Music Careers by the Book

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COLUMN: You can find many excellent books about music, songwriting, and music publishing. I know because I own some of them, like “All You Need to Know About the Music Business,” by Donald S. Passman, which is the most entertaining fact-based book on the subject. Although Passman makes me chuckle in almost every section, I also frequently turn to a few other books. I rely on a lot of the data found in “This Business of Songwriting,” by Jason Blume; and “Music, Money and Success,” by Jeffrey and Todd Brabec.

That’s not to overlook some of the other nifty works on my shelves, like “Succeeding in Music,” by John Stiernberg, which is a terrific roadmap for a musician to draw up a business plan. And when I need to quickly look up a subject, I can turn to “The Craft & Business of Songwriting” by John Braheny; “Making Music Make Money,” by Eric Beall; and “New Songwriter’s Guide to Music Publishing” by Randy Poe, which is the friendliest roadmap to finding your way around this complicated business.

Yes, I said complicated business. By way of proof, allow me to introduce you to the 1,800-page “Kohn on Music Licensing,” 4th Edition, by Al Kohn and Bob Kohn (Aspen, $325, ISBN: 978-0-7355-9090-8).

Eighteen Hundred Pages of Data
The opening 70 pages serve as introduction. This chapter, entitled “The Music Business–Its Past & Future,” takes you from piano rolls and Tin Pan Alley right up to intelligent speculation on how music might make money today and tomorrow.

As the Kohns state, “It is our prediction that those music publishers, record companies, and other who are quick to adopt the new technologies and who best employ computer databases and information systems to track and analyze the musical tastes and buying habits of consumers, and to provide transparency in their reporting obligations to artists and songwriters, are likely to reap the greatest share of the digital market.”

The chapter also contains interesting insights into the ways technology has altered almost every aspect of the music industry, including digital rights management, P2P, Internet broadcasting, MP3 vs. AAC compression formats, and much more. There is even a nice explanation of “metadata” and how it might help save the concept of copyright while ensuring that rights holders be able to make a living in the future. Very cool.

In addition, there is a funny and sad tale about Doug Morris and Jimmy Iovine, heads of Universal Music, and their inability to comprehend the new digital world in 2000, which pretty much summed up why the big record companies got blindsided in the new millennium. Morris and Iovine compounded their errors when they launched “Jimmy and Doug’s Farm Club,” an online streaming service that somehow overlooked the legal nicety of obtaining the mechanical licenses necessary to operate the business.

What Do You Do?
Chapter 2 has been singled out for much praise by many in the business, if only because it contains an ideal answer to the question music publishers hear from friends, family members, and people we meet at parties: “What does a music publisher do?”

{BTW, here is the answer: “Music publishing is the activity of (1) promoting and licensing the performance and publication of musical works or compositions, (2) administering the legal protection of the compositions and the collection of income arising from such promotion and licensing, and (3) paying the songwriters their share of the collected income.”}

Other than that, you can skip the historical tidbits on the first 8 pages of that chapter and get to the good stuff: sources of income for publishing, how a publishing firm is organized, and how to establish your own music publishing company. (Not that you would want to do that since Golosio Publishing is on the scene.)

Topic After Topic

The next chapters cover the ins and outs of songwriter agreements, co-publishing and administration agreements, collection agreements, international subpublishing, and on and on in tremendous detail. Often, you get clause-by-clause analyses of various contracts. You are even provided with their view of the best negotiating tactics.

Just the list of topics gives you an idea of the breadth of the book: music licensing terminology; duration of copyright, assignments and licenses; granting and clearing music licenses; print licenses; mechanical licenses (including for permanent downloads, ringtones, and on-demand streaming in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom); electrical transcription licenses; synchronization licenses (including “step deals,” downloading and streaming of movies and TV shows); performance licenses; licensing of sound recordings; and more.

Specialized Topics

The Kohns also delve into user-generated content; music in commercial merchandise, videogames and new media; sampling; and split copyrights (including a solution to the problem).

They also devote a chapter each to grand rights and fair use. In the case of the former, they break down the differences between grand rights, dramatic performances, and dramatic adaptations and suggest ways to clear up confusion on this controversial subject. The chapter on fair use attempts to reach a middle ground between copyright protection and freedom of speech. This section presents fascinating facts on cases involving Yoko Ono, MAD Magazine, Saturday Night Live, Rick Dees, Pretty Woman, Ghostface Killah, Barbie Doll, Family Guy, and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.

Bottom Line
Chapter 26 presents typical “going rates” for various kinds of music licenses. Can you say “worth the price of the book”?

“Kohn on Music Licensing” is a legal reference work, so some of the methods of presentation seem odd, such as the fact that the 48-page Table of Contents and the 46-page Index are meant to be utilized in conjunction with each other. Let’s say you want to look up BMI. The Index lists BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) but does not give you a page number. Instead, you get a chapter (in Arabic numerals) and a section (in Roman numerals). Therefore, after looking up BMI, you are directed to see 18.I.C and 18.III.B. So you turn to the Table of Contents and flip pages until you find Chapter 18, Section I, Sub-section C. Which is found on page lii, where you find out that BMI is on page 1250.

The Index is not as detailed as one might expect. For example, I wanted to look up the American Mechanical Rights Agency (an alternative to the Harry Fox Agency) but found no listing in the Index. Turning to the broader category of Mechanical Rights Agencies, I was directed to 13.VI, so I flipped to page xliii of the Table of Contents, where you discover that Chapter 13 Section VI begins on page 808 where you can read four paragraphs on HFA and one on AMRA.

Included with the book is a CD-ROM containing more than 170 forms and contracts, some in Rich Text Format (.rtf) files and others as Portable Document Format (.pdf) files. I’m not saying that buying this book gives you every form you will need to handle your music publishing, but, well. . . Yes, I am saying that buying this book gives you every form you will need to handle your music publishing.

About John Scott G

John Scott G is a writer of non-fiction and fiction appearing in print, broadcast, and digital media. He frequently works in communications, which means marketing, advertising, and various forms of hype. His articles on music are being collected for the forthcoming book, "Ambient Deviant Speedmetal Polka: Rock Writing, 1990s to 2010s, Los Angeles." Visit JohnScottG.com for more information.

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