Your new track sounds great and you can’t wait to upload it to
SoundCloud. Before you do that, though, there’s one question you need to answer. Who owns the track? The answer might not be as clear-cut as you think.
“I think that the biggest issue that most DIY, self-releasing artists
face,” says W. Joseph Anderson, an L.A.-based attorney with the firm
Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, who focuses on “the corporate side of
Songwriting credits can get complicated and it’s in your best interest
that everyone is properly credited before your music reaches the
public. There are various situations where this can come into play.
One is if you record a track solo, but wrote it with collaborators.
“You need to get permission from the other writers before doing
anything with the recording of that song,” says Anderson. This, he
explains, is the difference between owning a composition versus a
master recording. “If you’re going to be in a writing session with a
bunch of people, you all might write and own a piece of that
composition created in that writing sessions,” he explains. “If you go
home and record it on your own in your own in home studio rig, or you go to a studio and have someone record you doing that song, you might own that recording.”
Another tricky situation is “derivative works,” including remixes,
edits and the use of samples and interpolations. As an example, he
points to Ariana Grande’s hit “Seven Rings,” where the late musical
theater collaborators Rodgers and Hammerstein receive songwriting
credit. That’s because Grande interpolates the melody of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.
In instances of edits, remixes and samples, there’s another component to the ownership question. “The prevailing legal theory is that you’re going to need permission for that,” he says. “You would need permission from whoever owned the original recording and whoever owned the composition. Those two people might not be the same and there might be more than two people.”
Anderson says that the best way to make sure all your credits are in
order is to document everything. Keep track of who is with you in
writing sessions and know the sources of the sounds used on the
recordings. “Where did you get those drum samples? Where did you get those string samples?” Anderson says, are some of the questions that will need answers.