Posts Tagged ‘Marketing Tips’

by Christopher Knab
Fourfront Media & Music

The following tips are essential, life-long suggestions, for any and all musicians to remember as they establish and/or maintain their music careers.

1. Stop sending unsolicited demo recordings to record labels, and instead concentrate on building your own music name and reputation by creating longterm relationships with your growing fanbase. They are your ticket to success.

2. Take the time to learn what the professionals in the music business do for a living. What are their job titles, who do they report to, and what do they do everyday when they go to work? The contacts you make in the music industry can make or break your career because your potential success is directly linked to any possible growing success of the industry people who are climbing their own ladders to success. The music business is built on the “buddy system.” Everyone is attached to everyone else in this industry. As you go, so go your business contacts.

3. Before contacting any music business professional have 1(one) prepared question for them that will not make you look or sound like an ignorant person. i.e. Do not ask them how to become a atar, or how to get a recording contract. No one has the time to answer such sweeping and naive questions.

4. Create two contact lists: One for professional people you actually have as a business contact. Another contact list made up of all your fans. Keep both lists updated and using common sense, reach out to both contract groups only when you have something very important to ask of them and/or to share with them.

5. Prepare a short 30 second description of your music. Memorize it and use it every time you are asked “What kind of music do you make?” Don’t go on and on describing your music… your statement should clearly describe your genre or style of music quickly and in compelling language that will perk up the person’s ears and find yourself with an interested and potentially valuable new contact ready to support you.

6. If you have trouble defining your music style, try this exercise… define the word “originality” and note that within that word is another word… “origin.” Perhaps this will help you focus on what makes your music unique. Never say your music is “unique,” explain HOW it is unique. This exercise will help you write your 30 second statement.

7. Remember this always: People in the music industry who’s job it is to find and support new acts don’t know what they are looking for…BUT…they will recognize it when they hear it.

8. Find a concise “Image” and follow it everywhere. This is important because the first impression to someone unfamiliar with your sound is a VISUAL experience most of the time. i.e. Your Logo design used to spell your name, the title of your CD, or the design of your website, merchandise etc. is crucial to attracting industry and music fans. Image IS everything in show business, and in case you didn’t realize it, music is part of good ‘ol show business. Research your favorite acts and study their image.

9. People only respond to music they can personally relate to. What is it in your songs and compostions that has inspired your current fanbase and will grow to attract more fans and industry support? Think hard on this point. It is a true key to any possible success. Music contains emotions, so what emotions do your songs deliver to a listener?

10. Does your music sound too much like another artist or band’s music? This is the biggest complaint from music business professionals… too much music today sounds like retreads of already successful artists. And, your fans are sensitive to this issue too. There is way too much :redundant-sounding” music out there today.

11. When you perform live does your stage pressence reflect the image conveyed in your songs? Are you well prepared, well rehearsed, and do the songs in your live set flow into each other in an exciting and well balanced way?

12. It can never be said enough. Great songs, Great compositions are the basis of all potential success, but “grunt work,” everyday down-in-the-trecnches boring work, like updating your blog and website, keeping your websie and social networking pages updated and staying in touch with your fans regularly are tough jobs. Only you can tackle these jobs and other jobs like putting up flyers for shows (on and offline), updating your press materials, looking for gigs, rehearsing… all these tasks require your commitment to carry them out without complaining. Remember, only YOU can care the most…it’s YOUR music, YOUR career that we are dealing with here.

13. There is no such thing as an “overnight sensation.” Behind every act referred to in this way are countless hours of hard work and dedication that got that person or act to be able to take advantage of the breaks they got, and remember too that the breaks you are looking for should be more than “a record deal” or a “production deal.” Look out for the ever increasing demand for uses of your songs online, in films, TV shows and ads… the list goes on. But you have to work consistently for these breaks to happen.

14. Home recording is as common today as home cooking use to be, but don’t get trapped in the rut of staying at home and working on your computer or home recording setup. GET OUT regularly and show up at clubs and other concert venues on a regular basis. There is that old saying “They only come out at night”… well that’s very true when it comes to music business personnel as well as music fans. So, get out there and socialize IN -PERSON wherever you might live.

15. As your fanbase grows create more and more merchandise to sell online and at your live shows. Be sure your LOGO is on every piece of merchandise you sell. (back to that statement-“Image is everything.”)

16. This last tip may be the most important of all. Conduct your business from your heart. Yes, the music industry rarely operates from that place, but don’t worry about the industry, concern yourself with your SELF… be righteous. Be upstanding. Be a professional in everything you do. If you do that, believe me you will stand out from from the crowd.


unread_emails_ask_a_publicist_campaignImage via PCWorld

Imagine this clichéd scenario from a Hollywood teen comedy: the protagonist’s parents are out of town and s/he wants to throw a party. They tell a few of their close friends, and those friends tell a few of their friends, and so on to the point where, on the night of the party, nearly half of their high school is there and the crowd has swollen to extreme proportions.Sometimes a publicity campaign can work this way, too – starting small and relying on word-of-mouth to create anticipation and a feeling of authentic, organic momentum.

This kind of campaign (which for the purposes of this column I will call a “focused campaign”) can work wonders for a new band, but so can a campaign that casts a wider net (i.e. inviting everyone at your school to the party upfront). Let’s call this kind of campaign a “comprehensive campaign.” Both have their advantages and their drawbacks, and depending on a band’s history, sound and visibility, one may be more effective than the other.

Focused Campaign

While all publicity campaigns follow the same basic architecture I outlined in my previous column, they can differ in terms of how selectively an album is pitched and how many resources are conserved or expended throughout the campaign. A more focused campaign starts small, and tactically. A publicist would send a limited quantity of advance copies of a band’s upcoming record only to select tastemakers – critics and editors whose endorsement would provoke interest from their peers and colleagues. When this technique works, it can create a genuine dialogue around an upcoming record, and snowball into more (and more prestigious) press coverage.

However, being selective in pitching and hoping an album catches on organically can be risky. It helps if the music is superlative, and if the publicist working the record is well-connected. If it backfires, however, you’re back at square one. It’s important to be fast on your toes, and you may miss out on some great press opportunities by not casting a wider net at the outset of your campaign. In such an outcome, you may risk bumming out the folks that you pitch to as a second resort (to continue my metaphor from earlier, would you like to be invited to a party only after learning that you weren’t in the first place?).

Comprehensive Campaign

For some new bands, it may not be worth the gamble of a more focused campaign. The alternative is more of a “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” model. This would mean sending out advance downloads or streams of your record to as many worthwhile press contacts as you can find. After all, music critics and bloggers are just like any other kind of music lover – they’re voracious, they’re omnivorous and they’re open-minded. Who’s to say they might not cotton to your music? You never know if you don’t try.

The disadvantage of pitching so thoroughly is getting lost in the shuffle. When you open your inbox every morning, do you sigh in desperation when you see the number of new, unread emails? It’s the same – and often way worse – for high-powered music writers, so a lot of emails from bands and publicists are straight-up ignored. It can be easy to get lost in the shuffle, but with a little tenacity (and more than a little tact) you can overcome this. There’s a certain amount of momentum that can also come from taking as many different press opportunities as possible, expanding your audience in directions you hadn’t anticipated and raising your profile to the point where you’d be more difficult to ignore.


There are many, many, many factors that influence the effectiveness of a publicity campaign beyond what I’ve outlined in extremely broad strokes here, but – depending on your band, your publicist’s preferred methods and what you expect to achieve from a campaign – you can try to set the course for your campaign early on by starting small and deliberately or going for broke and pitching far and wide.


Jason Baxter is the in-house publicist for Seattle’s Hardly Art Records, and performs in the electronic duo USF. In a past life he was a music journalist and writes comic books in what little spare time he has.

It’s nothing but a good thing that musicians are interested in self promotion, but speaking from both a musician and a vendor’s perspective, it’s not the most effective promotion strategy.

When I managed a record label I received more than anyone’s fair share of self promotion emails, letters, and even whilst running this website I get a lot of artist’s looking for promotion. It probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that more often than not these kinds of emails go in the trash (sorry).

Stop communicating with fans and potential contacts in ‘advert’ speakHere’s my honest advice. If you want me (or pretty much anyone in the music business) to help you promote your music, start being selfless. If you’re a musician in Melbourne, invite me for a coffee, or if not, selflessly share your thoughts on the website with me and offer some ideas to improve the site or share this website with your other musician friends, or even just chat to me on Twitter.

The 30-Day No Self-Promotion Challenge

Start now with this challenge – for the next 30 days do not ‘self-promote’ at all. Spend the month showing gratitude to your favourite music bloggers, meeting and starting conversations with people on Twitter, and building your network. I’ve done a lot of work researching how people meet and grow their network (I wrote a book about it last year) and if I could share one piece of advice with you, it’s that you have to be proactive building your contacts if you want to succeed, and to do that you have to get past people’s bullshit radars, in other words, you must drop your agenda and be genuine.

I have a near bullet proof level of confidence that you will make more long-term progress this month if you replace self-promotion with pro-active selflessness and gratitude towards the music industry.

Promoting Others

When you try to self-promote your music, it loses effectiveness due to your blatant bias. However, when you promote someone else’s music, blog, idea, or book, suddenly you gain a lot of credibility.

Here’s how I think of it, when you say ‘check out our new song, our best yet!’ it’s like saying to a girl (or a guy) ‘I’m great in bed’… somewhat ineffective. When someone else says ‘their new song is their best yet!’ it’s got a lot of credibility as it’s seen as impartial, it’s kind of like another girl saying to the girl ‘he is great in bed’ 🙂

Remember that analogy, it’ll help you build new relationships and when you start helping others, suddenly a lot of other people begin to help you.

That’s it! Feel free to connect with me on Twitter and say hi or join The League of Musicians where I share some of my brightest nuggets of music promotion wisdom for free. See you on the other side,



The Musician’s Guide was launched in 2009 by Marcus Taylor, a former indie label manager and artist from Oxfordshire, with a passion to help musicians learn about building their fanbase. attracts over 300,000 musicians from all over the World every year.
To learn more about Marcus, click here. Alternatively if you’d like to get in touch or arrange a coffee date, you can email (below) or send him a tweet.

In the music business, creating the music is just half the battle. You have to find a way to let people know about your music. At this stage, it’s time to treat music like a business. If you feel you have a product people would enjoy, to create a promotional plan to let customers know about your recordings, performances and broadcasts.

Know Your Audience

You can go broke trying to market to everybody, according to You need to identify your “tribe,” the people who are most likely to appreciate the music you are promoting. Go to venues that feature your kind of music and pay attention to who is in the audience. Examine websites that offer similar music and determine who their advertisements are geared toward. Create a profile of your ideal fan. Include age, gender if applicable, and tastes in everything from movies to electronic products. Decide where they would most likely live, how much money they might earn and what their goals may be. Some of this comes from your instincts, and some of it comes from asking people detailed questions. Talk to people who like the kind of music you plan to promote.

Skip the Advertising

Advertising does very little to get people to listen to a new artist, according to the Music Biz Academy. Your promotion plan should designate the money you would have spent on advertising to hire a street team to promote live performances. A street team is a group of people who hand out flyers to the public and tell people about an upcoming performance. If performing is not part of the promotion plan, set aside a budget for producing a video. This will allow people to hear and see the performance online at free video sites. Your promotion plan should list all of the video sites you plan to upload the video to.

The Free Download Issue

Your plan must explain whether or not you will offer free downloads of your music. Many Internet users expect to listen to an artist for free, and will be unlikely to buy music they’ve never heard. Free downloads do not cost you money because you do not have to manufacture a physical product, but they do deprive you of income. Your promotion plan should include your policy about downloading a second song or an entire album. For example, you could offer a free download of the first song, and then sell downloads of additional songs. This could make up for the loss of income from the download.

Email Database and Social Media Contacts

Your promotion plan must explain how you will get fan emails. For example, you can have audience members enter their emails on a sign-up sheet at live shows, or you can ask for email addresses when listeners request a free download online. In addition, your plan should include the kinds of email notices you intend to distribute. You should know what kinds of messages you want to put out, and how often you will send them. Your plan should include ways to obtain social media contact information as well. You can send out messages through social media to supplement your email campaign.


You have to plan for electronic and physical distribution. Electronic distribution includes websites that regularly feature new music, as well as Internet radio stations that play emerging artists. Physical distribution of CDs involves finding retailers who will display and sell CDs. As you develop your plan, be realistic about the money you will need to manufacture CDs.


Your unique style, look and approach to music must guide the promotion plan. Include details in the plan about how you are going to remind people of your brand. For example, decide if you will have posters made with the same image as your CD cover. Determine if you will pay an artist to develop a logo for you. Plan for any gimmicks that will help people remember your brand, such as giveaways of free items with your name on them.

Niche Promotions

Think about whether your music can be easily associated with enthusiasts of NASCAR, rodeos, horror movies or video games, to name a few niche interests. You can promote to the target audience by passing out flyers at events or by posting articles about your music where these enthusiasts go to participate in their niche community. Your plan should explore all possibilities for promotions to such audiences.

About the Author

Kevin Johnston writes for Ameriprise Financial, the Rutgers University MBA Program and Evan Carmichael. He has written about business, marketing, finance, sales and investing for publications such as “The New York Daily News,” “Business Age” and “Nation’s Business.” He is an instructional designer with credits for companies such as ADP, Standard and Poor’s and Bank of America.

It’s a simple fact that people gravitate towards momentum. It’s one of the things that connects us and makes us want to gather in groups. It’s wired into our brains. So why is it that many artists don’t pay attention to momentum, and instead expect fan support when they haven’t cultivated this quality? Artists set up a Facebook profile, gain 200 fans, and start submitting their music to Sonicbids opportunities, festivals, tours, etc. But the issue is one of perception. Artists think that individuals and companies who visit their web profiles will listen to their music and judge them solely on that.

Not the case. Perception plays a role. Think about it. If you go to a show and the opening act is being watched by two people, and one of those people seems more concerned about drinking their beer than watching the band. Admit it. It’s a little bit harder to “slip into” the groove, isn’t it? On the other hand, if you walked in and 100 people were surrounding the stage, and buzz was ripe in the air, you’d immediately ask in Jack Nicholson-style “Stop the press! Who is that?” Of course, depending on your particular upbringing and musical leanings, some resistance may come up, but generally, this is something most of us psychologically share.

Contrary to what you may think, this isn’t really a bad thing. It probably comes from a security/survival area of our brains. We often want to share our experience and feel our connection, or sense of oneness with each other. This is part of the draw of, say, a Paul McCartney or Tom Petty concert. Those events have momentum, and part of that momentum is the emotions of everyone in attendance.

Now, before you get discouraged, it’s pretty clear that momentum is something that is perceived, and therefore, it’s in the eye of the beholder. It can be created, and perceived momentum creates actual momentum. In the example given earlier of the band playing for 100 people at the club, you as the viewer have no idea if those are genuine fans who answered the call, or perhaps paid extras in the live video shooting, or merely family and friends of the band generous enough to time their attendance for maximum effect. Maybe the band hit the streets promoting the show in un-glamorous ways doing things you thought were reserved for promoters only. There are so many possibilities. The point is, the end result is that you perceived the band as having momentum, and that brought you into the fold.

This brings me to the main point of the article. In my view, at least from what I’ve been learning lately, it’s very important for artists to be very aware of how they would be perceived from outsiders, without of course being self-conscious. For example, I’d say that any industry professional, music blogger, editor, writer, etc will often give artists a roughly 30 second window of time IF they get to your link at all. Of course, they’ll listen longer if they love it in some cases. But think about it. You could have the same brilliant album, and in one reality you have 5,000 Facebook followers, while in another you have 132. That’s perception. That’s momentum or lack thereof, and you will be judged on that. There are many ways to organically build your following and I won’t go too deep into that here. Facebook has just changed their advertising, so you can target, say, fans of The Mars Volta in your home state only if you so desire. Your ads automatically turn into promoted posts, too, a feature I highly recommend. They’ve worked for my own page at Stumbleupon offers promoted stumbles and Twitter has a new music app you can experiment with.

Anyhow, I hope you can see why perception is important and how it’s not unfair or a bad thing. You use it just as much as anyone else. I also hope you see that it can be manufactured and used to your advantage. I’m NOT suggesting you abuse this idea. I’m talking about great, honest art giving itself the proper respect. Get your appearances up and pay attention!

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Have you ever been frustrated by the fact that you can take a difficult passage, work on it for a bit, get it sounding pretty good, but return to the practice room the next day to discover that you’re back at square 1? That nothing has really changed? And despite how good it sounded yesterday, now it sounds just as bad as it did before you worked on it?

Most of us can live with “two steps forward, one step back.” It’s the “two steps forward, two steps back” that makes us want to tear our hair out.

So what are we to do?

Are we just supposed to keep at it and learn how to be more patient? Or is there a different way to practice that can make these improvements more permanent?


Enter Christine Carter

Dr. Christine Carter is a clarinetist who teaches at the Manhattan School of Music, and did her dissertation on the contextual interference effect – a phenomenon that can help you make your daily progress in the practice room actually stick. In this post, she shares a few suggestions on how we can make the most of our practice time.

Take it away, Christine!

Making the most of your hours in the practice room:

One simple change that could drastically increase your productivity

When it comes to practicing, we often think in terms of time: How many hours are necessary to achieve optimal progress? While this is a valid concern, a more important question is how we can make each hour count. What is the most efficient way to work so that what is practiced today actually sticks tomorrow? There is nothing more frustrating than spending a day hard at work only to return the next day at the starting line. Unfortunately, our current practice model is setting us up for this daily disappointment.

Repetition, babies, and brain scans

Early on in our musical training, we are taught the importance of repetition. How often have we been told to “play each passage ten times perfectly before moving on”? The challenge with this well-intentioned advice is that it is not in line with the way our brains work. We are hardwired to pay attention to change, not repetition. This hardwiring can already be observed in preverbal infants. Show a baby the same object over and over again and they will gradually stop paying attention through a process called habituation. Change the object, and the attention returns full force. The same goes for adults. Functional magnetic resonance imaging has demonstrated that there is progressively less brain activation when stimuli are repeated. The fact is, repeated information does not receive the same amount of processing as new information. And on some level, we all know this. Constant repetition is boring and our boredom is telling us that our brains are not engaged. But instead of listening to this instinctive voice of reason, we blame ourselves for our lack of attention and yell at ourselves to “focus!” Luckily, there is an alternative.

Blocked practice schedules

In the field of sport psychology, the continuous repetition discussed above is called blocked practice. In a blocked practice schedule, all repetitions of one activity are completed before moving on to a second activity. For example, a baseball player who must hit fifteen fastballs, fifteen curve balls, and fifteen change-up pitches in practice would complete all of the fastballs before moving on to the curve balls and so on. This most resembles the way the majority of musicians practice, especially when it comes to challenging passages. We work on one excerpt for a given amount of time and then move on to the next excerpt until all tasks for the day are complete. A blocked approach seems logical.  Muscle memory requires repetition and why wouldn’t we do all of the repetitions in a row? After all, if we are working on a difficult passage, it feels a lot more comfortable 10 minutes into practice than at the beginning. It is precisely this feeling of comfort and improvement that reinforces our reliance on blocked practice. The problem with this kind of practicing, however, is that the positive results we feel in the practice room today do not lead to the best long-term learning tomorrow. Practicing in a way that optimizes performance in the practice room does not optimize learning.

Random practice schedules

What if we took the blocks of practice on particular tasks and broke them down into smaller segments on each task? In the baseball example above, the players could hit the three different types of pitches in an alternating fashion, instead of doing all of one kind in a row. Two breakdown options are a repeating order (e.g., abc abc abc…) or an arbitrary order (e.g., acb cba bca…). In either, the net result will still be 15 practice hits of each of the three types of serve, exactly the same as the net result in the blocked practice schedule. The only variable that changes is the order in which the pitches are practiced. This type of interspersed schedule is called a random practice schedule (also known as an interleaved practice schedule).

In a random practice schedule, the performer must keep restarting different tasks. Because beginnings are always the hardest part, it will not feel as comfortable as practicing the same thing over and over again. But this challenge lies at the heart of why random practice schedules are more effective. When we come back to a task after an intervening task, our brain must reconstruct the action plan for what we are about to do. And it is at this moment of reconstruction that our brains are the most active. More mental activity leads to greater long-term learning. In the blocked schedule above, the baseball players must only construct the action plan for each type of pitch once, at the beginning of each block. In the random schedule, they must construct and later reconstruct an action plan fifteen times for each pitch. Although a blocked schedule may produce superior performance during practice, study after study has shown that a random practice schedule consistently produces superior retention following practice a day or more later (i.e., the amount actually learned). This phenomenon is called the contextual interference effect.

How much better is a random practice schedule?

It turns out that the hypothetical baseball example used above is not hypothetical.  In a 1994 study by Hall, Domingues, and Cavazos, elite baseball players were assigned to either the blocked or random practice schedules discussed above. After twelve practice sessions, the baseball players in the random practice schedule hit 57% more of the pitches than when they started. The blocked group only hit 25% more of the pitches, meaning that the random practice schedule was almost twice as effective, even though the two groups hit the same number of practice pitches. Similar results have been found across a wide variety of fields. Most pertinent to our interests as musicians, my preliminary research at the Brain and Mind Institute in Canada provides empirical support for the use of a random practice schedule in music. Not only does this research suggest that a random practice schedule is more effective than a blocked schedule for practicing musical passages, participant interviews also reveal that random practice has positive effects on factors such as goal setting and focus.

How to use a random schedule in the practice room

Rather than spending long uninterrupted periods of time woodshedding each excerpt or section of a piece, pick a few passages you would like to work on and alternate between them. If you want to spend a total of 30 minutes on a particular excerpt, practice in shorter segments, continually returning to this excerpt until you have achieved your 30-minute goal. Experiment with lengths of time. If you are practicing excerpts that are very short, you may be able to switch between them at a faster pace than would be required for longer sections. You can use a small alarm clock to time specific intervals or switch after each repetition. At its most basic level, random practice might look like this:


Material to Practice

3 minutes Excerpt A
3 minutes Excerpt B
3 minutes Excerpt C
3 minutes Excerpt A
3 minutes Excerpt B
3 minutes Excerpt C


Practicing passages in different rhythmic variations is a great way of introducing contextual interference on a smaller scale. But instead of doing all rhythmic variations on a single excerpt before moving onto the next, do one variation on excerpt A, one on excerpt B and then return to excerpt A for a second variation etc. Technique can also be interspersed into the random schedule, instead of doing all of it in one long block. An example of a more complicated random practice session might look something like the following:


Material to Practice

2 minutes Long tone, scale, long tone, scale…
3 minutes Excerpt A (using first rhythmic variation)
2 minutes Third progression, arpeggio, third progression, arpeggio…
3 minutes Excerpt B (using first rhythmic variation)
2 minutes Long tone, scale, long tone, scale…
3 minutes Excerpt A (using second rhythmic variation)
2 minutes Third progression, arpeggio, third progression, arpeggio…
3 minutes Excerpt B (using second rhythmic variation)


The permutations are endless and the exact division of time is not important. What is crucial is that you are keeping your brain engaged by varying the material. More engagement means you will be less bored, more goal-oriented (you have to be if you only have 3 minutes to accomplish something), and substantially more productive. Most importantly, when you return to the practice room the next day, you can start from where you left off. This type of practice sticks.

Additional resources

Dr. Robert Bjork on the benefits of interleaving practice @ Go Cognitive (6-minute video)

About Dr. Christine Carter

christine carter clarinetDr. Christine Carter is interested in how musicians can be more effective on stage and in the practice room. She has conducted research at a number of brain imaging and music psychology labs and is currently a visiting scholar at Western University’s Brain and Mind Institute.

Christine is also an active clarinetist. Performances have taken her around the globe, including venues as diverse as Carnegie Hall, the ancient cloisters in Avignon France, the Sydney Opera House, the Heritage Theatre in rural Newfoundland, and a Baroque Palace in the South of Germany. She completed her Doctor of Musical Arts at Manhattan School of Music, where she now teaches the Woodwind Lab.

photo credit: fmgbain via photopin cc



About Dr. Noa Kageyama

Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus & faculty member Dr. Noa Kageyama teaches musicians how to play their best under pressure through live classes, coachings, and an online course. Based in NYC, he is married to a terrific pianist, has two hilarious kids, and is a wee bit obsessed with technology and all things Apple.

As the music industry struggles to adjust to the growing effects of the Internet on sales, even traditional concepts such as copyright are being reconsidered. We examine the Creative Commons movement and explain how it could be useful to musicians everywhere.



Simon Trask


creative commons header

The traditional approach to copyright can be summed up in three words: All Rights Reserved. In law, copyright owners are granted exclusive rights in the owned work for a set period of time (50 years in the case of sound recordings in the EU), and these include the right to copy the owned work and to issue copies to the public. Yet in recent years, computer technology has made it possible for the public to easily copy and share copyrighted works worldwide. The music industry, which has felt the brunt of these technological changes, has responded with increasingly restrictive technological and legal measures — think copy-protected CDs, lawsuits against both peer-to-peer file-sharing services and individual music fans, and industry lobbying of governments for more protective intellectual property laws. It’s hardly surprising, then, that there’s a growing antagonism between the industry and its customers.

Meanwhile, the Internet is opening up new opportunities for musicians and other artists. But opportunities also bring with them challenges, and one such challenge is to consider whether All Rights Reserved copyright is the best way to establish a legal usage relationship in the age of the Internet.

The Commons Touch

In 2001 a group of US Internet legal and intellectual property experts, as well as other interested parties, decided that a more flexible approach to copyright was needed. Instead of All Rights Reserved, they proposed Some Rights Reserved. To this end, they established a non-profit corporation called Creative Commons (or CC) to draft a set of licences which could be used to ‘modify’ All Rights Reserved. The first such licences were introduced in December 2002.

creative 2 Lessig.s

Creative Commons chairman (and co-founder of the movement) Lawrence Lessig.

Stanford Law Professor and CC chairman and co-founder Lawrence Lessig is an impassioned advocate of an open creative culture. A prominent writer and speaker on the topic, Lessig has three books to his name, the most populist of which is his latest, Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity (ISBN 1594200068). As well as being available for sale in hardback form, the book can also be downloaded for free in a variety of digital formats and ‘remixes’ under a Creative Commons licence at

The central idea of Creative Commons is that copyright owners can, by attaching a CC licence to their works, explicitly and automatically give certain rights to licensees (ie. anyone who accesses their work) while reserving certain other rights to themselves. Hence ‘Some Rights Reserved’. Creative Commons is not about giving up copyright. Rather it’s about introducing a more flexible way of managing the rights embodied in copyright. So, as a musician owning the rights to your music, you can make choices about what others can and can’t do with it.

CC licensing is not specific to particular types of creative endeavour — the content could be a music track, a video, a photograph, a white paper, a manual, or a web-based diary (or ‘blog’, as they’ve become known, from ‘web-log’). In some blog software, such as Blogger and Movable Type, the ability to choose a CC licence is a built-in feature.

An Open Culture?

Many independent music community sites are starting to offer Creative Commons licensing. Dance Industries, DMusic, (nothing to do with Apple’s software), Mac Jams and Soundclick have all introduced CC licensing. For instance, tracks on Dance Industries are made available under a CC Music Sharing licence, while offers the Music Sharing licence as an option for all songs uploaded to its web site. Mac Jams, which is an on-line community for users of Apple’s Garage Band software, requires that everyone who submits a song to the site licenses it under a Creative Commons licence, while DMusic and Soundclick both offer CC licensing as an option. Soundclick, which says it sees about 70,000 track uploads per month, reports that over 30,000 tracks were CC-licensed during the first month the option was available. Another site which offers Creative Commons licensing is ElectroBel, a web site for the Belgian underground electronic music community. And Streamcast Networks, owner of the peer-to-peer application Morpheus, which searches multiple peer-to-peer networks, says it will make it easier for users to find CC-licensed music.

creative 1 Sampling Licence

One of the Creative Commons licences available for download from the main site,

Labels, too, are starting to utilise CC licensing. The Loca Records and Magnatune labels — both featured in boxes later in this article — release material exclusively under CC licences. Opsound, which describes itself as “a record label and sound pool using an open-source, ‘copyleft’ model”, makes all material in the sound pool available under a CC Attribution-ShareAlike licence. Meanwhile, Textone, which is a combination on-line electronic music magazine and net-based label, licenses all its content under the CC Music Sharing licence; their site also includes an article titled ‘The case for Creative Commons’.

Musicians adopting Creative Commons range from sample collagist Vicki Bennett (People Like Us) to veteran musician Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, who makes his recordings of traditional folk songs available for download under a CC Music Sharing licence.

The latest recruit to the Creative Commons cause is none other than entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou of easyJet fame. Stelios had a run-in with the BPI in 2003 after his easyInternet cafes allowed customers to download free music off the Internet and burn it to CD. As a result he decided to set up an on-line music service. Currently under development, easyMusic will feature two sections, labelled Copyleft and Copyright. The Copyright section will feature All Rights Reserved music, ie. major- and indie-label releases, while the Copyleft section will feature unsigned artists, with tracks licensed under a non-commercial CC licence.

Permission To Sample

This year has seen the introduction of three CC Sampling licences, specifically devised to enable musicians to give permission upfront for their tracks to be sampled. Leading lights in the development of these licences were veteran sample collagists Negativland, who achieved notoriety in the early ’90s when they were sued by none other than U2. I can recommend reading the articles at and for an understanding of where the CC Sampling licences are coming from. Negativland led the public discussion process in the drafting of the sample licences.

Another musician who was thinking along the same lines and has become a Creative Commons advocate is Gilberto Gil, who as well as being one of Brazil’s best-known musicians, is also its Minister of Culture in the government of Brazil’s socialist President Lula da Silva! In September, Gil played a benefit concert for Creative Commons in New York with former Talking Head David Byrne — another Creative Commons advocate — and Gil and Byrne have contributed a track each to a CD which comes with the November 2004 edition of Wired magazine. All 16 tracks on the CD, which also features artists such as the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy’s Chuck D, have been made available under CC Sampling licences — which means that anyone is free to sample from them. Some of the artists have used a licence which enables commercial use, while others are only non-commercial.

Express Yourself

Creative Commons offers a number of licences to choose from. Essentially there are six standard licences and nine special-purpose licences (listed in the box on the previous page). The six standard offerings are version 2.0 licences, introduced in May last year; the original 11 version 1.0 licences are still available, although six of them have the same licensing elements as the six 2.0 licences, which update them in a number of ways.

The Creative Commons Licences
Sampling Plus.
NonCommercial Sampling Plus.
Developing Nations 2.0.
Founders’ Copyright.
Public Domain.
Music Sharing (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0).
In addition, under the iCommons initiative, many countries are either developing or have developed their own localised versions of the standard global CC licences. Nine countries have already completed the process and released their own versions, among them Austria, Brazil, Canada, Japan and Taiwan. As I write this, the UK is in the final stages of developing its own versions.

Creative Commons licences are expressed in three ways: a Commons Deed, a Legal Code, and a Digital Code. The Commons Deed is a plain-language summary of the licence which combines icons and concisely expressed terms to let you see at a glance what rights are granted and what rights reserved. The Legal Code is the document which expresses the licences in legal terms, which means it’s wordier and uses lots of lawyerly turns of phrase. Having said that, the Legal Code documents are by no means impenetrable to non-lawyers. In fact, they’re quite clearly and succinctly expressed, and not particularly lengthy. That’s good, because you do need to read them to get a fuller picture of the terms of each licence, including the restrictions. But ultimately, if you don’t feel comfortable that you understand all the implications on a legal level of licensing work under a Creative Commons licence, it’s obviously sensible to get a lawyer to interpret them for you. I’m not a lawyer myself, and this is as good a place as any to state that nothing in this article is given or intended as legal advice!

The third expression of each licence, the Digital Code, is basically a machine-readable computer file containing metadata about the licence. You can add this to your web page in order to display the correct button for the licence and provide data for search engines and other applications to pick up.

All the standard Creative Commons licences have certain baseline rights and restrictions in common. Every licence allows the licensee to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work (for example, by web-casting). Each licence, at both the Commons Deed and Legal Code levels, also announces that the licensee’s fair use and other rights are in no way affected by the licence — in other words, the licence doesn’t offer fewer rights than are granted under copyright law. Another baseline requirement is that for any re-use or distribution of a work, the licensee must make clear the licence terms of the work in question.

It’s important to understand that Creative Commons is about enabling works to freely circulate on a legal basis while preserving the owner’s copyright. Part of the reasoning behind CC licensing is to put downloading and file-sharing on a legal footing. If you CC-license a track, you’re licensing people the right to download it and to share it over peer-to-peer networks. What’s more, the licence for that particular track lasts as long as the track’s copyright duration; the granted rights can only be withdrawn from a licensee who breaks the terms of the licence. You can, however, also release the work under different licence terms.

Creative Commons & Record Labels: Loca Records
Brighton-based electronica label Loca Records has adopted an alternative approach to copyright from the outset. Formed in 1999, before Creative Commons existed, the indie label made its first four releases available under the GNU GPL ‘copyleft’ licence, which is more normally associated with open-source software.
creative 4b Meme Loca

David Berry (aka Meme), Managing Director of Loca Records and Creative Commons advocate.

“It was an experiment more than anything else, just to go through the processes really” says label co-founder and MD David Berry, a musician who records for Loca under the name Meme. Now an enthusiastic advocate of the open-source, ‘copyleft’ approach, Berry has also co-authored the Libre Society manifesto, essentially a ‘call to arms’ against the ownership and control of creativity by big business interests.

“We’d all had some involvement with the majors and got pretty pissed off with them, so we decided to try to do it a different way, to see what happened. It was almost a moral norm, we were trying to say ‘Use this; if you want to sample it, feel free. We’re not going to hound you to your death.'”
For their fifth release, Loca moved from the GPL to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Open Audio licence. Berry then discovered Creative Commons when he heard Lawrence Lessig speak at a conference in Oxford, and Loca has switched to using the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 1.0 licence for all its subsequent releases.
“Essentially we were trying to get a licence very similar to the GPL, a sort of copyleft licence, and we found the Attribution-ShareAlike licence. It’s a ‘viral’ licence, it states that if you wish to use the music you yourself have to open your music. It creates an amazing domain of openly available music that we can all use freely. And that means it’s very unlikely that someone’s going to exploit your work in a really horrible way, because ultimately you can re-use their music.”
Berry says a US open-source compilation label have included a track from Loca artists Maz Plant Out on one of their releases. “We’re more than happy about that, because we think it raises the profile both of Maz Plant Out and our label. Part of the joy of what we’re doing is raising the profile of bands we really like. But ultimately we’re a small label, and we don’t ever envisage doing huge runs. We’ll do our pressing of 1000 copies and that’s it; the release is deleted when it runs out, and we move on to the next one. If some other label wants to plough 10,000 pounds into pressing Maz Plant Out records, that’s fantastic.”
So does Berry feel that the Creative Commons open licensing concept is scaleable beyond small independent labels? “Four or five years ago people were saying Linux was only small-scale, but now it’s challenging Microsoft,” he replies. “I’m not going to rule out the possibility of a massive open source-based label coming along and using Creative Commons licences so well that they’re very successful. Obviously the business model has to change, it has to stop being so draconian. The majors really do need to rethink. Criminalising your audience is absolutely counter-productive.”

The Four Elements

The six standard Creative Commons licences use from one to three licence elements, selected from four available elements: Attribution, NoDerivs, NonCommercial, and ShareAlike. Attribution is common to all six 2.0 licences. There are several 1.0 licences which don’t include the Attribution requirement, but Creative Commons decided to drop them in the 2.0 round of improvements, because stats indicated that 97-98 percent of CC-licenced works used the Attribution element.

Basically, Attribution says that the licensee must give you credit as the original author of the work. They can’t pass it off as their own, and if they make a derivative work (where permitted) they have to credit you for your contribution.

Which brings us to NoDerivs. If you don’t want anyone to make any use of your work beyond listening to it and copying and sharing it, then you need to choose a licence which specificies NoDerivs. Incidentally, the synchronisation of a music- or sound-based work to a moving image is considered derivative for the purposes of the licence!

The third element is NonCommercial. If you don’t want anyone to make money off of your work without first doing a deal with you, then you need to choose a licence which specifies NonCommercial. The Commons Deed simply states: “You may not use this work for commercial purposes.” The Legal Code, as you would expect, is more wordy on the subject of commercial use: the licensee can’t use the work “in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.” It also says file-sharing is OK, “provided there is no payment of any monetary compensation in connection with the exchange of copyrighted works.” In addition, depending on whether or not you select the NonCommercial element, the Legal Code has a section on performance, mechanical and web-casting rights and statutory royalties where you as licensee either waive or reserve the exclusive right to collect, either individually or via a relevant collecting society, any royalties for the work. Interestingly, Textone, while using a licence with a NonCommercial element, explicitly state at one point on their web site (but not next to the licence button) that they allow playback and mixing of their releases during a for-profit DJ performance “since so much of the underground scene is dependent on DJ/performance fees for subsistence.”

The final, fourth licence element is ShareAlike. In the concise terms of the Commons Deed, this means: “If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a licence identical to this one.” So with an Attribution-ShareAlike licence, someone could use your work in their own and release the result commercially, but their work would then fall under the same licence. So you, or anyone else, could use their work in turn.

The CC Music Sharing licence has its own button (‘Share Music’ CC) and its own Commons Deed which states that “The owner of this music retains his or her copyright but allows you to: download, copy, file-share, trade, distribute, and publicly perform (eg. web-cast) it.” It also specifices Attribution, NonCommercial and NoDerivs. In other words: share it but don’t sample it, alter it, or make money from it, and don’t take away my credit. The Legal Code is the usual Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 licence, but if you want to make it clear that your music’s shareable (and that’s all) then this is the one to use.

Creative Commons & Record Labels: Magnatune
Magnatune recently celebrated their first year of business as an Internet-based ‘open music record label’. Founder John Buckman has now signed some 180 artists and built up a catalogue of over 300 albums covering a variety of genres. From the outset, the label’s catalogue has been released under a Creative Commons licence. Buckman chose the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0 licence (by-nc-sa 1.0).
“If you want people to listen to your music, you need to give them the legal right to do so,” he says. “If you just put an MP3 file on the Internet and someone downloads it and plays it, technically that’s piracy. And so, in order to be clearly legal, you need to associate a licence with a piece of music when you put it on the Internet.”
creative 5b Magnatune Buckman

Magnatune founder John Buckman. “In order to be clearly legal, you need to associate a licence with a piece of music when you put it on the Internet.”

Magnatune let you listen to their entire catalogue on-line for free as high- or low-bandwidth MP3 audio streams, and let you buy individual albums either for download (in a variety of lossy and lossless, DRM-free formats) or on CD. The label pay each artist half the money received from sales and commercial licensing of the music, and Buckman believes that consumers are willing to buy the music they like in order to support the artists who make it.

Because the CC licence used by Magnatune doesn’t include a NoDerivs element, you’re free to alter, transform, or build upon any Magnatune track(s) in order to create a new track of your own. However, the ShareAlike licence element means that anyone can do the same to your track in turn once you’ve made it available non-commercially.
The NonCommercial element means that if you want to use your track in any commercial way you have to separately license and pay a fee for each Magnatune track that you’ve used in it. To facilitate payment for commercial use of Magnatune artists’ material, the label provide a licensing interface on their web site. This lets potential licensees select from a variety of applications, ranging from radio ads to movie soundtracks, compilation albums to public spaces, and then select further options within each application — after which the interface reports exactly how much the intended use will cost. “I think if you’re going to use a non-commercial Creative Commons licence, it’s absolutely crucial to state upfront what further use will cost,” says Buckman. Tracks can be downloaded for free as 128kbps MP3s if Non-Commercial is selected from the list of licensing options. This can be useful for, say, indie filmmakers who want to try out tracks against their films. Buckman reveals that film is the most popular application for commercial licensing at the moment. Magnatune issues about 20-30 film licences a month.
“A lot of it is because of Creative Commons,” he says. “Indie filmmakers will make their films and put our music in as a temp track, because at that point it’s legal to do so; they can show the film in a non-commercial setting. Then when they get picked up for distribution, we’re there with a fixed, reasonable price which they already know.”
For more on Magnatune, see the article on Digital Music Distribution in SOS February 2004 (located

Licence To Sample

In a recent sampling case in the US, the court concluded that any and every sample, no matter how small or altered, needed to be licensed. The ruling included the following comment: “Get a licence or do not sample. We do not see this as stifling creativity in any significant way.” Of course, the reality is that tracking down the copyright holder can be so difficult that itdoes put a brake on sampling creativity. The Creative Commons sampling licences aim to rectify this situation by enabling artists to release their music under licences which specifically allow sampling.

There are three sampling licences available: Sampling, Sampling Plus, and NonCommercial Sampling Plus. All three state in their Commons Deed that: “You are free to sample, mash-up, or otherwise creatively transform this work”. The Legal Deed offers a more detailed and wordy version of this in its ‘Re-Creativity’ clause, but the included phrases “highly transformative of the original” and “substantially different from the original” give you the flavour.

Links To Further Reading

Essentially, Sampling and Sampling Plus allow both non-commercial and commercial use of the work (so someone can release a track containing samples from your music and not have to pay you), while, as the name indicates, NonCommercial Sampling Plus doesn’t allow sampling for commercial use. In this case, as with the other licences having a NonCommercial element, someone who wants to sample a track of yours for a commercial release would have to contact you and come to a separate arrangement. You can make this easier by including with your work a URL link to licensing information (especially as the Legal Code says any such URL has to be included, to the extent reasonably practicable, with any derivative work or copies of the original work distributed or performed by the licensee).

The only other difference in the licences is that Sampling Plus and NonCommercial Sampling Plus allow someone to perform, display, and distribute copies of the whole track on a non-commercial basis, so it can be file-shared and used in a non-commercial web-cast, for instance — whereas the Sampling licence prohibits any such further use of the whole track.

Another feature common to all three Sampling licences is that the licensed Work can’t be used to “advertise for or promote anything but the work you create.” So your music can’t be used in an ad (again, the agency can always approach you and come to a separate arrangement, of course).

One label which has recently decided to put their releases out under the Sampling Plus licence is Positron! Records. All the artists on Positron! own their catalogue rights, and according to label boss Chris Randall all but one have agreed to the use of the licence. Positron! will put out their first two releases to use the licence in late November and early December 2004, while existing releases will adopt it as and when they’re re-pressed. Randall has an entry in his weblog at;year=2004 which is well worth reading, as it gives a good insight into the thinking of someone who has made the move into CC licensing.

Of the remaining Creative Commons licences, Public Domain is obviously for dedicating Works to the public domain (which actually means giving up your copyright, not licensing it), Developing Nations is for licensing only to countries not classified by the World Bank as high-income economies, Founders’ Copyright is a way to make copyrighted material available for the term specified in the US’s first copyright law, back in 1790 (14 years extendable to 28), and the CC-GNU GPL and LGPL licences ‘wrap’ the famous open-source licences in a CC Commons Deed and CC metadata.

To License Or Not To License?

So should you make use of Creative Commons to license your music? Well, there’s no easy answer to this. The purpose of this article is to inform you of the options that Creative Commons licensing gives you, not to make a simple ‘for’ or ‘against’ recommendation. Obviously, you need to have the rights to your music before you can make a decision about any kind of licensing. And Creative Commons doesn’t magically give you rights to someone else’s All Rights Reserved content (so watch out when using samples — unless they come from a release that uses a Creative Commons Sampling licence for commercial and non-commercial use, of course!).

creative 3 CC Site

The Creative Commons web site. Here you can read up on the background to the creative commons movement, learn all about the various Creative Commons licences and which is best suited to you, and of course download the licences themselves when you’ve decided.

If the thought of anyone sharing your music over the Internet makes you mad, you’re going to fall at the first hurdle of CC acceptance, unless that is, the Sampling 1.0 licence strikes the right balance for you. One point to bear in mind is that you may start coming across CC-licensed music, and if you’re of a sampling inclination, then you may even find tracks you’d like to sample from. All in all, it’s worth being aware of the various Creative Commons licensing do’s and don’ts even if you’re not planning on licensing your own music. If you’re making music as a hobby, with no particular view to or need for recompense, you could look on Creative Commons licensing as a great way to make your music as widely available as possible, on a legal basis for your listeners. You can always provide an on-line option for people to buy or make a donation, and depending on the licence you choose, you may get commercial users knocking on your door.

If you want to make a living out of your (copyright-owned) music, it’s more complicated. There’s no hard and fast business case for going the Creative Commons route. If you’re looking to build a fan base, it could be something to try. You could always dip a toe in the water by licensing one or two tracks. Read the Magnatune box on the previous page and look over their web site. CC-licensed music doesn’t have to mean no-pay music; also, look at the way the NonCommercial CC element feeds into a commercial licensing revenue stream on the site.

The music world is changing, and Creative Commons licensing could provide independent musicians with a golden opportunity to ride that change.