio contained the gig contract and rider and in significant detail a stage schematic in text and diagrams of the location of the stage equipment, the various microphones to be used for each application as well as electrical/power requirements. The portfolio simply minimized the requirement to think or guess on your feet and doubled as a useful document to point out certain details that may be of concern to the client. It also minimized the necessity to call head office” for clarification or conflict resolution. Head office or Boss Guitar was the terminology sometimes used to refer to me by the road crew and some of the band members;

I think we should call head office on this one.

On one particular wedding gig and in the late afternoon, I received a call from Jerry informing me that there was an event planner and coordinator floating around on site who was determined to direct operations and was seriously impeding the progress of the staging set-up.

Among several requests, her current intervention was her desire and insistence in re-positioning the lighting clusters and changing the colours of some of the lighting, which by this time was flying high. Jerry informed me that the usual explanations were provided and that they even tried intimidation by allowing her to peruse the portfolio. All diplomatic approaches failed and she simply dug in her high heels. I surmised that the location and colours of the staging didn’t quite coincide with her particular vision of the soiree that was about to unfold.

The protagonist’s name was Helen and I asked Jerry to please put her on the phone.

Following a short introduction and status update on her part, I informed her that she did not have any authority and therefore responsibility to orchestrate anything that is even remotely related to the band or staging. I also diplomatically informed her that Legend’s contract clearly stipulates the requirements for both the band and our client.

For purposes of providing her with an example, I pointed out our particular requirements for a dressing room stocked with fresh tea and coffee and served in the appropriate crockery at precisely 8:00 PM. I enquired whether that provision of the contract was proceeding satisfactorily. I also promised her that I would be pleased to discuss any remaining event issues in our dressing room when the band members arrived at 8:00 PM. The remainder of the conversation, as I recall, was rather brief.

When the band members arrived later that evening to prepare for a 9:00 PM start time, we found that our dressing room was actually quite pleasant, comfortably furnished and appointed in a manner that we were not normally accustomed to. In fact, at first glance, our dressing room appeared to be well above our usual contractual requirements. The room was also generously stocked with tea and coffee as well as an assortment of sandwiches, cookies, alcoholic beverages and the usual peripherals.

Conspicuously absent from the gathering, however, was the event planner and coordinator. The atmosphere in the room was upbeat and the mood was celebratory. I changed into my work costume, relaxed on the couch and wound-up with a fine whiskey.

As I remember, after we hit the stage, the remainder of the evening proceeded very well.

We did eventually meet Helen. She introduced herself and generously complemented us on our presentation, professionalism and music.

And she may have received a number of positive comments concerning the colour scheme and array of our lighting system.

Revenue Streams for the Independent Recording Artist

By Paul Blissett

Revenue streams for recording artists have traditionally been live performance revenue and CD sales. However, with CD sales not as robust as in the past and generally declining across the industry, many independent labels and artists are concentrating their efforts on radio/cable air play and the licensing of albums and tracks for a specific purpose. Licensing opportunities cover a wide range of applications ranging from radio/television commercials, television programs and the motion picture industry to compilation albums, ring-tones, chain store background music and even airline in-flight music channels.

Radio/Cable Air Play

The Copyright Act (Canada) requires that recording artists and labels are compensated for air play and the use of their work. The payment of performance royalties is standard in all of the western democracies with the exception of the United States. In the case of the U.S., only the record label and songwriters receive the royalties, although the AFM has been attempting for decades to change that regime by advocating the appropriate legislation through Congress.

I have been fortunate that my Fire and Soul (2007), Guitar Christmas (2010) and Luna (2012) albums continue to log regular air play with a number of Canadian radio/cable stations as well as a few foreign internet stations. There is certainly no specific success formula for achieving regular air play other than the diligent marketing of your music to radio and cable carriers as well as the print and internet media. However, the following overview may be of some assistance.

Radio has many incarnations in the digital world and a number of formats that we collectively refer to simply as “radio”. For the independent artist, getting regular airplay without the substantial resources available from a major label could be a daunting task. However, the fragmented nature of the new radio landscape does have some advantages for the independent artist. With so many different radio formats, there are consequently different avenues and markets to solicit airplay. Radio formats and the manner in which listeners consume their music are expanding in parallel with the technologies that carry the message. Following are the various radio formats existing in the terrestrial digital age.

Commercial Radio

Commercial radio consists of the mainstream broadcasters that are usually owned by large media groups and companies and their music playlists are driven mainly by the billboard charts. Without a major label’s backing, receiving air play is much more difficult but not impossible in many cases. Programming and playlist consideration is determined by their broadcast headquarters.

In these cases, reference the companies to determine if they accept album submissions and the name/address of the program manager.

College non-profit and community Radio

These independent stations, such as the university radio stations, still have volunteer disc jockeys or program presenters that create playlists of music that generally appeal to them. These stations have a local community focus and the programming varies between the on-air hosts. They are very receptive to local artists and accept albums for air play consideration.

Satellite Radio and Cable stations

Satellite radio such as Sirius and cable stations such as CBC Galaxie or Stingray Digital, operate much like your TV subscription and there are numerous format driven stations for almost every genre of music. In these cases, the individual program presenters usually accept albums for consideration.

Internet Radio/Podcasts/Streaming

There are numerous internet/podcast radio stations worldwide that accept track /album submissions for air play consideration. For a listing of Canadian internet music sites reference canadianwebradio.com. In addition, there are many internet stations that are programmed for streaming your music and many of these sites operate under a customer subscription basis.

Radio Stations

Research and target the stations that match the style and format of your music. Google search radio stations for each major city and determine the stations that are likely to consider your music for air play. Forward the album requesting air play consideration to the Program Manager. Presenters/announcers (formerly disc jockeys) do not make the programming decisions or compile the play lists. However, there are a few exceptions, particularly in the case of specialty programs, where presenters may make those decisions. This is more common with the CBC radio stations and their Galaxie television cable stations as well as Stingray Digital services. Contact the program managers and ask for permission to forward your album for consideration which you should also do when dealing with radio to establish a relationship with programmers. Forward two copies of the album, one with the shrink wrap removed, along with a biography document (maximum one page) attached to the letter to provide the manager with additional information about the artist. This protocol would also apply if you are forwarding a press release to a newspaper for review consideration. Providing the recipient with basic background information simplifies their decision making process and provides some familiarity with the artist. You would not normally be advised if your album was accepted or rejected for broadcast. It is up to the artist or label to follow up and determine if you are receiving air play in specific markets. Some but not all stations publish their play list on their web-site. Points of sale of your albums, if you sell albums and tracks from your web-site or a secondary seller such as iTunes or CD Baby, are also indications of locations where you may be receiving air play.

A very good resource for the music business generally is the yearly publication The Indie Bible www.indiebible.com which is available for purchase on-line. The publication outlines radio stations that are receptive to artists for air play as well as publications and blogs that will review your music as well as information concerning the licensing of your music for various media applications.

The album

The basic assumption is that your album has been well recorded, mixed and mastered. There are a number of very good recording studios in the Ottawa region as well as a few mastering labs. For radio play and licensing, optimum mastering of your album is very important. Radio people consistently advise the industry that a large number of albums received from independent artists are not radio ready and do not meet the radio broadcasting standards required. They indicate that many are well below the decibel level required for radio. There are no longer disc jockeys to increase the decibel level on the meter and all tracks are digitized/computerized in accordance with broadcast standards. The mastering process also encodes the International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) number. The ISRC number is a unique and permanent digital identifier for a specific recording and track and provides the means to identify recordings for royalty payments. The code also identifies the album, artist and track title for digital radio display. The application for the ISRC code is available from the Audio-Video Licensing Agency at AVLA2007.ca

The Music

Most artists record in a particular genre of music; from country, rock and blues to jazz and classical. In my case however, it becomes somewhat complicated since the tracks range between a number of genres and styles. Consequently, I make it easier for radio by listing the tracks on the back outside panel of the album with the format indicated with each track. The variety of genres is also an advantage with the CBC Galaxie and other cable stations since one album may be play listed on a number of genre specific stations.

Distribution

Once your album is recorded and released either as a physical album or as digital releases of specific tracks, artists then must make decisions to distribute your music. Your album and tracks should be profiled and marketed on your web-site and your site should have the functionality to allow visitors to purchase your physical album via a Paypal link and to download albums/tracks digitally as well.

There are a number of sites that will distribute your album on your behalf for a fee per album. CD Baby, www.CDBaby.com will distribute your physical album when you provide them with inventory and they will also distribute/submit your tracks to ITunes, Spotify and many internet music sites. Tunecore, www.tunecore.com, is also another music service provider that will distribute for a fee/album/year. Other portals that host artist music and have the facility to monetise your music are Reverbnation, YouTube and Soundcloud among many.

The Collectives

It is important that you register with the various collectives so that your air play shows up on their radar. Performance royalties apply to both the artist and session musicians, who are also mandated by the Act to receive air play compensation. Re: Sound, formerly known as the Neighbouring Rights Collective of Canada, is the collective which ensures that you are compensated for performance royalties for the public performance and communication of your music. In order to collect royalties, you also have to register with one of Re:Sounds three member organizations that represent performers; Recording Artist’s Collecting Society (RACS), Musicians Rights Organization Canada (MROC), which replaced the AFM for that application and La Society de gestion collective de L’Union des artistes. You should also register with The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) for your original music and The Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA) if you are writing and recording cover material. Recording artists will deal with the CMRRA to obtain the mechanical licence authorizing the production (pressing) of the album and the payment of royalties to the songwriter/publisher. The CMRRA also negotiates the publishing royalties on your behalf should a party wish to license your album or specific track. SOCAN membership allows you to register your original song copyrights and the publisher of your music; important should a second party wish to license or record your original music.

Licensing

There are three basic licenses that may impact the life of your recorded work; mechanical, synchronization and master-use licenses. A mechanical license refers to the reproduction, for distribution or sale, of a musical composition in the form of a sound recording in physical or digital format and is required before you produce or press your album. Whenever you reproduce and distribute a recording of a composition you did not compose (cover song) or control the copyright (publisher), you will require a mechanical license issued by the CMRRA which represents and distributes royalties to the composer or controller of the composition. These would normally be the publisher acting on behalf of songwriters and composers. The publishing royalty is a fixed statutory rate calculated on the basis of each track and album reproduced. A synchronization license refers to the agreement for the use of your music in audio-visual productions which are negotiated on a case-by-case basis between the prospective user and the owner of the copyright (songwriter/publisher) or the owners licensing agent such as the CMRRA . The master-use license is the authorization granted to the user (film/television/record label) for the reproduction of the recording and is granted by the record label which owns the recording. Unlike the mechanical license, the synchronization and master-use licenses are negotiable between the various parties. Last year I licensed a track from my Guitar Christmas album to Universal Music for a compilation album on behalf of a group of radio stations. The revenue in this case was the master-use license itself, a percentage of sales and air play since the album was promoted by the broadcaster.

Licensing tracks for a specific purpose can be another revenue stream for many artists. Licensing, like most aspects of the music business, is very competitive and there is a wide variety of companies in the business. I have two companies that have placed my music on their roster and are currently marketing the tracks; one based in New York and a second in Hollywood. It is competitive for the artist and publishing companies by virtue of the volume of music the publishers receive. For example, the New York firm had a data base of 15,000 solicited tracks which they reduced to 3000 data base tracks for license marketing. It was a similar story at the Hollywood firm and I am somewhat fortunate to have made the cut to be placed on their client portfolios.

Similar to the business model of the major record labels, in most cases, you cannot approach these companies directly or via their web-site. Both of these entities would simply be overwhelmed with material and consequently they find ways to find the artists they are interested in working with. Although they all have their own marketing strategy, much of this contact is accomplished by secondary music business web-sites such as Sonicbids, Taxi, Musicxray , Connect Music, Music Gateway and MusicSubmit among others. These are web-sites that bring together record labels, producers, artists and other music business players by soliciting and inviting musicians to submit their material for consideration. The submission invitations range from agents, managers, publishers, label roster consideration and licensing in general or for a specific television program or motion picture. The web-sites are usually free and you can upload your tracks, profile and biography but submitting to an advertised opportunity, although sometimes free, carries a small fee averaging from $2.00-$15.00 and a surcharge for the web-site. The company will accept or decline your submission and will be in contact if they are interested in working with you as an artist. Because of the large volume of companies searching for music for very specific applications, it is important to carefully target your submissions and tracks to an opportunity you think would be receptive to your music.

Another consideration is that your tracks will likely be submitted in mp3 format. Mp3 is a low-fi, severely compressed format that has been compared to a can of frozen orange juice. When you add three cans of water to the frozen juice then it magically transforms to CD digital quality. Since selection decisions are often made listening to mp3, it is important that, if selected, you forward the complete CD quality album to them. They may then become interested in additional tracks or the complete album. Should your material be selected for licensing opportunities, the company will usually request a copy of the album for inclusion on their marketing data base. These companies only accept mastered CD submissions. As part of the submission, make sure that you reference your web-site to enable them to learn more about the artist and your music. Refrain from posting samples of each track on your web-site; potential buyers are not getting the complete story. There are procedures and protocols that enable you to post the full track but not allow a site visitor to download the track free of charge.

Licensing is equally attractive for both covers and original tracks; my Fire and Soul and Guitar Christmas albums consist of cover tunes but my next album, Luna, (release January, 2012) contains a few of my original tunes and I hope the subsequent album will contain an additional number of original tracks. There are advantages to both, particularly in the licensing world. Original compositions/tracks do not require the payment of composer/publisher royalties (mechanical license) at the album pressing stage and the synchronization licence is negotiated by the CMRRA on your behalf. As the owner of the master and label, you would also grant the user a master-use license which is also negotiable. Cover tracks are subjected to mechanical license royalties paid to the composer/songwriter/publisher by CMRRA prior to pressing the album. In the case of licensing, they are subject to the synchronization license payment to the publisher which is negotiable and varies considerably depending on the application. The user of the album/track will also need the master-use license from the music label. If you record older music, in some cases the copyright has expired and the music enters the public domain and not subject to mechanical license royalty payments.

The demand for cover tracks, particularly for television and movies, is increasing mainly due to budget demands in the television and film industry. With the proliferation of lower budget films and the tendency to minimize production costs, producers are increasingly passing on “original artist” work in favour of the cover artists mainly because of the original artists often exorbitant monetary demands. A film producer can license a cover version at a fraction of the cost that an original artist may demand and in some cases the cover tunes are performed and recorded better than the original.

Web-site

A web-site is important if you are generating air play or receiving interest from companies that wish to license your work for a specific purpose. Both applications require a destination so that the public can become more familiar with the artist and their work, listen to the music and order your albums. Ensure that your web-site is designed in a user friendly manner and includes album information, music tracks, artist biography and contact information.

Also ensure that your site has the functionality to order your physical album and the digital downloading of the album/insert as well as individual tracks. A Paypal link/button) on your site will facilitate on-line sales as well as track the accounting of your sales.

Pursuing air play consideration within the expanding radio universe is a worthwhile objective for the independent musician. Air play may lead to performance royalties and generate increased CD sales via your web-site. I would also encourage recording artists, as an important component of the evolution and development of their careers, to consider opportunities to license their work for a wide variety of applications and uses.