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The Focusrite Guide to Releasing Music: Part 4

14/05/2021

Words: Chuck Fishman

In previous parts of this guide, I've mentioned that it's important to capture mechanical performance and mechanical royalties from your songs when they are streamed by major music services and played on radio and other broadcasts. If you've decided to forgo a record label for your release and want to self-release instead, the first step is to set up publishing.

Publishing your own music

You can't capture 100% of performance and mechanical royalties - the share for the publisher and the share for the songwriter - without publishing your songs yourself.

To set up as a songwriter, you need to become affiliated with a Publishing Rights Organisation (PRO). In the US you would join either BMI or ASCAP, and in the UK songwriters usually register with PRS - for a complete list of copyright collection societies worldwide, click here. However, being the songwriter on a release will only give you 50% of the royalty share, the publishers get the other half.

If you want to register as an individual song publisher too, I recommend doing so with the same organisation that you've registered with as a songwriter, to keep things streamlined. It will cost you $50 to become a self-publisher at ASCAP and $150 at BMI. However, before you register with a PRO as an individual publisher, I suggest that you go to Songtrust first, because they will register you for free with the PRO of your choice.

Songtrust is a publishing administration company that collects all royalties on a song publishers behalf, and their platform works with royalty collection societies across the globe, giving you the furthest reach to get paid for the use of your music. It costs $99 a year to have them collect on the songs that you - as a publisher - register with Songtrust.

There are very few publishing administration companies that serve independent artists publishing interests, so many artists rely on the PRO they registered with to collect and pay out royalties. In addition to Songtrust in this space, there is now UK-based Sentric Publishing, and Spain-based Unison.

I'm now a song publisher. Am I also a record label?

If you want to have the appearance of being with a record label, you could create your own record label that has a different name to your artist name. Although you often see established artists launching their own record label after they've become successful, other artists build record labels around themselves from the very start. For instance, the Indie imprint Mad Decent was started because music producer Diplo needed a label home to launch his career. His label now has dozens of new artists signed.

Having your own record label name is something to consider, and there may come a time where you want to give like-minded artists a home under your label and music publishing firm. If you decide to skip the record label name and just use your own, your music will simply display as released by your artist name on music streaming services. You can be on your new record label in name only - meaning you haven't set up any legal business behind it. One other option is to establish your label as an LLC (a US-specific form of a private limited company) or your country's equivalent, so that you can structure your profit and losses from selling and marketing your music in a more tax-efficient manner.

Using a distributor to self-release

There are three major independent distribution services that can deliver your music digitally to most streaming services (e.g., Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music) as well as retailers (e.g. online music stores like iTunes, Beatport and Bandcamp). The big three self-service distribution companies are Tunecore, CD Baby, and Distrokid. They are called self-service because you won't need a rep from the company to handle your music. Instead, you'll be able to upload your master audio files directly to their distribution service webpage. The major labels also operate music distribution companies - Sony Music owns The Orchard, Warner Music group has ADA, and Universal Music has InGrooves. You would have to have a pretty big fan base and established track record of success to work with those firms. Regardless, the technology is pretty much the same with both the majors and self-service companies. When you distribute your music through any kind of digital distributor, you will find an online dashboard where you upload your music files and enter in all the related metadata (information about the songs).

Selling music directly to your audience

It's becoming more common for musicians to sell audio files directly to consumers and skip streaming entirely. Musicians who have established fan bases may feel they can do very well with sales and keep the majority of their income without giving a percentage of the sales revenues to a distributor. However, if you set up a website to sell audio files directly, you'll still have to pay the web hosting fees.

Many musicians now have Patreon accounts. This platform allows artists to set up a monthly subscription service for their fans where they can offer regular, direct, and early access to their music. They may also offer other exclusive content like behind-the-scenes videos and limited-edition merchandise. Patreon only takes 10% of the fan subscription revenues, which is a lower rate than Bandcamp's 15% of revenue for digital music sales.

Both Patreon and Bandcamp have a huge advantage over other music retail sites and streaming services in that if you are self-releasing, youll be able to upload your music to their platforms and sell your release immediately. Using a digital distributor means that you are obliged to wait for them to deliver your release to music retailers and streaming services. It's typically about a week from the time you upload your music to t
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