Owning Your Own Music Business – As Easy As a Few Pen Strokes
By Deeann Mathews
Don’t laugh. Many businesses began from nothing more an idea, and those melodies you have rolling around in your head just might be as good as any other ideas. When you write down or record your new song, you are essentially starting to own your own music business. Your idea has become a piece of intellectual property, as real and potentially as valuable as any physical property you own. Most businesses have at their heart some piece of intellectual property.
This used to be a known fact in the popular consciousness — check out a few Perry Mason reruns and you’ll see that “trade secrets” and “patents” were important enough to be motives for murder. With the coarsening of the public perception — all crimes and all plots on daily television seem to revolve around merely passion or pathology — we have lost the sense of the power of ideas.
An idea that becomes an invention becomes an intellectual property known as a patent. The light bulb, chair, and computer that you are using to access this information right now began their existence as someone’s ideas. Once those ideas were set down in tangible form the inventors could apply to the government to have them protected as a patents. Once the patent protections were in place, the inventors or other parties to whom they could sell the patent could start a business or several businesses to produce and sell the physical product. Think of how many different light bulbs there are and how many uses there are for those bulbs. From one idea thousands of businesses, millions of products, and uncountable billions of dollars have been generated.
The minute you write down the song you have rolling around in your head, you have created an intellectual property known as a copyright. A copyright is a bundle of legal rights that cover your new song from the moment of its creation. With some very limited exceptions, you alone have the right to make copies (in visual or audio form) of your new song, to distribute your new song through sheet music and recordings (physical and digital), and to publish your work through mass distribution and public performances. Very much like a patent, a copyright can generate millions of physical properties (sheet music and recordings) and also digital properties (MP3s and the like), and thus generate many millions or even billions of dollars in its long lifetime. In the United States, a copyright lasts 70 years past the death of its author; most other countries have similar terms.
Control of copyrights and distribution and use of copyrighted material — in this case, music — is the whole business of music in a nutshell. Generally, composers and songwriters give control over their copyrights to a music publisher, who in turn prints sheet music and/or looks for a record company who in turn brings in artists, other musicians, and producers to create recordings (which in themselves create new copyrights for the record company). The record company then turns around and finds ways to distribute the recordings — through selling CDs, through digital distribution outlets, through obtaining spots in movies, television, radio, and film, and much more.
All this business springs from the creation of a copyright — and if at any time you decide to take over one or more of the functions of the business for yourself, you will own your own music business. As you can see, each part of getting a piece of music from the writer’s desk to the public is a business unto itself. Just pick what part or parts you want, and you can form your business.
Of course, very like a patent, a copyright is not a good foundation for a business if the work from which the copyright derives is no good. Poorly written songs are like square wheels; your enterprise will never get moving unless you have quality work to base it on. And, like a patent, a copyright needs to be protected from theft; your quality work will be pirated in a heartbeat unless you take the proper precautions. The first step is to register your work with the copyright agency in the country where you live. In the United States this can be done through the U.S. Copyright Office at http://www.copyright.gov.
After that, if you are serious about owning your own music business, you will need to educate yourself about intellectual property, the music industry, and business in general. Fortunately, there are many excellent books in your local bookstore and even on the Web that will be of great service to you. Best to you on the adventure of owning your own music business!
Deeann D. Mathews is the Creative Director of Praising Pilgrims Music, which has just released The Freedom Guide for Music Creators. Enjoy a big sample of this book at http://www.squidoo.com/freedomguide.
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