Ten advanced music tips for T+T artistes – why did I write it? This week COTT had a nationwide drive to educate their members. They focused on answering frequently asked questions such as the basics of copyright and how to avoid disputes with producers. There was a lot of good content in the meeting. Sad to say the turnout was mediocre. I mean COTT has THOUSANDS of members and the Chaguanas meeting had like 15 people.
This made me realise that many, young artistes especially, are missing out on valuable information. This week I previously planned to do some exciting Carnival-oriented posts. You know those click baity type stuff that cause rab and get real views. But in the end I decided that this article is more important and I hope it reaches the eyes of those that need it most.
1. ATTEND INDUSTRY MEETINGS – MUSICTT, COTT etc
You won’t find the big players in the industry at these meetings. You won’t see Machel at a COTT meeting unless he’s a featured speaker. You won’t see Bunji at a MusicTT meeting. But until you reach that level, you should be there.
As a new artiste there is a lot to learn and they are willing to educate. MusicTT especially regularly administers events specifically to disseminate information on topics such as Copyright, Branding, Songwriting, Mastering, Music Distribution among many others. And MusicTT also spends money to bring in both local and international subject matter experts to deliver highly informed FREE lectures. So take advantage.
Additionally, the networking potential is high. You get to meet producers, singers, songwriters, studio owners, promoters, publishers and many other contacts that can assist you on your road to success. Chances are you won’t meet Machel but a lot of low profile attendees include people who wrote or produced one of his songs. Go with an open mind and a pleasant demeanour and you’ll be surprised who you can link with. In the case of MusicTT, other than providing information, they also accept proposals for funding once or twice a year so it’s good to get to know the people there. And be on the mailing list to be in the know.
Speaking of which, there is a stakeholder MusicTT meeting that sheds light and expands on the music-centric announcements in the budget we previously touched on. Take it from me, this is something you SHOULD attend.
2. UNDERSTAND TRINIDAD COPYRIGHT LAW
Trinidad & Tobago is a unique country. Our Copyright law is no different. Thankfully, we have an implementation that is easier than most. Basically, once you create a work, it is automatically copyrighted to you. The onus is on you to prove that you own it.
Some people (snail) mail themselves proof of ownership. You can email yourself as well. The main thing is to get a time-stamped record of your ownership. As a new artiste this may seem trivial but if one of your neglected works suddenly makes a fortune, you’ll be suprised to see the number of Slim Shadys emerging to claim ownership. And you’ll thank yourself if you’ve already performed this step.
3. UNDERSTAND WHAT A ‘SONG’ IS
This one is a hard concept to grasp. It took me probably 6 years to fully understand this. Hopefully it won’t take you as long. This lack of understanding is the reason behind the majority of disputes between artistes and producers regarding who owns what. If you overstand this, you’re already ahead of the game.
A song comprises of two main parts; the composition and the recording.
The composition is what WE artistes THINK is the entire song. This is the lyrics and melody. Some things to note though. If the producer built the beat and you wrote to it, even though you added melody on top of the instrumental the producer still has some (majority) ownership in the melody. The producer is the composer in this case. If you bring lyrics and a melody and he builds on your melody then you are the composer.
The recording is the actual physical representation of the song. How do people hear your music? On a cd right? Or maybe via an mp3 through YouTube or Apple Music. That mp3 file or cd is the recording which is generally created in a studio by the producer you have paid.
Now this is the important part so listen CAREFULLY. Even if you came to the studio with melody and lyrics, the producer you paid to master your song by default has copyright in the recording. Why? The producer created it. The producer used skill and equipment to create the final mp3 that people will use to listen to your composition. Unless you make some other arrangement via a WRITTEN AGREEMENT, this is how it works. Which is why the next tip is hugely important.
4. SIGN A WRITTEN AGREEMENT WITH THE PRODUCER BEFORE RECORDING
To avoid all conflict, sign an agreement with your producer BEFORE recording. Once you understand the elements of a song you’ll understand what is fair in terms of percentages. On a COTT Notification of Works form you will see “performing” and “mechanical” as the aspects of the song to which you will assign percentages of ownership. “Performing is “Composition” and “Mechanical” is “Recording, the two terms I explained in the paragraph above.
Have a conversation with the producer and be fair. Also remember, everything is negotiable. The producer may be willing to give you full ownership of the song for a price. If you are getting a ‘bligh’ and recording for free (which bites you in the long run imho), the producer most likely will take a larger percentage of ownership of the song. Whatever it is, get it in writing before hand. You can’t tell which one of your songs will be a big hit maybe twenty years from now. So do due diligence.
At Future Crab Studios, when you record with us, by default we give artistes full ownership of their music. And if the arrangement is different, we will initiate a written agreement. But not every studio is us.
5. MAKE YOUR SONGS AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL STORES
If you asked me about this a few years ago I would have told you this not making any sense. Honestly, most artistes won’t make more than $5US selling music online. In a night, I used to sell like 5 cds easy at $20 a piece so paying $50US to distribute an album via cdbaby to earn like maybe $20US in 2 years didn’t make sense to me
What I would say though is getting your music on online stores is an investment in your future as well as the international market. If and when you get performances abroad, especially in Europe, they will expect your music to be already up on Spotify, Apple Music etc. Streaming is small money per stream but if you’re not on a label that will shark away 70% of your earnings, that passive income adds up. Additionally, Billboard already uses it for chart ranking. You don’t want to be left out of those opportunities.
Streaming is also getting more and more popular in our region. Very soon streaming is going to be ubiquitous. It’s kinda like mulling over whether to release your music on CD or just on cassette two decades ago. Don’t be left out. Your future self will thank you.
6. INSTEAD OF BASHING LOOK TO UNDERSTAND RADIO
In every region, getting radio play is a unique art form. In EVERY region, artistes complain about it. I join in sometimes for the fun of it. The better thing is to seek to understand it. Just remember this, it’s mainly about relationships. Not kissing ass. Or spending money. Relationships. We have a nice guide here you can look through.
7. INVEST IN YOUR CRAFT
Some people take pride in saying they never paid for a beat or studio time. I guess that’s something. But the same people gripe that they aren’t getting opportunities, only “fight dong”. Invest in yourself. Get a day job or a hustle and put aside some money. It will pay off.
When it comes to services, there are exceptions but 90% of the time you get what you pay for. Free beat? It probably isn’t up to par. If it is you get through. If not, you can’t complain. Good “free” artwork takes years to complete. Free studio time? The producer probably will claim all your royalties.
When you take things for free you aren’t in the driver’s seat with regards to the quality and timeliness of service delivery. And your career is something you want to be in control of. Also, industry rule 1791, don’t stiff people their money. Relationships are the most important thing in this industry. You never know who might be the person to push a button on a bridge you’re trying to cross. Don’t be cheap. Save your money and do the ting ‘correck’.
8. BE STRATEGIC ABOUT RELEASING MUSIC
This one is for me. Thankfully the old me. Prior to this year, I would release music very haphazardly. I’m a hip hop artiste so I grew up in the mixtape culture. It has worked in my favour in the past especially when social media was new. But now, the novelty of ‘free’ music has worn off and dropping something on Facebook with zero promotion is like dropping it in a casket.
There is a school of thought that says you should spend at least the same amount of money promoting a release as you spent to create it. I think that’s a fair estimate.
When you’re thinking of recording a song you need to first think about what is your desired outcome. Not everyone makes music to make money but everyone who releases music is trying to reach at least a base number of people. Whatever your goal is, capture it clearly.
Once you capture that, you need to determine a timeline and a set of actions that will achieve that goal. And only WHEN you deem those actions feasible, set about spending money to record and release.
Not everything needs to be released NOW. Just because you recorded it and it’s a good song doesn’t mean it should drop this month. Or even this year. I meet a lot of artistes and producers in my studio Future Crab Studios and some people hold stuff back for years before they drop it. And the top artistes you admire? They are SUPER strategic about releasing music.
In Trinidad our music is seasonal so factor that in. Heavily. Not to say you can’t drop a hip hop track during Carnival. You can. But if radio play is part of your plans then that doesn’t make sense. You totally can drop a soca in August. But if live performances is a huge part of your plans, unless you’re targeting Cropover or some other Carnival, that release date doesn’t make sense.
So be very strategic before you spend money AND time releasing music. I record my music for free and even I am very strategic about how I release my stuff. My songs are my blood, sweat and tears and I want to give them the best opportunity for success.
9. RESEARCH ISRC CODES
ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code. It’s a code that allows your music to be easily tracked across the world. It’s a unique 12 character code to identify recordings.
Honestly I never took it on but it was mentioned in the Chaguanas COTT meeting I mentioned earlier. Apparently these are used to track your music when it’s played outside our jurisdiction. COTT’s affiliate organizations use this and it’s a worldwide standard. So in a nutshell, for revenue collection outside Trinidad, this is essential.
How do you get one? Well if you use cdbaby, a code is created for you every time you distribute a song or album with them. Unless you explicitly indicate that you don’t want them to do this. If you don’t use cdbaby here is a good guide.
Once you have your ISRC code, you can actually embed it in your mp3. You can use a metadata editing tool like mp3tag which is free. I never tried iTunes but that might work as well. And voila, your music can be easily tracked across the globe. I know some artistes complain that even though their music plays internationally their revenue from COTT is small so if this is you, this is an area you should research. It could be that without that ISRC, the affiliate organization who has jurisdiction over that part of the world can’t track that the song is being played.
N.B. COTT has not explained how they intend to incorporate the ISRC done into works they register. When I get that info I’ll update this post.
10. BE SELECTIVE WITH WHO YOU WORK WITH
We do music not to make a living but mainly because we love it. There are many easier ways to make a living. But we do want to make a living.
Working with a**holes isn’t fun. Getting ripped off or screwed over or having people not deliver on promises is terrible. It will literally take years off your life. Filter people by personality first, then skill. Avoiding the heartache and headache is worth it.
A lot of artistes come into the game chasing big names. I actually think the better long term plan is to build a team of other upcoming people on the same level or slightly higher with similar work ethic and goals. Let’s be real, an Anson beat can’t help you if you cyah sing. A Future Crab master can’t help you if you off-key. So build a team where you agree to share in profits and help each other come up.
Additionally, in life people’s motivations change. Some people were 100 then turn to 70 or even 30. Don’t be afraid to drop people and move on. There is friendship and and there is the music business. You can still be friends but don’t carry dead weight. It’s hard enough to succeed as it is.
Well those were the ten tips. As always, let me hear your thoughts. Feel free to add some tips. If you’re an artiste make sure to check out our studio offerings – our motto is CREATE NEW SOUND and we always try to push the boundaries of music even within this local industry.
Check out our new soca release called “Stay High”. You can check the credits here and watch the video below.
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