First off, I want to THANK YOU ALL for the support, advice and even practical offers of help you’ve extended to me just in the past week. It never occurred to me that this blog would actually end up with people – literally - pitching in for this crazy adventure (with sound equipment, mixing offers, free songs, etc) but I am absolutely overwhelmed by your generosity and wisdom nonetheless. Thank you!
With that said….
let’s move onto our next step in the Solo CD making process, “The Mechanical License”.
Or as I like to call it, “The Happy Discovery That Songs Are Not A Trajillion Gabillion Dollars To Record”.
Here's the thing. While I’m pretty secure about having the talent needed to make the musical aspect of this CD climb to the top of Mount Awesome...when it comes to the legal nuts and bolts of this whole recording business?
I don’t have a fucking clue what I’m doing.
I mean, nada.
Not even a hint.
So, I figure the most responsible thing here is to focus first on what I’m most intimidated by- namely rights, rules, regulations, legalities and possibly (God help me) lawyers. Best to get the stuff I don’t know about squared away before I nestle into the comfy, fun-bags that are the musical tunes. It is time to put on my big girl panties and dive into some high colonic waters of insecurity. Yeah! Sound sexy? Who’s with me!
To start, I email fellow Solo CD compatriot Ron Destefano (www.rondestefano.com) for my next move. He tells me I need a Mechanical License for the right to record and sell the songs on my list of potential tracks. He points me to the Harry Fox website (www.harryfox.com) where you can find a list of thousands of recorded songs handled by the Harry Fox Agency. If your song is in the database then you just get your license right through the site. It’s all incredibly easy and civilized sounding, much to my relief.
So as not to bore the ever-living crap out of you (you’re welcome), know that any and all questions you might ever have about Mechanical Licenses can be found at the Harry Fox website. And yes, by looking at the home page, I can attest that it totally has lots and lots of…words and smarty-pantsy- lookin' kinda stuff.
Sooooooooo…happy dry legal-ease to you all!
I haven’t read the whole site yet.
Lord, I barely made it through the first FAQ page.
Don't get me wrong. While I am extremely grateful that Harry Fox is there for me in theory, the density of the website is overwhelming. Not that the site is difficult to understand, nor am I a complete moron but…admittedly, the left side of my brain shriveled up to the size of a raisin many years ago when I realized I could just hire someone else to do my taxes, deal with my contracts and pretty much anything else having to do with laws, denominators and digits.
Ok, this is ridiculous…focus focus FOCUS!
I go back to the FAQs page with every intention of giving myself a good learnin’ Harry Fox style, but it’s no use. I’m just not retaining any of this at the moment. All my brain wants to do is get at the music. I can already feel arrangements forming in my subconscious and I want to set them free! But no. Dessert after veggies. Dessert after veggies.
My eyes glaze over about five seconds in.
Seriously. I mean- Jesus H...seriously?
I can memorize the entire score of Sweeney Todd on three different instruments, but flat line when faced with things like New CRB Mechanical Royalty Rates? I mean, what is that? That’s embarrassing, that’s what that is. I am a Presidential Scholar who can't read a map. Sad, but true.
Faced with the reality that being my own producer is going to be just as much of a challenge as I’d anticipated, I consider calling Andy (my boyfriend) who is totally wicked smart at this stuff. Stanford grad, ya know. But, I resist. Not so much for the shame of feeling like an intellectual lame ass but more because being girly is not my bag. And being stereotypically girly makes my gag reflex go into overdrive. So with dignity, I refuse to say “Pwease expwain these weally weally hawd words while I twirl awound in my pwetty pwincess dwess!”. ok c'mon that's kinda funny, right? No you're right. It's not.
Snap out of it, Champlin.
You went to Oxford for fuck’s sake.
Pull it together.
I take a nice long deep breath….and clarification comes.
Why am I being so hard on myself? It’s not like the Harry Fox site is going to disappear forever tomorrow. Lord knows, if Harry Fox and I are going to go steady I don’t want him to think I’m slutter-butters by going all the way on our first date. All I need to do today is identify which songs are at Harry Fox and then more importantly focus on the songs that aren’t. Good. Stress slightly relieved with this decision. Let the cross referencing begin.
As I look over my list of 42 potential tunes I realize they basically fall into one of six categories:
1) YOUR OWN COMPOSITION: Free. You own all the rights to your own work, obviously.
2) PUBLIC DOMAIN: If your song has an original copyright before 1922, your song is free because it is in the public domain. (http://www.pdinfo.com/index.php)
3) HARRY FOX: Your song is listed at and represented by Harry Fox and your mechanical license can be handled directly through their website. (http://www.harryfox.com/public/index.jsp)
4) POACHED: You have recorded a solo track on another CD and you really like it the way it is, so you just want to lift the track in its entirety from another CD to yours.
5) MIA (Missing In Action): Your song is not listed at the Harry Fox website and is not in the Public Domain, so you have to try to contact the composer directly, through their agent, or their lawyer or the producing company that’s listed with the copyright.
6) X-FILE: Your song is not listed at Harry Fox, not in the Public Domain, and you’ve tried to contact anyone and everyone who could possibly help you get a mechanical license to no avail. Now you have to decide if it’s worth recording anyway and then dealing with whomever might come out of the woodwork after the fact.
Ergo, my potential song list breaks down like this:
My own compositions = 0
Public domain = 5
Harry Fox = 25
Missing In Action = 9
X-File = TBA
Crap. I thought I would have more public domain songs in the mix to keep my costs down but…I think it’ll be ok. The going rate at Harry Fox seems to be no more than 9.1 cents per CD. So that’s $91 per track if I get 1000 CDs made. Or $45 per track if I get 500 CDs made (which seems a more realistic number for a debut CD anyway).
Next step: Address the MIA file situation.
Out of the nine MIA tracks I know four of the composers personally, so I send them an email asking them about the cost of their mechanical licenses. For the other five, Google searches turn up some of the composer’s websites with contact information. Fabulous. I also research their careers and see if there’s anyone we might have in common who might be willing to make an introduction. Bingo! Two more emails to ‘friends of friends’. And two more emails to the people I recorded my 'poached' tracks with, just to see how much of a shit storm it would actually be to lift them.
Now I’m left with one track with no contact, no connections and no website. Shit. Of course it’s one of the tracks I’m absolutely nuts about and really want to do. Even more so now that it seems out of reach.
Ok, so…project mechanical license is underway.
Summing up- Solo CD lessons learned today:
1) Mechanical licenses are a must and Harry Fox is your friend.
2) Your own compositions and public domain are free and can be used to pad your CD list if you need to keep your budget low.
3) It’s better to get all this legal shit out of the way first, because you don’t want to have wasted a bunch of time and energy on a track that’s either unavailable or too expensive.
4) Consider 500 CDs as opposed to 1000 to keep things more realistic and less expensive.
5) Know your strengths and weaknesses and tackle the weaknesses first.
6) Make things easier on yourself by dividing your possible tracks into the six categories above. While Harry Fox baby sits the tracks in his domain, go after the ones that are MIA. Divide and conquer.
7) Do not feel like you have to get all the answers at once. Take things one step at a time and it will feel less overwhelming and impossible.
8) Know when to ask for help, and know when you need a to suck it up and give yourself a good ass kicking.
9) Try to check your Type-A personality at the door this early on. Mistakes are expected. Just try to make sure they aren’t expensive ones.
10) Boyfriends who went to Stanford are hot. Just sayin'.
That’s it for today….
Stay tuned the next step: CD BABY!