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So you want to be in a rock band?: How to protect your music

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | November 5th, 2007

Being an independent act, or being newly signed to a major label, there are a number of artist-oriented affiliations at your disposal, and to become successful they are essential. Not only are there organizations that will assist you in protecting your art, but there are musician unions whose purpose is to promote and protect your rights as an artist. The latter form of associations go so far as to “attempt” to professionalize music as a career offering legal council, retirement pensions, and tour support.

Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC)

The SAC provides a service wherein once provided with a hardcopy of each of your original compositions, they will catalogue each song (or album) into a registered depository, which records the original songwriter(s), the rights shareholders and the date in which the piece(s) were submitted.

A registered copyright is much more likely to hold up as proof of ownership in a court of law, and thus, ensuring that all of your music is protected in this fashion is A MUST. Other companies and/or entertainment lawyers can provide this same service for you, however, likely it would be at a higher cost.

Membership is open to any Canadian composer, lyricist or songwriter regardless of professional status or genre and entitles you to the song depository for your original works, song assessment meetings with industry professionals ($25 + GST per song), as well as access to several helpful seminars and workshops to assist you in improving your songwriting. Voting members can either pay $60 + GST for one year or $100 + GST for two years. Associate members are charged $135 + GST per year. The only difference between the two memberships is that voting members are eligible to vote at the annual meetings of the members.

I personally think register-copywriting your music is a MUST for every musician out there, and that SAC provides an easy and reasonably priced method through which you can do so. I have not taken advantage of their services outside of the song depository so I cannot provide an evaluation for those, however in terms of their song depository and customer service, I have absolutely no complaints.

In terms of choice of membership, I personally do not have the time to go to the meetings for each of the associations of which I am a member, and so I opted to apply as a non-voting associate member. I do not recommend becoming a voting member of any organization, unless you are truly passionate about what the organization represents, and you are willing and able to attend their meetings in order to have a say in their new developments.

Society of Composers, Authors, & Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN)

Contrary to popular belief registering your music with SOCAN does NOT copyright your works, rather SOCAN’s services pertain to public performance royalty rights and distribution and their system works as follows:

Firstly, SOCAN requires its members to register all of their original compositions within their directory. Next, once any of your pieces are performed publicly (whether at a gig where the cover charge exceeds $7, live on television, or if your song is played on the radio), it is your duty to report this performance to SOCAN by issuing them public performance forms (provided on their website) detailing all of the pertinent information including the venue, the song(s) performed and proof of the performance.

Public performance forms from ALL of SOCAN’s registered members are collected, and four times a year, members who earn at least $5 in public performance royalty fees (per quarter) will be issued a cheque for their earnings. The royalty fees are accrued from the venue’s themselves.

Music creators (lyricists, songwriters, accompaniment writers) and music publishers can become members of SOCAN if the works they created and/or are representing have been published by a music publisher, recorded by a record company, or have or will be performed in a public forum licensed by SOCAN. Online applications made by music creators are FREE. For those who chose to apply on paper, there is a one-time processing fee of $25. Membership for music publishers costs $50 + applicable taxes, applications can be made online or on paper, and again this is a one-time fee.

SOCAN’s system is not as straightforward as it would seem as for one thing NOT every venue (smaller clubs and non-for-profit/college radio) agrees to issue public performance royalties, so even if you fulfill all of the above requirements, you may or may not receive any royalties for your performances. Additionally, royalty payment is decided through a lottery, wherein major artists are almost always are paid first, and independent artists are provided with the leftovers, if any. Taking into account that not all venues pay, and major artists indefinitely get paid first, you may not receive any compensation for your performances until you reach a more notable position within the music industry.
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