There are a number of “pay to play” websites online which allow you to pitch your music to libraries or opportunities requiring music in return for a fee. I personally avoid these: at best they are slightly dodgy, and at worst, massive scams. Some websites will even post a fake requirement deadline once a week in order to get a couple of extra bucks from you. Other potential music licensing scams – masquerading as legitimate emails – can access your email information from any number of sources including any Soundcloud listings. Any unsolicited emails asking you to consider being published, or which solicits terms that seem a bit questionable, should be considered suspicious.
Another thing to consider – with respect to any questionable terms – is that copyrights are one of the most important rights you have to your music. Ninety-nine percent of the time you should NOT sign them away. If someone else secures ownership to the copyrights for your song, they basically OWN that song; you no longer have control over it.
That being said, there are exceptions, and one exclusive publisher I work with actually asks for the copyrights of any tracks they accept into their library. When I was originally signing with them, alarm bells went off straight away. However, they have been by far the most profitable publisher I have ever worked with, and I have no regrets. As with any contractual endeavors, common sense and discretion are always advised when anything questionable or curious arises regarding a potential publisher. And while not all of these will be scams, pay attention to any situation where you are even the slightest bit unsure! Here are a number of things you can do to determine both legitimacy, and the best contractual terms for yourself:
- Google them – This is always the first thing I do. Google the name of the person contacting you and the name of the company they are representing. Go to every link on at least the first 10-20 pages of search results. If others have been scammed by them, there is a good chance they will have spoken out against them on forums somewhere. Their company website should be on the first page of Google when you search for them – if they don’t have a website for their company, I would be very wary.
- Check their social media accounts – Any reputable company should have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Check them out and see how many followers/likes they have – if they have a small number, then they could be a new company or might not be able to increase their follower count as they’re not reputable. See what messages are being posted on their Facebook and Twitter accounts by others. Are people calling them out, or happy with their service?
- Is it an email or phone call? If they are emailing you, this may be done in bulk. A phone call is more personal, but not as common. You can get a good idea about someone when you speak to them over the phone, so if possible, request a phone call or a skype/google chat call.
- Are they referencing actual names of your songs? If they’re not using the names of tracks they are interested in, it might be an indication that they’re just using an email template to mass email people. If they reference the name of some of your tracks in their email, it means they have a keen interest in those tracks and it’s a personalised email you are being sent rather than as part of a bulk email.
- Check if they have a physical address – Many reputable companies will have a listed, physical address. Of course many people also work out of their homes – including a great publisher of mine that lists his house address as a business address – so use discretion when determining if it is a legitimate business address and/or location.
- Are they asking for money to represent your music or listen to it? If the company is asking for money upfront in order to represent or listen to your tracks, run far away. No reputable company I have ever come across should or will ask for money before licensing your tracks. If they are asking for money in order to represent your tracks, it suggests they’re not sure of their own ability to license your tracks.
- Are they a new business? Generally speaking, a new music licensing company will have a far harder time licensing your tracks compared to a company who has been in business for 5-10 years with an established customer base. If they’re new in business, they’ll most likely have to spend time marketing, building their brand and building ties with the right people. What this means for you is you’ll be waiting a lot longer (or maybe forever) in order to get any tracks licensed through them.
- Ask what their plans are/their marketing strategy/previous success stories – Not all companies will share their plans/marketing strategies with you, but all should share their previous success stories. If they have no previous success stories, well then…thats a bit like a film director hiring a composer with no credits – risky! If they tell you their marketing strategy is to “build a following” on Twitter and Facebook- or have a great, easy to use website -well…we could all do that, couldn’t we?
- What rights are they looking for? Publishing rights? Copyrights? – As I mentioned before, asking you to sign over copyrights to your tracks can be VERY risky. I recommend considering all the above before making any such a choice, and at the very least, ask others you know who ma have also worked with a particular publisher.
Got any other tips? Let me know in the comments!
This article is an excerpt from my eBook “The Business of Music Licensing – Generating Revenue Through Your Music” which is available at www.TheBusinessofMusicLicensing.com