Feature Interview

Talking Independent Musician Publishing, Part 1

Over the last 5 years there’s been a massive rise in the prominence of mainstream independent artists, both in South Africa and abroad. These artists know the importance of having their paperwork taken care of for them, presumably where they didn’t before.
In South Africa, creative legal agency Legalese, has recognised the importance of aiding musicians in the collecting and understanding of performing and needletime royalties, and has established a new branch to their business that caters specifically to musicians looking to register and collect royalties from their creative property.

I spoke to Legalese’s paralegal Catherine Marcus about the aims of this branch as well as the different services that they’re offering.

Tecla Ciolfi: Working with younger artists predominantly I find myself explaining the difference between SAMRO, CAPASSO and SAMPRA constantly so what you’re doing, apart from providing a service, is also educating artists to how these companies work for them. Why is it important for artists to be registered with all these companies?

Catherine Marcus: Who would say no to free money? It’s important for all artists who have recorded tracks that are being consumed by the public to be registered with SAMRO, CAPASSO and SAMPRA so that whenever a piece of music played, sold or heard in any form by the public, the artist can earn royalties.

Royalty collection organizations collect license fees whenever music is played or reproduced. If an artist is registered, it can collect these royalties. If it’s not, it just goes into the coffers of artists who are registered. So why register? The better question is why not?

TC: So what is actually the difference between performing rights, mechanical rights and needletime right?

CM: The rights associated with musical compositions lie with different parties – usually either whoever wrote the track, or performed it. However, the holders of these rights can give them up – usually in exchange for money. For instance, when a producer creates a song for an artist, they can give up their rights to it in for a fee. Similarly, publishers can contract their way into gaining rights in music, usually in exchange for publishing and promoting the artist who owns the rights. These rights can then be licensed out to other parties for a fee, which gives them permission to broadcast and manufacture music. These fees are paid as royalties to the rights holders.

Performing rights are rights in a song that by law relate to the composers and authors of a track (or more specifically, a composition) – the musicians who have written the music and lyrics, as well as publishers, who have contractual rights to music in exchange for publishing it. The right is the right to perform a track in public – that could mean on the radio, in a club, live or any other circumstance where a track is played in a non-private setting. So, every time a song is performed in public in any way, it should be paid for by the radio station/venue, which should translate back to the song’s writers via performing rights royalties.

Mechanical rights relate to musical works being reproduced from one format to another. They’re applicable when physical copies (for instance, CDs and vinyls) and digital copies of music are created, streamed and sold. Songwriters (and publishers) hold the right to reproduce their music, but can have agreements with records labels to reproduce their music on their behalf in exchange for the payment of part of the sale of the music. Royalties for mechanical rights are usually paid however for every copy of a song sold, rather than created or pressed.

Needletime rights are held by performers and recording artist – who are not necessarily the same as the composers and authors, but of course, can be. They attach to particular recordings of songs, and are exercised (and therefore royalties are due) every time a song is performed in public. Record labels usually also hold needletime rights in recorded tracks, according to their agreement with the artists involved.

TC: What can an artist expect to spend to have Legalese sort out contracts?

CM: Royalty collection agencies work on an individual basis. So, collection organizations are not interested in stage names or bands, they’re interests in real people who have played a handing in writing or performing recorded music. Because of this, Legalese deals with individuals who are songwriters, rather than groups together – so, only those who have rights in the songs. Per person, fees for full registration start at around R2 000.00 excluding VAT.

TC: To your knowledge is their any other company that offers similar services? And if yes, are your prices competitive?

CM: In our understanding, what we’re doing is pretty novel in South Africa. This product was built not by looking at an existing company and trying to mimic their model – but rather by looking at a long-standing problem and trying to find a way to fix it. So we can’t compare what we charge with similar setups. But let’s look at the industry norms. Publishing companies usually take around a 40% – 70% cut of an artist’s earnings, often without offering much more than putting your music into a library.

A publisher earns its commission by doing two things. Firstly, the administration and paper work surrounding your music. And secondly, actually putting your music into the public and looking for deals. What we know is that the second part of the job is very hard and publishers can only survive if they sign a lot of musicians. So you may be their main focus, or your life’s work may just fall into the back pages of their library. It’s risky.

Unless you’ve proven that your music sells, no one cares about pushing an artist’s career more than the artists themselves. What’s more, with the accessibility of online tools, you no longer need a publishing machine to put your music on iTunes or Spotify or Deezer. So why give someone 40% – 70% of your earnings to do what you could do for $14 a year on Distrokid or CD Baby? Many would say, “well we don’t like to deal with admin”, and boom – that’s where we come in.

Part 2 interview with Catherine Marcus from Legalese coming tomorrow.

WebsiteFacebookInstagram. Email: info@legalese.co.za

For more about Legalese read out interview with founder Eitan Stern.