A Brief Guide To Copyright For Musicians

b7-copyright-picCongratulations! You’ve finally finished recording the music for your first CD, and you can’t wait to get it mixed, mastered, and into the eager hands of your (paying) fans. But before you send that package off to Disc Makers, you’ll need to think about protecting your hard work from piracy by securing a copyright for your music.

While some musicians might have a fair idea of what copyright is, I suspect more of them have a better grasp on copyright mythology than the reality of it. And there are plenty of businesses out there who prey on those who believe the myths. But the facts are these: copyright is not difficult to understand, and getting one for your music is easier and cheaper than you think.

What Is Copyright?

A copyright is legal protection extended by the U. S. Government that covers such original, creative works as books, paintings, photographs, music, and films. Any such work that exists in a physical form can be protected from infringement (theft) by law. Notice I said physical form. You can’t copyright an idea; whatever that idea is needs to be written or recorded somehow. A CD of your music is an example of an original, tangible work; playing a song without writing it down or recording it would not be eligible for copyright.

Do I Need to Copyright My Songs?

The U. S. Copyright Office is very clear on this point: you do not have to register your music. Although a work is considered copyrighted from the moment it is set in fixed form, no legal protection for it exists. Except for work-for-hire situations (in which the employer is the author), someone else could take your work, copyright it, and be forever recognized in the eyes of the law as the original author. Therefore, all musicians should copyright their music to enjoy the advantages of recognized authorship and legal protection.

How Can I Copyright My Music?

8960378333_a5fa2aa6d2As with most things, there are two ways to go about getting a copyright for your music: the wrong way and the right way. The first of these is the so-called “poor man’s copyright.” or PMC. Here’s how it works: the songwriter records his music, writes out the lyrics and chords, and puts the charts and recording in an envelope that is addressed to himself. He then sends it to himself via certified mail and puts the unopened package away in a safe place when it arrives.

While it might sound good, PMC is inferior to the Constitution-based protection afforded by copyright. To begin with, one could simply mail an empty envelope to himself and add the recordings and charts (which may not be original) whenever he wishes. PMC is also only slightly less costly than registering with the Copyright Office. Sending materials in a Priority Mail Express envelope from and to an Atlanta location runs around $23, including collecting an adult signature. Add to that the fact that PMC doesn’t stand up in court against a copyright granted by the U. S. Copyright Office, and it’s easy to see the other way is the better value.

Getting a copyright for your music is easier than you might think. It costs as little as $35, and you can register your work online in as little as 10 minutes. There are services out there that will do this for you, but they’ll charge far more than what you’ll pay directly. (While researching this article, I found services that charged anywhere from $69 to $120; some charged even more.) I suppose they stay in business because they’re able to capitalize on either the ignorance of this process or the fear some have of doing anything with the U. S. Government. I would avoid such services. After all, you’ve probably recorded your music and booked your shows all by yourself. Why stop the DIY now?

If you’re still a little hesitant about jumping in, watch this excellent video. It walks you through the online registration process explains the process of online application:

Resources

The following resources contain good information about copyright law. Those published by the U. S. Copyright Office, especially “Copyright Basics” (the basis for this article) , should be read first.

The dates listed after the title of the work are the dates the works were copyrighted or updated. If no date follows the title, none could be found. The date after the URL is the date I visited the site.

Elton, Serona, Esq. “Musical Arrangements and Copyright Law.” January 2011. http://www.copyright.gov/eco/eco-tutorial.pdf. July 29, 2013.

Heller, Annette P. “General Copyright Information.” http://www.trademarkatty.com/copyright. July 29, 2013.

Nevue, David. “How To Copyright Music.” Updated March 2010. http://www.musicbizacademy.com/internet/how2copyright.htm. July 29, 2013.

U. S. Copyright Office. “Copyright Basics.” May 2012. http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf. July 29, 2013.

U. S. Copyright Office. “Registering a Copyright With the U. S. Copyright Office.” May 2013. http://www.copyright.gov/fls/sl35.pdf. July 29, 2013.

U. S. Copyright Office. “eCO Tutorial.” February 2013. http://www.copyright.gov/eco/eco-tutorial.pdf. July 29, 2013.

________
USPS truck image: David Guo

How To Find the Perfect Audience

EricaatpianoPianist, cellist, and author Erica Ann Sipes recently posted a fine article about finding an audience for your music. Rather than focusing on clever marketing strategies, her article instead went straight to the point of why any of us want to play music in the first place. For me, this article (reprinted below, with kind permission) was as much of an epiphany as was finally understanding the Circle of Fifths, and I hope you get as much value from it as I did.

Finding the Perfect Audience – It’s Easier Than You Think

© sevaljevic – Fotolia.com

The perfect audience.

I’m not talking marketing.  I’m not talking programming.  And I’m not talking about anything that has to do with money or “making it.”  
 
I’m talking about the perfect audience in a very personal sense.  It’s a key, I think, to opening many doors for musicians of all ages and stages.  Whether it’s the nine-year old who’s about to walk onstage to play for a handful of judges, the symphony member who is about to join 100 other colleagues in the concert hall, or the recording artist that is about to spend hours in the recording studio hoping for the perfect take – each of these musicians desires to do his or her best.  But for whose sake?  For whom are we playing?  Are we trying to speak to and please each individual in the audience?  If we are, isn’t that asking a lot of ourselves?  
 
A few months ago a friend posted a YouTube video on my Facebook page that answered this question  for me in a powerful way.  In the video a tuba player that played with the Dukes of Dixieland band, Richard Matteson, talks about a recording session he was involved in with Louis Armstrong.  In the course of the session the band witnessed Louis performing for two very different but important audiences all within the confines of the recording studio’s walls.  And those very well-defined audience members, his wife and God, made the performances what they were – personal musical gifts that were given with unconditional love coming from both directions.  Here is the video so you can hear the story for yourself:
 

“I always play for somebody I love.  That’s all.  You play for somebody you love, all the time.  They wanna listen, that’s cool.  If they don’t want to listen, it’s still cool cuz I was gonna play for Him and her anyway.”  

Does this type of approach to performing exclude anyone else that might be sitting in the audience? Personally I don’t think so.  In my experience it’s performances like this that hand the music and the musician’s own self over to the audience in one powerful package that has the ability to move, embrace, and thrill whoever is open to receiving.  
 
Perhaps this reveals something not-so-positive about me, but my personal audience is myself, all the time – not the perfectionist self or the practice room self, but the me that fell in love with music when I was a little girl.  Performing is a gift for myself that I like to share with anyone else who cares to listen.  If they like the gift too, that’s cool.  If they don’t, that’s still cool.  
 
You’ll still find me smiling and walking onto the stage again…and again…and again.
 
________
Sipes, Erica Ann. “Finding the Perfect Audience – It’s Easier Than You Think.” Beyond The Notes. September 14, 2012. http://ericaannsipes.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_10.html?m=1 August 3, 2013. Article reprinted by kind permission of the author.
 
You might also find Erica’s new book, Inspired Practice: Motivational tips and quotes to encourage thoughtful musicians, just as interesting. Erica describes her project “as a coffee table book for the practice room or the music studio.” Loaded with advice from her own career as a musician, Inspired Practice also contains uplifting quotes to encourage musicians when they need it most.