To get paid for the music you create, you MUST get your music registered with the appropriate services and you MUST have well-formatted metadata.
These registrations and the metadata are key information related to your revenue. Without that in place, any money attributed to your music will go into the “Black Box”* and you will not get paid. This article tells you how to get your music registered.
(*The Black Box is more like a black hole of unclaimed unattributable royalties. When a song is played or purchased but the rights can’t be traced because of lack of attribution via registration or metadata, those royalties go into a financial “no-man’s land” collected by the labels. It’s reported by some that royalties, that go unclaimed for 2-3 years, are arbitrarily redistributed to PRO’s or label artists based on charts or Black boxed to cover operational costs. Don’t let your money get sucked into the Black Box!)
So – let’s get your music registered!!!
In order for your release to be completely registered, protected and ready to bring in all the revenue it can bring in – you must register for the following: SR and PA Copyrights (US Copyright Office), ISRC, UPC, PRO , SoundExchange, and a Mechanical Rights Societies or Publishing Admin Platform. (Extra credit registrations: Soundscan, BDS, and Mediabase. If you’ve already done the others, you’ve already done the hard part! These last three will take you a total of five more minutes!)
This sounds like a lot, and it is, but it is not hard stuff. Time-consuming, yes. But not hard.
This article has been broken up into sections just for readability, but if you follow this list and do what we suggest, you can literally be registered everywhere you need to be in an afternoon!
NOTE: We advise that you start this process six weeks or so before your official release date (especially if you don’t already have PRO or SoundExchange membership). You’ll also need that lead time to properly prepare your release with your distributor (more on that in a follow-up article).
With that said — Let’s get started REGISTERING!!!!!
Part I: Sound Recording (SR) and Performing Arts (PA) Copyrights:
Let’s start by registering for your copyrights. Under copyright law (dating back to January 1, 1978), any music is automatically protected by copyright when it is created in a ‘fixed copy’. Back in the day, that meant it had be recorded to tape or vinyl, but now that ‘fixed copy’ is usually created digitally. However your fixed copy is created, you must register with the copyright office so there is a public record of the copyright claim. By the way, you might have heard of the ‘poor man’s copyright’ (or maybe you haven’t) — either way, don’t do it!
Every song is actually represented by two copyrights which you register at the US Copyright Office: the Sound Recording copyright and the Performing Arts copyright.
• The SR (Sound Recording) protects the sound recording — the specific performance of the song. This copyright corresponds to your album or single sales. To protect and leverage your Sound Recording, fill out the Form SR with the US Copyright Office: http://copyright.gov/forms/formsr.pdf
• The PA (Performing Arts) protects the underlying music composition (both music & lyrics). This copyright corresponds to your publishing. To protect and leverage your composition, fill out the Form PA with the US Copyright Office: http://copyright.gov/forms/formpa.pdf
The links above are for forms to fill out and mail via snail mail. If you’d rather do this all online, here is the New Online option.
If you’re registering an entire album, the US Copyright Office has put together a fairly comprehensive set of instructions for you here: https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ50.pdf. If that article seems a little daunting — There’s a super easy step by step solution HERE. And Music Biz Academy has a good tutorial here.
Alright! Copyright registration is done!! Take a walk, get yourself a congratulatory cup of coffee, and let’s move on to:
Part II: ISRC and UPC
Besides revenue, UPC and ISRC are important for gaining recognition for your music. The ISRC is a unique, reliable, international identifier for rights administration and electronic distribution. The best part — ISRC registration is very cheap. The UPC is basically a barcode that is unique to your specific release. You’ve seen barcodes used when shopping — it’s basically that for your music.
Let’s get into the details!
The ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) is a unique identifier that permanently identifies a SPECIFIC recording. For example, if you release a song on your CD and it is later released on a movie soundtrack, it would have a different ISRC. This allows you and the various rights organizations to track each release separately – and to pay you based on the specific terms of each release (theoretically, your agreements and royalties can vary from release to release). To release your album on iTunes and many digital distribution platforms, you’ll need an ISRC code.
Get your ISRC code(s):
A one-time fee of $95 registers you in the ISRC system and gives you more ISRCs than you can use in a lifetime (Really! 100k per year! That’s 11 releases per hour per day for an entire year. Let us know if you use them all up!).
Once you are in the system:
1) You’ll get your specific Registrant Code. This is unique to you (forever) and allows you to easily and quickly recognize your releases.
2) You’ll want to get detail oriented. Before you create even one ISRC, we recommend you make a spreadsheet to manage them. No-one will be keeping track of this information for you, so make that spreadsheet NOW, and make sure it is backed up in multiple places! The format is pretty simple:
- 2 Digit Country Code
- 3 Digit Registrant Code
- 2 Digit Year of Reference [Read detailed instructions below]
- 5 Digit Unique Designation Code for your Recording
Also! — Remember your album itself needs a separate ISRC (US Copyright Office & iTunes will ask for that Album ISRC).
I have some quick tips for creating and organizing ISRC codes that will save you grief later on. Expect a detailed article on that soon!
The UPC (aka UPC-EAN) is a unique identifier (barcode) for a specific release. Whether it is an album release or single release, whatever you’re releasing gets a UPC. If you look at the back of any CD, you’ll see a unique barcode – that’s the UPC. EAN is the same as the UPC but is used in Europe. Usually, for the EAN, it’s the same as your UPC but has a ‘0’ at the beginning.
(Note: UPC and ISRC are totally unrelated. The numbers you created for your ISRC will be different than what is generated for your UPC)
I purchased 25 Barcodes for $25 here: Speedy Barcodes — $1 per Barcode.
Sweet! You have just gotten your ISRCs and UPCs! Throw a few punches into the air and do the Rocky dance! Well done!
Now it’s time for:
Part III: Performance Rights Organizations and SoundExchange
A Performance Rights Organization (PRO) is an intermediary that collects specific royalties on behalf of a songwriter or publisher – specifically for public performances (plays) of music, at live venues, at concerts, on radio and television broadcasts and the like. The specific copyright that these organizations represent is defined by the Copyright Act of 1976.
In English, (and really simplified!) that translates to: a PRO is the go-between group that collects money from the places where music is publicly played so that the people who created that music get paid.
The US PRO’s have identical services. (The main differences are actually related to the application process!) Do a little research, ask folks you trust, but don’t stress too much over this. In fact, I recommend you go with the one that ‘just feels right’, based on your current needs and may be based on people you know who are represented by them. Here are a few tidbits about each:
- American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers – ASCAP
ASCAP is the oldest US PRO (formed in 1914). It’s a non-profit created and controlled by composers, writers, and music publishers. It has over 500k members.
- One-time $50 processing fee
- In order to collect your publisher share of royalties as an ASCAP member, you need to own or be signed to an ASCAP publishing company.
- Broadcast Music Incorporated – BMI
BMI is a non-profit – founded in 1940 by radio industry executives. According to its website, “BMI serves as an advocate for the value of music, representing 8.5 million musical works created and owned by more than 650,000 songwriters, composers, and music publishers.”
- FREE for Songwriters. $150 for Publishers *(one-time fee).
- You do not need a publishing company to collect your publisher’s share of royalties at BMI.
- Global Music Rights – GMR
GMR (founded in 2013) is an invitation-only PRO.
SESAC (founded in 1930) represents over 400k songs on behalf of over 30k writers. SESAC was acquired by The Blackstone Group in 2017.
- Invitation only
- FREE for Songwriters
Outside of the USA – VERY IMPORTANT
For our non-US readers, you can see a comprehensive list of all Performance Rights Organizations worldwide here.
Americans DO NOT have a performance right for sound recordings played on a traditional analog or non-digital broadcast. When a song is played on radio or TV in the USA, the songwriters get paid a performance royalty but not the musicians, producers, or others who created the recorded performance of that song.
In addition to this, Fairness in Music Licensing Act of 1998 exempts restaurants smaller than 3750 square feet and retailers smaller than 2000 square feet from paying public performance royalties. In 2001, the US and the European Economic Community came to an agreement that the US will reimburse European composers for this loss in revenue (taken out of US tax dollars).
Bottom line: Non-US Readers – Register for a PRO in your country.
That’s the best way to make sure you don’t forfeit your additional rights. In your PRO agreement, you can specify the territory related to the agreement. If you’re tempted to register with a US PRO, limit that agreement to the USA and use your local PRO for the rest of the world.
Please note — PRO’s worldwide have reciprocal agreements. Through these agreements, you will be compensated for your performance rights in foreign countries. By the way, your PRO will issue an ISWC (International Standard Work Code) for all of your songs. (You’ll find that on the song level of your PRO account.) This ISWC can be used to track your foreign performance rights serviced by those reciprocal agreements.
Did you do it? Did you choose and register with a PRO? Whew! That was a process, we know. But SO worth it! Now it’s time to register with:
SoundExchange is a non-profit (founded in 2003) that collects and distributes digital performance royalties for non-interactive digital transmission (streaming, satellite, and cable). This specific performance right was defined by the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recording Act of 1995 and Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998.
You can register for SoundExchange here : https://register.soundexchange.com
Please note: It can take up to 30 days for SoundExchange to approve your registration. (Thus the recommended six-week window before your release!)
Did you register with SoundExchange? Call a friend and tell them all about your new status! Make yourself a sandwich, take a moment to celebrate your business savvy, and then tackle:
Part IV: Mechanical Rights Societies & Publishing Admin Platforms
As you might have inferred by the description above, SoundExchange covers non-interactive digital distribution (streaming). But what about our interactive digital distribution, synchronization, or mechanical (songwriter royalty) rights? This is where Harry Fox Agency, Audiam, and Music Reports, Inc. come in.
The Harry Fox Agency (HFA) represents music publishers for their mechanical and digital licensing needs. They issue licenses and collect and distribute royalties on the publisher’s behalf. This covers licensing for the recording and reproduction of CDs, ringtones, and Internet downloads. By the way, HFA is owned by SESAC. Here’s a list of some of their services:
- Cover Licensing via SongFile
- Sync Licensing via RumbleFish – licensing & royalty administration (from YouTube ContentID to micro-licensing and beyond)
- CD Baby uses RumbleFish to monetize your music on YouTube.
- Sync Licensing via RumbleFish – licensing & royalty administration (from YouTube ContentID to micro-licensing and beyond)
To become an HFA affiliate publisher, you must have had at least one song commercially released by a third party within the last twelve months. You can register here.
BUT — what if you can’t get a deal with HFA because you don’t meet their minimum requirements? No problem, that’s why we have these Publishing Admin options. There are LOTS of options here. This list is to help point you in the right direction but should not be considered a comprehensive list.
American Mechanical Rights Agency (AMRA) is a global digital music collection society. They are designed to maximize value for songwriters and publishers. AMRA was acquired by Kobalt in 2015. 3 interesting points with AMRA —
- Creators come first.
- Super transparent.
- Built on Kobalt Technology (this is super cool!)
These guys have a great claim to fame but — I’m not sure how to register. It looks like you just send an inquiry email to email@example.com. If you do this, let us know how it went and what you find out!
Audiam is an interactive streaming revenue collection company. It gets you paid from Apple Music, Amazon Prime, Beats, Google Play, Mood Music, Rhapsody, Spotify, TouchTunes, YouTube, and other interactive streaming services.
One interesting tidbit about Audiam – they were purchased by SOCAN (Canada’s main PRO). Audiam has taken a very hard stance on behalf of their rights holders. They supported an artist in a $200M lawsuit against streaming services and, this year (2017), brokered a deal with YouTube.
You can join Audiam even if you are self-published. (Check the PRO section above about registering as a publisher.) Click HERE to register.
MRI (founded in 1995) tracks and manages music rights and does mechanical royalty accounting. They have earned many accolades, and have an impressive suite of software.
- Cuetrak – cue sheet management & analytics platform.
- SONDEX is a massive music registry of metadata, copyright/publishing info, and more.
- Amazon Music, Deezer, Groove, Pandora, SoundCloud, and TIDAL use MRI for mechanical royalty tracking
MRI recently reported that they administered over $500M in royalty payments for 2016. They expect even larger numbers for 2017.
You can request an account here.
NOTE: Some people advise that you sign up with multiple mechanical rights societies or publishing admin platforms. No single organization is integrated with all of the platforms worldwide. (For example, MRI has Amazon, Deezer, and SoundCloud. You might need HFA to cover the other platforms.) If your music is played on a variety of platforms, this might be a good strategy to consider to cover all the bases.
You’re on the home stretch! You’re moments away from completing your registrations! Woot! Woot! You’ve come this far, now hang in with us for a little while longer for the extra credit!
Part V: Nielsen SoundScan, Nielsen Broadcast Data System and Mediabase
These guys track how much and where your music is being played. This is third party data validation: a dashboard to tell you what’s going on with your music. It’s important for both your marketing and your revenue.
For example if you get spun five times in a weekend on KROQ in LA, you won’t hit any charts, but you’d like to know that, right? You’ll want to make some phone calls; maybe even see if you can get an interview, but you will not even know it happened without the kind of tracking that these guys do.
Or let’s say you suddenly see a spike in digital sales of your album, but there is no corresponding spike in your iTunes check. It’s time to make a phone call and see what’s going on!
These are good things to track for marketing, but more importantly, they are safety nets for your revenue. Look at the information these organizations will provide you, the kind of sales they track and the charts they feed, then decide whether you want to register with them.
Nielsen SoundScan is an information and sales tracking solution that collects data on digital and physical sales of music. In order to have a chance at making the Billboard music charts, your release must be registered with SoundScan using UPC (for the whole album) and ISRC (for the individual tracks). SoundScan monitors and documents sales across over 14k retailers and digital stores in the US, Canada, UK, and Japan.
Register your UPC & ISRC’s with SoundScan HERE.
Nielsen Broadcast Data System (BDS) tracks radio, television, and streaming spins of music. BDS data helps to create Billboard Charts, R&R Charts, RadioInfo.com charts, the Canadian BDS Airplay Chart, and the Canadian Hot 100 chart.
BDS uses an audio fingerprint technology to track over 100 million songs on:
- Over 1,600 radio stations in the US, Canada, and Mexico
- US Satellite Radio
- Internet services (including Amazon, AOL Radio, Apple, Google, Slacker, SoundCloud, Spotify, TIDAL, VEVO, and YouTube)
- Music Video channels (12 US and 9 Canadian based music channels)
Obviously, if you’re getting radio play, BDS is very helpful to clearly see which stations are playing your music. BDS lets you upload your tracks to their system, and access to their system is free!
To get online access to the system, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org :
- Subject: “Virtual Encode”
- Body of the email must include:
- Your Full Name
- Company or Label Name
- Contact Number
- Primary Email Address
- Any Additional Contact Information
Mediabase (founded in 1985) is a division of iHeartMedia. It monitors radio station airplay across 180 US and Canadian markets (over 1800 stations across terrestrial and satellite). It also provides analytical tools for both radio and music industry professionals.
Most importantly, Mediabase data is used for charts provided by AllAccess, American Music Awards (AMA), American Top 40, Radio & Records (R&R), Country Aircheck, Friday Morning Quarterback, Gavin, Hits Daily Double, Network Magazine Group, Ryan Seacrest, and USA Today.
Register your songs with Mediabase here: http://www.mediabase.com/mmrweb/NewMusic.asp
Part VI: (Bonus!) One-Stop Registration and Dashboard Service
At the moment, the only known One-Stop Registration and Dashboard Service (known by this author) is TuneRegistry (founded in 2016 by Dae Bogan). These guys are working to detangle the spaghetti. Though they don’t cover every single base yet, they’re creating streamlined registration as we write this. TuneRegistry allows rights holders to organize and protect their catalog of music. Think of it as a place where you can store and track all of your the metadata and registration information for your entire catalog.
With TuneRegistry, you can manage the following:
- US Copyright (SR/PA)
- PROs (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and Music Reports)
- Metadata Delivery – Submit your metadata to data services that power the digital music industry AcoustID, Audible Magic, Gracenote, MusicBrainz, Rovi, and Quantone
- Radio Airplay Monitoring – Register Recordings that you’re promoting on radio for tracking and charting to SoundScan, BDS, Mediabase, and RadioWave
- Manage your ISNI, ISWC, ISRC, and UPC codes
- (It also helps you to send metadata to data services like Rovi, Audible Magic, Quantone, Gracenote, and more. More on this in a later article!)
AAAAAAND … YOU’RE DONE!!
Go take a friend to dinner (or get them to buy YOU dinner!) because you just completed one of the most important processes of your musical career. You have protected your artistic work, but just as important, you have opened that work to a whole new world of income streams!