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A Musician’s Checklist

A Musician’s Checklist

Congratulations, your album is finally finished and you are ready to share your masterpiece with the world! You have already read “The Secret to Using Social Media to Build a Massive Base” and you are eager to implement those ideas and promote your project. You have gathered a list of websites, DJs, booking agents, A&R’s and promoters to begin networking. Well… on that list is a sketchy promoter, an unethical booking agent and a commercial DJ waiting to take your money. There are members of the music community who prey on unsigned musicians. “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”-Hunter S. Thompson. “Music is spiritual. The music business is not.”-Van Morrison. These quotes summarize how many musicians feel about the business side of the music industry. As a musician, you are expected to understand how this business works and to have certain tools; not having these tasks completed and not knowing these things will lead to trouble.

It is an open invitation for some unethical people to take advantage of you. I have provided a checklist to ensure that you do not become easy prey for unethical music industry professionals. Completing these tasks will show industry professionals that you are serious about your career. It will also show unethical people you have some knowledge about how the music industry operates and have steps to protect your work.

Protect Your Brand: Service Mark, Copyright and Register

A few years ago, a family member decided to get into event promotions. I sat down with her and helped develop a simple, unique and memorable company name. During the same period of time, a DJ and two promoters were looking to reinvent themselves with a joint venture. They posted three names and wanted the public to vote on the best choice. None of the names were close to the name we developed. One of the promoters contacted her and inquired about an industry showcase she was promoting. A few weeks later she headed out-of-state for the industry showcase. During the showcase she was visible upset. I asked her “what was wrong?” She showed me a message concerning the name of a new company in the area. The commercial DJ and promoters announced a name that was almost identical. The general public would assume it was the same company. Most people think and call things by the short version. I knew the DJ and decided to send him a message.

The DJ called and he begin to brag that his stage name is almost identical to a famous rapper. He explained that he was able to get away with this because the rapper had never taken the time to service mark it. He continued by listing a number of other people and companies he had done this to. I realized that his career was built on this and nothing he had done was original. I then thought about all the young artists that send him their music, without copyrighting it first. The situation evidently worked itself out but it reinforced a message my mentor always stressed: SERVICE MARK, COPYRIGHT and REGISTER!

(1)Service Mark Your Name

What is a service mark? Take a minute and read the legal definition of this term. Also check out the definition of the words: copyright and trademark.

Service Mark: Any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, used by a person to identify and distinguish the services of that person, including a unique service, from the services of others. Titles, character names used by a person, and other distinctive features of radio or television programs may be registered as service marks. (California Business and Professions Code section 14202(b)).

(2)Copyright Your Music

A copyright is a legal device that grants the creator of the literary, artistic, musical or any other creative work the sole right to publish and sell his or her work. http://www.legal-dirctionary.thefreedictionary.com

(3)Trademark and Register Your Business Name

Most states require that you register your business name. This can usually be done by visiting your town’s website or visiting town hall. There is a form to fill out and a very small fee. Registering your business does not prevent someone else in another state from using it. You want to apply for a trademark. A trademark guarantees exclusive use, it legally establishes that your name is not already being used, and government protection from infringement.

You can service mark, copyright, register and trademark your brand through the services of an intellectual property attorney. You can also protect your brand by filing out the paperwork on an online legal documentation service website. Another option you have is going to the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website and the United States Copyright Office. The best option is consulting with an intellectual property attorney. Make sure you also register the names with all social media websites and register the domain name.

(4)Music Review

Sometimes your least favorite song is the public’s favorite. What you might think is a hit may need a little more work. That is why, it is so important to have your music reviewed by an outside source. Do not ask your friends or family members because it puts them in a very comfortable position. You can find a number of companies that review music by doing an engine search. I recommend the following websites: Blazetrak, Soundout and Reverbnation.

(5)Professional 8×10 Photos

The entertainment business is all “smoke and mirrors” and your image is everything. As an entertainer, you have to be aware of how important it is to cast the right image. In a perfect world musicians would be judged strictly on the quality of their music. Unfortunately musicians are judged on other things and part of casting the right image is having professional quality photos. Professional photos show potential fans and entertainment industry professionals that you are serious about your craft. Your photos will be used on all your marketing and promotional materials, as well as social media websites. Professional photos will portray your band in a positive way.


Every serious musician should have a Biography. Now I know what you thinking, “Who does not have a bio?” I see a lot of independent musicians without a biography and very few with a memorable bio. I know local artists who have spent thousands on their career and have not invested any time into writing a great bio. I do not like the idea of having someone else write an artist’s bio. An artist knows himself best and should be the one who writes his bio. A professional writer or service should check it, make suggestions but not write it. All bands should have a long and a short form biography. Your bio should be consist, include background information and should be one page. There are some great templates online. My favorite is “Questions from The Business Network DIY-Bio- Artist Questionnaire”

Important Tools

Imagine someone in uniform without a badge or a gun. What goes through your mind when you see a security guard? Do you respect a security officer the same way you respect a police officer? So how do you think Commercial DJs, Program Directors, A&R’s, Booking Agents and other Industry Professionals view an artist who doesn’t have a PRESS KIT or EPK? An Electronic Press Kit is a Press Kit in electronic form. This is your resume or portfolio. Press Kits are so much easier and less time-consuming to put together today than they were for musicians of the pre internet era. Several companies allow you to create a free press kit online; they make the process very simple. You can create one at Presskit.to, Sonic bids, Linked In, Reverberation, Artist ECard and Ourstage.

Importance of Bar Coding and Registering

Envision your career not taking off so you are forced to take a job as a laborer. You spend 30 to 40 years in poverty, struggling to support yourself and your family. Unbeknownst to you, your music is very popular in another country. In fact, your music is more popular than The Beatles and Elvis Presley! There are booking agents waiting to schedule you to perform in front of thousands. Your music has been played on the radio and money is owed to you. This is the true story of “Rodriguez, The Rock Icon Who Didn’t Know.” It illustrates the importance of registering with Soundscan, BDS, Mediabase, and Gracenote and having your music your bar coded (ISRC and UPC). Some of the codes, on the CD of your favorite mainstream band, trace the sales and uses of their music globally. Their label and management team use it to collect royalties owed to the band. This information is used to determine awards, chart placements, airplay and bookings. Music industry professionals use this information to keep track of which independent artists are “hot.” These codes also identify your project, your company, your label and you!

(7) Bar code Your Music

There are several options available to have your album or mixtape bar coded. You need to apply for an International Standard Code (ISRC) as well as a Universal Product Code (UPC). The first choice is the most expensive and will provide information on both your company and your project. You should purchase a bar code BEFORE you have your CD or mixtape pressed. This process takes a little under a month, usually about three weeks.

(a) You can purchase a bar code by going to http://www.gs1us.org/get-started/im-new-to-gs1-us, completing the registration form and paying the fee.

You can also go to a service provider such as CD Baby, TuneCore, Disc Makers or Indie Artist’s Alliance and purchase a bar code through them. This option will not provide information on your company. It will track only your project.

(b) You can obtain an alphanumeric ISRC by visiting the United States ISRC Agency’s website, filing out a form and paying the $80 fee. You can also obtain an ISRC from an IRSC manager or music service provider. The benefit of obtaining an IRSC through a manager is that it becomes their responsibility to report and record your codes to RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). You can go to a service provider listed above.

(8) Register to Soundscan

After you have your bar codes you need to register them at Soundscan’s website.

(9) Register To Mediabase and BDS (Broadcast Data Systems)

MediaBase collects data on airplay using people. BDS collects data using computers. You need to register at both their websites. Submit your CDs and MP3s free of charge through BDS’s website or by mailing it to Nielsen, 8100 N.W. 101st Terrance, Kansas City, MO 64153, Attn: Encoding Department. Next you want to go to Mediabase’s website, fill out the simple form and submit it.

(10) Upload and Register To Gracenote

Have you even placed a CD is your computer and only “Title 1” is displayed, instead of the name of the song and musician? One of the things that industry professionals and fans dislike most is having to type out the song by hand. It is one of their pet peeves. They love it when it’s already done. The service is free! All you have to do is upload your album to Gracenote and fill out six a few lines. Gracenote is “a company that maintains and licenses an Internet-accessible database containing information about the contents of audio compact discs and vinyl records. It provides software and metadata to businesses that enable their customers to manage and search digital media.”-Wikepedia. It takes Gracenote two to three days to process request your data. Your fans and music industry insiders will be thankful and it only takes a few minutes to do this.

(11) Musician Business Plan

Would a country go to war without a battle plan? Would a successful businessperson launch a new multimillion dollar business without a business plan? NO! Neither venture would be successful without a plan, yet most indie artists enter the most competitive business in the world without a clearly defined plan. Everyone preaches about the need for a plan and very few people see the true value or benefit. My dad was in the military and he trained me to always have a plan. I do not realize the importance of having a plan until a few years back. I went paintballing with a few friends. Some were actively in the United States Armed Forces. They decided to divide into two teams. One team was composed of “civilians” and the other team was made up of “soldiers.” I developed a plan and I noticed the “military” team do not. I was shocked when we, the “civilian” and “first timers” won. We had two more battles and we also won those too. That day I realized, if civilians who are new to paint ball can beat trained military soldiers who paint ball on a regular basis, then having a plan is vital to success in any endeavor.

Now the music business is not war but a times it can feel like a war zone. Artists are competing with a lot of other artists to get noticed. Having a plan will help you develop a detailed strategy and help you identify the best way to spend your budget. The important sections of a musician business plan are: Company Summary, Products and Service, Marketing Analysis, Marketing Programs, Management Summary and Financial Plan. The business plan will be quite lengthy, it will be between 20-35 pages. A great template to use can be found at Saskmusic.

(12) Join a Performing Rights Organization (PRO)

As the writer of a song, you are entitled to be paid when your song is performed or played in certain public settings. These settings include nightclubs, television, radio, sports arenas, theme parks, websites, restaurants and concert halls. These establishments are given a performance rights license through a Performing Rights Organization. The Performing Rights Organization collects royalties on behalf of the writer and allocates a percentage to the musician. In most countries there is only one Performing Rights Organization. In America there are several; the two biggest performing rights organizations are ASCAP and BMI, with SESAC being the third. You or someone in your company needs to be a member of one of these organizations. An individual is not allowed to become a member of both ASCAP and BMI. You can find detailed information about all three by viewing their websites.

(13) One Sheet (Press Sheet or Promo Sheet)

A one-sheet is one sheet of paper that provides information on a specific release and the songwriters behind the release. It should include the following: logo, biographical information, photograph, cover of artwork for the project, names of the best tracks, achievements and contact information. It is quick summary of your band and your band’s work. A promo sheet should accompany an album or mixtape when it is shipped to radio stations, websites and magazines.

(14) Have Your Own Website

Have you ever read the “terms of service” of the most popular social media websites? Do you comprehend all their rules? Most musicians and artists are unknowingly violating the terms of service. In fact, some people’s account can be deleted because it violates the website’s vague set of rules. Using a moniker or nickname violates their terms of service. I personally know several DJs and artists who have had their account deleted or hacked. They lost thousands of fans and contacts they spend years gathering. If your Facebook or Twitter account is deleted, how will your fans stay informed of upcoming shows? How will they find links to your new music? Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Digg are all parts of an artist’s online presence but their website is the most important piece. Their rules are in place to protect the brand of the owner and shareholders not your creative passion. A website will allow fans to find your online if one of your social media pages is ever hacked or deleted. It also allows fans to purchase merchandise and looks professional to entertainment professionals. They should be able to search for your name online and easily find your music. Having your own website helps you build your brand instead of building the brand of someone who only cares about numbers. There are a number of free website builder so the cost of a website isn’t an excuse today. You can also add links and banners to generate income. My website was built using a free service. If you do not want to use one the free website builders, look into inexpensive alternatives.

(15) Music Conferences and Seminars

I have never been in a room with five or more creative passionate artists and not had a GREAT time. Whether it’s the studio, a party or a music conference. I just don’t understand how anyone can say that any of these events are boring. The most common excuse I hear from artists is that music conferences are boring. Music Industry Professionals are bombarded with music from unsigned and independent artists. So how do you get noticed? One way to stand out is by attending a music conference or seminar. It is a great way to networking with music insiders and other artists. Every musician should attend at least one conference or seminar a year. Search YouTube and you will discover that even superstars attend music conferences and seminars. Performing Rights Organizations such as ASCAP host one and so do certain parts of the country. The Northeast region has several good music conferences and seminars. Some of my favorites include New England Music Awards and Conference, New Music Seminar, New England Music Seminar, CMJ Music Marathon, All Access Music Conference and ASCAP Expo NY Session.

I would like to thank Tony Timpano of A.B. Timpano Law, former V.P. at ICON Entertainment and Red Distribution (A Sony-BMG Company, George Ingalls of Crystal Tear Radio and Ondina Canto for their thoughts and feedback in crafting with article. I hope this article has been informational and will help some independent succeed.