Facing Up To The Music – why you have no claim on the music you use for a routine…

Let’s admit it… Whether we are in the burlesque, cabaret, belly/contemporary/street dance -or any other performance forum that uses music, we’ve all gone out there and found the most suitable track for our act, one that has the most relevant words, the best notation for accents, etc. We’ve got excited, choreographed our act only to find someone else has the very same song… But despair not! Today’s (rather in-depth) post by Lilly Laudanum is all about why you don’t need to ditch your act!

Whose track is it?

Let’s start with the basics… No one has a claim on a track they use, unless it has been specially created for their act. If this is the case, a performer and whoever wrote/performed the music will have worked together to create something unique specially for the performer. In this case, the track belongs to the performer (and whoever created the music). The only other exception is a performer who has a special edit of a track/two (or any number of tracks) edited in a certain way or with added extras like voice overs/special effects on top. Which means that particular edit is unique to them and their act. In these two cases, it is not acceptable to use these tracks. Otherwise, the performer has no claim on the music they use, which means if you’ve heard another performers using, say, Simone/Buble/Muse’s version of ‘Feeling Good’ you have to accept other performers have the right to also do a routine to this particular track (although if you are a savvy performer, you will choose something a little more obscure if you want to stand out from the crowd – you can find help on choosing tracks here music tips)

So who does have a claim on my music?

Just like one of our previous posts re copyright, the original creator of the work has a claim on the music – and in most cases it’s the publishing company (which is usually associated to the record company – but sometimes it’s the band themselves, who have created their own publishing company – more on that in a bit). These are the only people who can stop you using a track for your act.  In simple terms, if another performer tells you you can’t use ‘their music’ for an act, unless they have had it personally created or it’s a special edit (and you are using that special edit – which you really shouldn’t be doing!) then they really have no right to say that. However, if the creator of the music or the publishing/record company says you can’t use ‘their music’ for an act, you really have to stop using it.

You want a track – you must pay! 

Coming from the music industry (performing in various forms has always run alongside an extensive career in the music industry – those who know me from the music world will know I’ve served 15+ years as an international published music journalist and before that served time in many bands, plus the wife of a life-serving metal guitarist…) I am always on the side of bands. Bands get a raw deal. They get ripped off by shit record contracts where labels cream all the money and use a bands advance for wining and dining journalists (I have to admit I’ve been wined and dined quite a lot in my time at a band’s expense via the record company). They get a pittance when they play live (compared to the ‘luxury’ we cabaret performers experience), and record company ‘tour support’ doesn’t go very far. That’s why we should never, ever take a track off the internet for free.

There are sites where you can pay for a track for as little as 75p!

In 2000, Lars Ulrich (metallica drummer) took on music sharing site Napster for sharing a band’s music for free, allowing people to download Metallica’s work for nothing. At the time, he was ridiculed and there was uproar because what he did was seen as greedy (he was suing Napster for millions) – like, ‘Metallica are millionaires! Why can’t we have this for free? Greedy c*** wanting more money!’ But what he did was vital for bands. The ruling was in Metallica’s favour (you can read the basics here:Metallica Vs Napster Wiki) and while the monetary award might leave a bitter taste in some people’s mouths, it was a landmark case that meant whoever owns the copyright of music must be paid for their music to be downloaded – which was vitally important at the time since downloads have become the way most people obtain music now. Music download sites are everywhere: amazon, iTunes, etc. A track costs as little as 75p, but if people continue to download music for free, with the decline in CD/vinyl sales, you have to ask how will music be created if musicians are not paid for their work?

Why should we pay?

While we as professional performers know it’s important to be paid for shows, how many of us can say we’ve paid for our music? If we do not pay for our track, it goes right back (once publishers, downloads sites and record companies have lined their pockets with their cut…) – bands cannot pay for rehearsal space to create the music in the first place, cannot play live to hone the track, cannot pay for recording studios to record the track, etc, etc.

Using a track live…

Just to bear in mind… Yes, there are legal loopholes in using a track that doesn’t ‘technically’ belong to us (we tend to think of a track as ours because we have spend blood, sweat and tears creating the work on top of that track). when we buy the track, we might have to tick terms and conditions that state the track is for ‘personal use’ and ‘not for broadcast’. Which is why, sometimes, if you post a video of your act on sites such as youtube, the soundtrack might be removed by the site – basically a big record company might have got wind that you are ‘broadcasting’ a track they own (violating their publishing rights).

PRS For Music – the basics

In the UK, the Performing Right Society (now called PRS For Music) was set up in 1914 to protect the copyright of music creators and ensure that if a track they created was played, they would be paid a small token for that music being used – which is fair – after all, if we perform, we want to be paid… If you are in a band, releasing music,  you might want to join PRS For Music. PRS collects royalties from recorded tracks being ‘broadcast’ (by DJs, in theatres, as part of performances, on radio, mobiles, etc) and pays the publisher of the music (the one who has the copyright) for their music being played (however small!). A savvy band will never sign away the publishing rights to a record company or a publishing company, as aside from not receiving any royalties from their music being played, these people will hold the copyright of the material and are free to use it (and associate it) however they want to get their royalties without the band’s permission, as the music does not now belong to them (but that’s a whole other story!). If a band forms their own ‘publishing company’ (basically getting together, giving their ‘publishing company’ a name and registering it) they can ensure any royalties from their tracks being used are going directly to them.

Venues and PRS   

When you perform live in the UK, a venue should be covered by a PRS For Music license. A venue will have had to apply for the license, and this license differs depending on if the venue is a theatre, concert venue, festival or charity event, etc. This means if you perform in a bonafide venue, they will be licensed to play your chosen track(s). You will sometimes be asked for the track and original artist – this information is passed on to the venue who will then fill in the relevant forms. You can find out more about PRS For Music here

Morals and Music

So now we are all clear who owns the music… On top of that, there’s a few moral questions about using a track to think about… For instance, if you are at a show and you see a performer using an amazing, quirky, wild track that you’ve never heard before, is it okay to ask them what the track is to go and use for your own routine? No, not really. You are a producer who also performs and a performer has emailed you their music and you quite like the track. Is it then okay to use it for a new routine? No, not really… You have seen a video of a performer and love their track and were thinking of doing something similar with the track yourself – should you do it? Check our previous post on Copyright of Routines

Whilst not breaking any laws regarding music being used, if you did any of the above, you would be breaking a moral code – and would definitely not be making any friends on the close-knit scene.

Original is best! 

If in doubt, remember the motto – original is best! You want your work to shine out from the crowd, you want to be noticed, you want to further yourself… So do yourself a favour and make the right choice regarding music! Don’t go for the obvious (and probably most over used) ‘burlesque sounding’ tracks. Make a statement! grab the audience by the short and curlies (if it’s that kind of audience!) with your excellent choice of music! And do well!

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