I have read a ton of articles over the past few months about how important understanding publishing is to the independent artist, and it is. What confounds me is that even with all of this information, there is still confusion in the marketplace on how this works, especially when it comes to streaming services like YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud and others.
Lots of people in this business don’t understand it. Friends of mine at labels and management companies don’t understand it, independent artists don’t understand it and as more music consumption services come online, it is becoming more valuable to get the whole picture.
There is a great article here that gives a thorough overview of how publishing and other performance royalties work – so I don’t want to be repetitive, but I do want to take this opportunity to dive a little deeper into the way publishing works on YouTube – especially when it comes to cover songs.
This is also a topic that has had a lot of articles and posts so I will try my best to shed some new light on this topic, or at least make it easy to digest.
One continues to hear what you need to do when it comes to YouTube, but I’m here to let you know also what not to do, which in many cases is more important when it comes to music publishing.
YouTube is a relatively new phenomenon in the music industry – it’s a streaming service, but the rights embodied in the content are not just audio – but video as well, which needs a synch license. Other services like Spotify, Beats, Rhapsody, Pandora, Songza, etc., are all similar to radio in the sense that they are audio-only services (for now).
What makes YouTube unique is that there is a synchronization right that needs to be in place for all videos. Google/YouTube have negotiated with the music publishing industry to get blanket licenses to allow users to load up videos of them singing songs they didn’t write.
Once these videos are loaded to YouTube, they are identified (most of the time) by the YouTube content ID system.
Once confirmed that the particular song is cleared, that asset is claimed and monetized, meaning that advertising runs before or alongside the video. That revenue is then shared between YouTube and the rights holders – in this case, the music publisher.
The most efficient way for “cover artists” to share in the advertising that they helped create is to partner with a professional company who work on this platform who have agreements with the music publishers that allow all parties to share the revenue. There are a few MCN’s (multi-channel networks) and digital distributors that have deals in place with certain publishers (Maker, Fullscreen, BBTV, Rumblefish, Indimusic, Audiam, Orchard, INgrooves, CD Baby, to name a few).
I have to mention that I do have a horse in this race – I run a company called We Are The Hits which is an online video network that allows cover artists to participate in the advertising revenue. I have aggregated the largest catalog of songs through partnerships with music publishers, just like YouTube does, which allows WATH to distribute content on YouTube (and off) and share that money with all parties (for more information go towearethehits.com).
Here are the key don’ts –
1. Don’t claim content that you don’t fully control on YouTube. This is a common mistake and one that can get you and your channel a copyright infringement strike.
2. Don’t just assume you are covered. Pay attention to any deals with companies that are going to claim content on your behalf on YouTube. There are multiple assets within each specific video – and it is becoming common that digital distributors are including YouTube claiming as one of their services. The problem is that just because they have the right to claim the master recording – they don’t have the right to claim the full asset if they don’t have the publishing cleared, which can make both of you copyright infringers.
3. Don’t do product placement deals in your video without getting an additional clearance from the publisher. There has been, and continues to be, a black market of deals happening where brands are paying to get their products in music videos. Music Publishers are aware of this, and are starting to crack down on this practice.
4. Don’t mix un-cleared content with cleared content on a managed channel. There are 2 types of channels that can be associated with a MCN – a Managed Channel – where all content is cleared – or an affiliated channel where content ID matches can still happen.
- A. If you are going to do an MCN deal, you need to make sure that if you have songs on your channel that you have not cleared, that your channel is not ‘managed’. This will result in videos being taken down – and strikes going against the MCN – which I’m sure will affect you due to your deal with them.
- B. For affiliated channel deals, you need to make sure that you are participating in the revenue in the correct way. These companies cannot fully claim your content unless they have the publishing rights. If they don’t have them cleared, and they claim the full asset – then you are on the hook for copyright infringement claims.
I know this is a lot, and that it can be confusing. My advice is simple – YouTube is one of the most amazing creations for independent musicians ever. The ability to create and distribute music content and have fans all over the world is unprecedented. The issues start when you want to start to participate in the revenue.
So first things first – get your videos on YouTube and concentrate on creating a following. If you are singing songs you wrote, then you can start to claim and monetize these videos and make money.
If you are singing cover songs, tread lightly and do your homework on what is the best way forward – dealing directly with YouTube or signing a deal with a professional YouTube based company (MCN or digital distributor).