Why Musicians Owning Their Rights Is Becoming The Norm

Guest post by Emily White.

“We, as in the collective music industry, are here because of the talents of writers, artists, and performers; including many minds who excel in all of those areas and beyond.

I feel blessed to have come up in my career working directly with artists. I chose this path because I wanted to be closest to the source of making music as I thought the entire industry should stem from the artist’s point of view.

As we all know, in the pre-digital era, labels would pay for recording time, often owning the master in perpetuity. This still happens, and I understand why an investor would want some ownership in the master: although the recording wouldn’t exist without the talents of the artist, the master also wouldn’t exist without the help of the investor.

Note to artists: it’s 2012, if you don’t know much about Pro Tools or recording at home, please learn! This skill is invaluable to creating a long-term and sustainable career. Plus, the ability to record on your own is key to retaining master ownership and leveraging a better deal for yourself with partners.

However, even if you are a recording whiz, getting the perfect master often still requires additional musicians, (especially if you are a solo artist,) as well as an engineer and mastering engineer. If funds are an issue, often a label or investor will cover these costs so the recording can still happen. In this scenario, the master would not exist without the artist or investor. So why can’t ownership be 50/50?  Or if the investor must own the recording, I don’t understand why these rights can’t revert at some point.

Regardless, the industry is shifting to the artists’ favour since they can record and distribute on their own, though teams still help and every scenario is different.

There are artists like Zoe Keating, who record and release their music almost entirely by themselves.  Zoe records in her home studio and is well versed in code and technology. Because of this, Zoe understands how music and the Internet can not only work well together, but thrive. She saw how Twitter made sense long before it was the norm and played their offices because of it, which is how she became a “Recommended User” by the platform early on, eventually amassing over a million Twitter followers. Zoe knows the value and power of collecting emails and how a few pieces of choice press from NPR to Wire can help boost her music sales.  These sales all go directly to Zoe and her family; there are no barriers.

There are also artists such as Brendan Benson who are used to nothing but label systems. Brendan has released 4 solo albums with 4 different labels.  Despite working with passionate folks along the way who had the best of intentions, his music has never had a sustainable or consistent home.  Because Brendan is also a producer and extremely knowledgeable in recording, he can now produce and distribute not only his music, but also artists he works with through Readymade, a label and publishing company we recently launched that could not have happened a decade ago. Brendan would rather be spending his time in the studio than on the computer, but because the recording stems from him, for the first time in his career, he owns the master of his new album, What Kind of World, released this year.

In 2011, Urge Overkill self-released their first album in over a decade to show the world that they were back and intact as a killer rock band. Sydney Wayser released her epic album, Bell Choir Coast, this year after spending over two years perfecting it in every way.  In the coming months, Eric Burdon will put a new album out in a similar manner and he won’t be alone. I think classic rock artists and legends will be going this route more often than not as many have home studios and large, cult audiences. What do these artists and releases have in common? They are moving forward and assembling their teams as opposed to waiting for someone to come along and inheriting a staff. I think we all wish a dream team would fall out of the sky, and maybe it will. In the meantime, these artists will continue to create and release music on their own terms, much to their fans’ delight.

Morally, I’ve always believed the creators of art should own their rights and now, more and more, this is actually happening.

What do you think?”

Emily White is co-founder of Whitesmith Entertainment working with artists such as Brendan Benson, Sydney Wayser, The Hush Sound, Eric Burdon and Urge Overkill. Additionally, White co-founded Readymade Records this year with Benson, overseeing his What Kind of World release as well as albums from Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons, Young Hines, and The Lost Brothers.

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