Now and then we get a copyright question from a songwriter who is concerned about posting early song ideas online and having them ripped off. Since this may be a shared concern among other users, here is the most recent reply we wrote:
It is true that the safest thing to do is to go through copyright registration with the government before releasing anything. And on Merge.fm you could also spend the $35 and copyright each song version with the US Copyright Office before posting it. This is the exact same decision one makes when releasing finished songs.
But, keep in mind the main thing you are gaining by going all out like this is the right to statutory damages and attorney’s fees in court actions. Without officially registering, you still get the right to actual damages and profits since posting on Merge.fm constitutes publication.
Thus, like many things, it is a judgement call. We think that since the chances of getting ripped off are small and even if you do, you still have rights to actual damages and profits (without government registration), it is a much better bet to share your songwriting process, engage your core fan base, generate extra revenue, etc.
A middle ground might be to register only a select few song ideas with the copyright office beforehand, i.e. the ones you think have the most potential.
Hope this helps.
In my college band, the first of us to move away and leave the band was the drummer. Of course the rest of us didn’t want to pack it in and call it quits, so we began holding our first auditions for a new band member (it wouldn’t be the last). We ended up putting up a bunch of flyers around town which brought in about a dozen local drummers for us to audition. Most of them were awful. Keep in mind, State College PA is by no means a music hub, so we were essentially picking from other college students. Anyway, the last person we auditioned from this group was pretty darn good-looking female drummer. She was a relatively solid drummer, but by no means great. But since she was so darn good-looking, we figured she would get better at the drums soon enough. Plus, how excellent would it be to have a hot drummer?!?!
I’ll leave out all the details of the various fantasy scenarios we discussed, but a day or two later we got a call from another drummer. So we decided we might as well audition him too. I’ll never forget it…because it was one of those moments when you hear someone much better than you play, and your mouth hangs open as you ask yourself, “holy !#$%, does he really want to play with us?”
Being young and etcetera, we were really tempted to go with the girl. But, we sucked it up and picked the guy. Don’t get me wrong, things went great with the band for the rest of college…even better than with the previous drummer. But it’s one of those moments when I wonder what would have happened if we didn’t use our heads…
We’ve improved the user interface for artists creating new versions, adding and removing tracks, and creating new web events. Enjoy!
An article Adam recently published in Indie-Music:
It’s now almost common rhetoric for people to declare that musicians make most of their money by touring and selling merch, and you can’t count on selling digital music. If you’re out there just putting your music on iTunes or Spotify or (insert mp3 service here…there are many), the massive scale of the internet will crush you rather than help you. But why is that? Why doesn’t it work if it’s so easy to get your “buy my mp3” link in front of almost everyone on the planet? There are thousands of articles out there and many factors that play a role, but I would argue that it mainly boils down to the point of value.
Since the beginning of the internet, the point of value for digital music has been on the mp3. Before that it was the CD. Before that it was the cassette…etc. Obviously, music sales were doing fine before the internet. But what changed when the internet hit was that suddenly it became dirt simple to copy and share things with the world. The simplest way I can put it is that digital “things” on the internet want to be free. And by digital “things” I mean audio, video, images, and text. The internet is inherently suited to make it very easy to freely spread and share these things no matter what laws are passed.
Although there have been mild successes here and there with mp3s as the point of value, in the end no matter how you spin it the internet serves as a weakness…the more sharing the less revenue per listen. But there are ways to offer digital music on the internet and use its massive scale to your advantage. It’s a pretty simple concept: move the point of value from buying a “thing” (an mp3) to buying access to a web event. But what’s a web event? Think of it like a concert online, but it doesn’t have to be a concert. It is just a thing that you do online where your audience buys digital tickets to get access to it. But how does this use the scale of the internet to an advantage? Well, think about when you go to a concert. Everyone is taking pictures, videos, and maybe even bootlegging the whole thing. They are essentially pirating the concert similar to how people pirate mp3s. But at a concert, no one really cares since they are not pirating the point of value, which is buying access to the show. When they are spreading pictures and videos of the show to all their friends, what they are actually doing is providing free marketing for the point of value. Anyone that sees pictures and videos of an awesome show is more likely to buy a ticket to a future show. For concerts, scaling up is an advantage…the more popular it gets and the more it is spread, the more people buy tickets and the more you can charge. The same can apply for a web event.
Web events can be obvious things like streaming a concert online, but there are other options too such as sharing your songwriting process, remix events, video chats, creating social tracks, crowd funding…anything where the point of value is in being there for the experience. In each of these cases, if people pirate audio from the web event, it is a good thing because you are not selling audio, you are selling access to the web event. For example, in a songwriting event, you are posting versions of the song as you write it over time and people are buying access to listen in, having discussions, maybe even posting their own alternate versions and contributing ideas. If people pirate some of the audio and share it with all their friends, they are basically marketing the songwriting event for you, and you should encourage people to do this…since it will sell more digital tickets.
But that is not the only advantage. Unlike selling an mp3 which is inherently “one and done,” fans who’ve bought access to a web event are much more likely to buy other things, such as merch, tickets to other events, giving to a virtual tip jar, etc. But this is not too surprising since the same is true at live concerts, and artists have been making the most of this for years.
Although there are hundreds of music services out there for artists to choose from, the vast majority put the point of value on the mp3 or nothing at all. The top services for web events are Merge.fm (for songwriting, remix, and social track events), StageIt (for live streaming music events), Shindig (for video chat events), and Kickstarter or Pledgemusic (for crowdfunding events). Web events for music are a relatively new concept so I would encourage all musicians to try whatever combination works for you. Think of it as a way to let your existing fans pay you for your music in a way that 1) has enough value that they are happy to pay, and 2) uses the internet in a way that is truly scalable.
We’ve launched some new features in the past few weeks. Now artists can turn on or off all of the interactivity features in their web events. This includes allowing comments, allowing/showing fan contributions, and allowing track downloads.
We’ve also added more customization to free preview web events. Now rather than forcing one free preview, we let you choose to make any combination of web events free previews…or none at all.
We’ve also made other improvements throughout the interface like making comments by artists stand out. More improvements on the way!
We will have a booth at the SXSW trade show and someone from our team will be around the various events in Austin throughout much of the next week. Our booth is #1144 so come on by if you want to talk.
We just launched another new feature! Now musicians can select any combination of versions in their web events and make them free previews. This provides much more control over your try-before-you-by strategy. Here’s what it looks like:
This month I thought I would tell another quick story from my college band…this time about our worst show ever. As you could probably tell from previous posts, we were a rock band that almost always played amplified type songs with electric guitars, drums, etc. But one time a venue asked us to play an acoustic show. Since our shows had all been awesome so far, we figured we could just take out the acoustic guitars and play our same songs no problem. We practiced maybe once and you can guess what happened…we sucked it up big time. It was one of the most embarrassing 45 minutes of my life. I remember at one point we actually stopped playing in the middle of a song since every time we looked at someone’s face, they would either hide their eyes or cringe. We saved face a little by turning it into standup comedy and making fun of ourselves, but deep down we were pretty mad.
The point of this story is how that show made us understand the hard way the importance of focus. Afterward we started working really hard at knowing who our fans were and what they liked, didn’t like and what they responded to. We started having laser focus. One way was by testing new songs on small groups of people before playing them at a show. Another was by starting an email list and actually interacting with our fans outside of venues. And having laser focus paid off. Not only did we never suck up a show again, but we also made more money since our fan base started engaging and growing much faster.
But this was 10 years ago. Today there are so many more services out there to take this up a notch…makes me want to start another band.
Co-founder of Merge.fm