Buying music rights?
July 23, 2005 11:48 AM   Subscribe

I need information about buying rights to music outright.

I came across a cd a while ago that consisted of amazing piano arrangements of traditional songs (no lyrics). I've never seen this cd for sale in meat space or online, but I think it could do very well if people had the opportunity to buy it.

So what would be involved in buying the complete rights to the music? Can this even be done? What would this cost?

To clarify, I'd like to own the master and be able to sell cds without paying anything to anyone.
posted by null terminated to Media & Arts (4 answers total)
IANAL, but I believe you will need to buy these rights from the copyright holder(s), or wait until the copyright expires.

What it will cost really depends on what they want to sell it to you for, what kind of deal you can negotiate with them. It could be a couple of hundred bucks. It could be thousands or hundreds of thousands. They might insist on percentages. Essentially, this would be much like negotiating a record contract. Because that's what it'd be. :)
posted by weston at 12:40 PM on July 23, 2005

Sure, you can "buy the rights" to the music, but I think you and the artist would be better off entering into a licensing agreement. I would never, ever, recommend that a musician or songwriter relinquishes their inherent performance or compositional copyrights. A situation where the distributor owns all the rights is pretty rare these days - to my mind it smacks of the early days of rock and roll where unscrupulous entrepreneurs would pay a blues artist or star-struck singer a pittance, then take all the profits themselves.

It can cut both ways too. "What would this cost?" you ask. It will cost what you and the artist agree it will cost. If that price means you earn more than the buying price the artist is going to feel bad. If you fail to recoup the buying price you're going to feel bad.

A licensing deal is fairer all round and can be covered by a simple one-page agreement. Basically you, as the distributor, agree to pay the artist a certain percentage of every CD sold. That percentage is open for negotiation, but it typically runs to around 20% of the "Published Price to Dealer" (i.e. the price the record store pays). There are usually clauses added to stipulate the term of the agreement - usually 3-5 years - and the territory.

Downside is that you have to do a little accounting every three months to work our what you owe the artist.

As far as the material itself goes, you would need to make sure that it is "Traditional" and out of copyright, otherwise you will be obliged to pay composing ("mechanical") royalties to the copyright holders.
posted by TiredStarling at 12:47 PM on July 23, 2005

A licensing deal is fairer all round and can be covered by a simple one-page agreement.

I have never seen a well drafted one-page agreement of this sort. There is a lot to wrestle with in these licenses, always more than you initially suspect. Just the accounting provisions, warranties and representation, dispute resolution, choice of law, and notice provisions are going to eat up a couple of pages.
What is recoupable? Is there an advance? How is "net" defined? It can go on and on.
posted by anathema at 2:06 PM on July 23, 2005

Disconnect for me is how you can be planning to make money off a CD of piano arrangements and not already be in a position to know the answers to the basic questions here. I don't mean that disrespectfully, but the odds of successfully marketing a CD (of traditional instrumental music, no less) so that there is any gain to be discussed are hugely against an established producer, record label, or distributor, let alone someone who's never been involved in the business before. The music industry is full of *sharks* -- at all levels. Not only would you, as the licensee, need to make royalty commitments to the original performer(s) and arranger(s) whose work you would distribute, but you'd have to make assurances as to how you would protect their copyrights. It sounds to me like you might want to learn the structure of the music business on a more general level before you advanced with such a project. Or partner with someone who already has the knowledge here.
posted by realcountrymusic at 2:20 PM on July 23, 2005

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