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Understanding Music Library Contracts Part 4

Panelists: Erin Jacobson, Bob Mair, Pedro Costa, Michael Eames
Moderator: Michael Laskow

Editor’s Note:
We’ve included some of last month’s section of the interview to give context to the beginning of this final section.

Okay, so I want to go around the loop on this one. I’ll start with Michael, because I have had this discussion, I believe, on TAXI TV with him. This is something that happens quite a bit lately: I do an episode that I play music that was forwarded, and music that was returned on a particular listing for our members. Oftentimes, before I even go off air, I’m already getting the email from YouTube saying there are people making copyright claims, telling me that I can’t monetize the video—not that I had anyway. And I look and go, “Wow, look at that we played 14 pieces of music on this episode, and nine of the 14 are already published either by TuneCore, by CD Baby, by some entity.” So I just want to be clear to the audience that I am not impugning the character or the business ethics or the legalities of what these companies are doing. Some of these are fine companies. But people are so horny—for lack of a better way to describe it—to get their music out there, that when they sign up for a service agreement with one of those entities, and the agreement is a distribution agreement, but there is also a very short paragraph and a checkbox, “If you would you like us to help you monetize your music by signing this publishing deal, check here.” And there are varying types of deals. It could be a non-exclusive with a 30-day out clause on it, it could be exclusive, it could be admin-only. Even if it’s admin-only, which means that they do the administrative work of tracking the money basically, you can’t submit your music to TAXI for a music library or publisher deal, because you are already published. Michael, did I get that right? How would you weigh in on that?
Michael Eames: I’m not going to question ethics, but you’ve touched upon a very sensitive soapbox for me, so I’m gonna go off on my soapbox a little bit.

Please do.

“They would send emails to their artists and say, ‘Do you realize you are leaving $2,000 on the table in the foreign territories because you don’t have someone collecting for you?’”-Michael Eames

Michael: You know, certainly—and let’s face it, we’re kind of picking on more of CD Baby and TuneCore for the most part, where I think for the most part is where the problem sort of lies the most. And the beef that I have with it is that in the presentation of the information, the information may be accurate in the sense of, “Oh, would you like to monetize your music on YouTube, or would you like to collect your foreign income?” Those are legitimate things. However, in my personal experience, I feel that those two companies have presented it in a way where it doesn’t necessarily say, “You can go to other companies and have them perform the exact same service. This is not a service that is unique to us.” But I think so many independent artists who don’t really know their business—which is something they need to fix—feel like when they get to that part in the uploading thing, and you get the, “Oh, would you like to do this, or...”

TuneCore years ago was to me... I mean, I bitched at them about this, so I can say it publicly, which is they would see all the international sales come back through, and they could do a rough calculation of how much publishing money had been left in the various countries from particularly in the days of digital downloads, but we still have the issue now with all this interactive streaming and Spotify. They would send emails to their artists and say, “Do you realize you are leaving $2,000 on the table in the foreign territories because you don’t have someone collecting for you?” And they would essentially kind of be scaring these artists into, “Oh my God. No, I had no idea. Oh, wow, they are the only way in which I can get this money. I’m gonna sign up. I’m gonna pay a flat fee, I’m gonna then pay 10% on top of the flat fee.”

I feel that it is taking advantage of a lack of knowledge in the marketplace of artists who just don’t really know what they are doing, They could stand to get a little more education, because to your point, not only about submitting to TAXI, but I am in a group of independent companies that we all pool our resources and our briefs for sync. And just literally in the last four months alone, we have had four artists that one of the other companies had already signed a deal with, had gotten a placement, and then they found out after the fact that the artist had opted in to the CD Baby PRO when they uploaded their records. And they had to go through the whole process of getting out of the CD Baby thing, because they had no clue that they had signed this exclusive sort of deal. And to me it’s a lack of information that everyone is suffering for.

Bob wants to chime in.
Bob: So, thankfully, I’ve learned my lesson on that front. So before I actually finish the agreement, we are already on the PRO’s websites. We’re looking to see, “Has that song been registered by that writer?” And it just came up last week: seven songs, I think it was Songtradr, one of them, and I’m like, “We can’t enter into this agreement.” It was already listed as the publisher.

You called me, I believe, one night and said, “TAXI forwarded somebody I’ve already signed an exclusive deal with.” The member had signed a deal with Bob and then took the same song and was still submitting it for other publishing deals. And just by coincidence, one of the listings he pitched to was from Bob’s company. And Bob got it and called the guy up with, “Why are you still pitching this?” This is the kind of stuff that we all see all the time. And I’m on a mission, because I want you guys to be well-educated enough that you don’t get a black mark. I mean, there’s no official list of people who do dumb stuff, right?
Bob: There sure is... [laughter]

Yeah, you and I had one of those. Somebody who was very talented, and he...
Bob: There’s more than one. And it’s unfortunate, and you are burning your own bridge. And it’s a thing we have to watch out for as libraries. We don’t want to be blacklisted by our clients, which is why our agreements have to be airtight. I don’t want somebody from CBS calling me going, “Oh, I just heard this song...,” but maybe this other library has it, you know.

So let this be the last question. And I want to go around the horn on this one. What can we all do as a group on the business side of the industry to make it easier for these guys to be safe and understand what they are signing, and easier for you guys to be safe in that they are well-educated enough that they are not making dopey mistakes? I don’t think it’s stupid so much as dopey. They just don’t know. They don’t know what they don’t know. Erin?
Erin: Are you still talking about like the TuneCore stuff, or just in general?

In general.
Erin: Okay, so the library should have fair contracts, which a lot of them do, and some of them don’t. And the composers need to understand what they are signing. I mean, they don’t have to go to law school and learn every detail, but they need to either know enough, or know to talk to somebody that knows how to read it for them so that they do know what they are signing. And even if somebody else is reading it on their behalf, they have to—and when I say somebody else, I mean an attorney—they have to have some understanding. Because with the CD Baby, TuneCore issue, most people don’t read the “user agreement” and they just check the box, so they have no idea a lot of times... And Michael, we talked about the TuneCore agreement when we did the one-on-one panel a few years ago, and it was like a three-year term, and they were the exclusive administrator and exclusive pitching agent. People just had no idea, they just thought TuneCore was like collecting extra royalties on their behalf. The thing is, if you’re going to sign up on a sight for service, you need to understand what you’re signing up for.

Well, what I’m saying is, so how do we get them to understand what they are signing up for, because they don’t.
Erin: They need to ask somebody. And they need to, instead of just checking a box. At least take the time to read it.

How many people in this ballroom believe that you have probably checked a box with one of those companies at some point? [lots of hands go up] And how many of you are now sitting here sweating a little bit, thinking...? [lots of hands go up, again]
Erin: How many people have actually read the terms before they checked that box? A lot fewer hands. So like you said, you don’t know what you don’t know, but at least have an idea of what you are doing. And if you don’t understand what you are doing, then ask somebody who can help you understand what you’re doing.

Don’t screw yourself.
Erin: Well, yeah. Because then when you check that box on some online service, and then you want to sign with one of these guys, you can’t do it. So you have blocked your own chance at an opportunity.

All right, let’s finish going around the horn.
Bob: Sure. There was Steve Winogradsky, who used to do a course—a fantastic course—and I used to have every employee that I had work for us do that course, because it gave them Publishing 101; you could learn about copyright. So there’s a lot of information out there, and I would encourage all you guys... There are online courses.

Erin: There are online courses, there are books, blogs...

Bob: There is so much information available to you, and I would encourage you guys... I know it’s another thing and another step... “But I’m writing music.” But it’s the music business.

Erin, I think you should do a free online course on this subject. And the reason I say free, is that it will be a feeder for future clients. Because by educating them and earning their trust at the beginning of their journey, you will get some percentage of them as clients later. But we need to do something to stamp out ignorance among musicians, because they are worried about other people screwing them, and they are getting screwed by their own ignorance. [Slight applause]

Are you clapping because that was such a great idea, or clapping because Erin should do it? Never mind.
Erin: Noted. Thank you.

“If you’re not reading and understanding the contract that you are entering into, and you could cause legal issues for yourself or for us, that is essentially a killer of your career.”-Pedro Costa

All right, Pedro, chime in, please.
Pedro: I was just going to say that it’s an exciting business; we love music, we love to be creative, we get excited about getting our music to a publisher and getting it placed. But to make that happen, like Bob said, this is the music business, so there is business at play. If you’re not reading and understanding the contract that you are entering into, and you could cause legal issues for yourself or for us, that is essentially a killer of your career. So I would encourage people to educate themselves. We try to do the best that we can when people come to us at first. If they have questions about the agreement, we try to explain all of the terms in the agreement. But you still have to do your own research, educate yourselves. You are in this business, if you want to be in it for the long hall, educate yourself. I always think of Matt Hurt. Years ago you were interviewing him and he said, “The first time I got an agreement, I went to see an attorney and had them go through it, explain every single line of the agreement so that I would understand. And then the next one that I received I was able to go through and look at it in a more educated way.”

“...if somebody comes and sues them, then you are going to have to cover their legal costs as well as your own, because you are going to be brought into the lawsuit too.”-Erin Jacobson

And people might say, “Oh my gosh, I’m gonna spend $500 to $1,000 on that attorney before I’ve every earned a penny?” But you know what? It’s $500 to $1,000 well spent.
Erin: Yeah, but then you will spend $500,000 in litigation later. Pedro brought up a really good point: If you are entering into a contract that you really shouldn’t be because you are already tied up somewhere else, you’re putting liability on these guys when they’re pitching your music. If they are for some reason not aware of it, and then if somebody comes and sues them, then you are going to have to cover their legal costs as well as your own, because you are going to be brought into the lawsuit too.

And, if they’ve got E&O [Errors & Omissions] insurance, you’re going to be dealing with the insurance company’s lawyers, which would not be like dealing with these guys.
Erin: I mean, you are not only hurting yourself, but you are hurting other people too.

Michael, do you want to cap it all off with your feelings on this?
Michael: Sure. Of course, I utterly agree with everything that was said before on the subject. I mean, I think now more than ever, this is an exciting time right now in the business, because I think all of the tools that are available to any independent artist gives them more potential access to sort of get out there and be successful. Whereas before, there was always the old music business with all this old infrastructure that you kinda had to play a certain game. But what comes with that new freedom and that new opportunity, it comes with the responsibility to understand what the hell you’re doing.

So you are to be commended for doing a panel like this, and doing the Road Rally that you do. Erin and I are heavily involved with the AIMP, Association of Independent Music Publishers. And there’s the CCC, the California Copyright Conference here in town. There are a lot of educational opportunities and institutions just in L.A, or frankly, all over the place. Most universities are doing online classes now. I know Bobby Borg has been there at the Road Rally, and Bobby and I co-teach an Intro to Music Publishing class online for UCLA Extension. There are lots of opportunities, but I think everyone really needs to understand that you have taken on a new responsibility with all these new exciting opportunities, so you’ve got to set aside the time to learn your shit.

I’ve got an idea. Why don’t TAXI and the AIMP partner next year and we do like a two- or three-hour panel on this stuff. Because every day I scratch my head going if these folks—meaning musicians—want to be in this business, why don’t they learn the business? So let’s talk about that when you get home.
Michael: Sure. Absolutely.

So with that, I’ve got to sign off and get another panel going. The last one of the weekend, by the way.

I want to commend all you guys that are in the ballroom right now. This is a fairly dry subject, not as cool as hearing Ken Caillat talking about mixing Rumours. But the fact that you are in here tells me a lot about you, individually and personally. It says you care enough to learn this stuff, so thank you for coming.

Erin, Bob, Pedro, and Michael, thank you so much for doing this. [major applause]