Obtaining permission to sell your album at gigs

(The original version of this article was first published on the Mp3 Backing Trax website circa 2006 – 2012)

Who doesn’t want to make more money, right? Well if you are considering making an album to sell at your gigs or to give away as a demo, you’ll need a licence first.

Fortunately the licensing required for this isn’t particularly complicated, but get it wrong and it could cost you dearly. There are essentially two copyrights attached to every piece of recorded music.

  1. To the performer (i.e. the singers/musicians who played on the recording).
  2. To the author (i.e. the songwriter).

If you record an album, even if you only plan to give it away, these two royalties still must be paid by you.

The Performers Royalty
The best way to explain this is to look at an example. If you were to buy a backing track from us of, say, the Beatles song Hey Jude, the author will be John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but the performer will be us, the MP3 Backing Trax musicians who played on that backing track.

The good news is that if you buy your backing tracks from us at MP3 Backing Trax and request our permission to use it as the backing music for your album, then we as the performer, i.e. the guys who played the music on the backing track, will usually say yes and we’ll waive our “performers” royalty.

So far we’ve never refused a customer yet and the reason we do this for our customers is because we want you be successful. I decided many years ago when I first set up this backing track business that I would always do as much as I could to help fellow artists further their careers wherever possible. Our only requirement is that you credit MP3 Backing Trax on the artwork as supplying the music for your album. That’s fair enough, I’m sure you’ll agree).

So, ok, that’s one part of your licensing sorted out for you. Let’s look at the second part – the authors royalty…

The Authors Royalty
If you record yourself singing a song which you did not write yourself, no matter whether you are selling the recording or giving it away, and no matter whether you legally bought and paid for the backing music to that song, you still must obtain further permission from the original author (the songwriter) to use it.

Don’t mistakenly think that because our backing tracks are supplied to you “MCPS royalty paid” that this means you are now free to use the backing track you’ve bought in any way you wish. Remember, we only performed the music on the backing track. The author of the song still has other rights as to what you can and cannot do with his song.

The licence we have to supply backing tracks to you – and what you, in turn, can then do with those backing tracks – has limitations. Remember, we’re not the authors, we didn’t write the songs.

For example, you cannot copy or reproduce any backing tracks purchased from us except for your own personal use and you cannot alter, modify, publish, distribute, sell, broadcast, transmit, create derivative works from, or edit any backing tracks purchased from us without our expressed written permission.

The royalty we pay to the author when we supply you with a backing track is not the same as the further royalty you will need to pay to the author should you wish to use his/her song on your album or demo. Be aware that the author of the song (the songwriter) gets paid over and over again EVERY time his work is used for each different purpose. Now you know why so many songwriters are multi-millionaires and can earn more than even the superstar artistes who sing their songs!

So to put it in simple terms, if you decide to use a backing track to make an album that you intend to sell, or give away, or offer as a download on your website, you cannot do it without a licence…

Where to get a licence
Fortunately you don’t need to hunt around to try and find the songwriters of every song on your album and ask their permission individually. There is a standard blanket licence which you can purchase from the music licensing authorities in your country which will cover you to sell your album.

You may need seperate and different licences if you are going to be selling your album in a variety of different formats e.g. there’s one licence for selling CD’s and another, different licence to sell internet downloads, so make sure you let the licensing authorities know exactly what you will be doing with your album and how you’re going to sell it to ensure you get the correct licence.

Just below the next paragraph you’ll see links to where you can find the main licensing authorities in the UK, USA and Australia. Contact them and let them know what you’re planning to do and they will advise you of the correct licence and how much it’ll cost you. If you are situated in any other country, then use the links below to contact the authorities nearest to your country and ask who controls music licensing in your particular country. They’ll be happy to point you in the right direction. They all work together, no matter where in the world you are:

USA – http://www.riaa.com

UK – http://www.prsformusic.com

Australia – http://www.apra.com.au/

And finally…
Music licensing doesn’t just apply to recording and selling music. Any type of public performance of music requires a licence. In fact, even when you buy a legal fully royalty paid backing track from us and use it to sing at a live gig, the venue you are singing in must have a PRS music licence or you cannot perform in that venue.

Mind you, obtaining a PRS licence is the venues responsibility, not yours, so you shouldn’t need to worry too much about this.

However you should always ensure that the venue you’re singing in have a curent PRS licence before you start your gig because if they don’t, you WILL be breaking the law by performing in an unlicenced venue.