Releasing Your Own Record:
A Common Sense Checklist
Chino Rodriguez - Entertainment Executive, May 22, 2010
For artists who are releasing their own record for the first time, without the involvement or assistance of a label, the process can be a little intimidating. It can be easy to miss some key legal details in the process.
Here, therefore, is a very basic checklist of issues to be considered when releasing a record. Bear in mind, though, that your own particular circumstances may dictate that you take certain steps that are different from, or in addition to, the various steps mentioned below. Also, it has been necessary to greatly oversimplify some of the issues discussed below due to space limitations.
2) Investors. If there are investors involved, documents will need to be prepared in order to comply with certain Federal and State securities laws. Be especially careful here.
For songs not licensable through Harry Fox or Lime Light, you must contact the publisher directly. Usually the easiest way to do so is to obtain the publisher's contact info from the "song indexing" departments at ASCAP and BMI.
5) Sampling Clearances. If you are including any samples on your record, you need to obtain sample clearances from the publisher of the musical composition being sampled AND, separately, the record label that owns the master being sampled. Do this as early as possible, as there will be some instances in which either the publisher or label will not be willing to issue a license, or the licensing fee which they require may not be affordable.
Also, some duplicators will require you to sign a form stating that either you have not used any samples, or that if you have done so, you have obtained all necessary clearances. If there is any obvious sampling done, the duplicator may require you to show them the clearance documentation.
A non-legal sidenote: At the same time you are working on the artwork and the copyright notices, etc., doublecheck to make sure that your artwork meets all technical specs of whoever will be printing the artwork. Also, if you will be distributing the record through a record distributor, make sure that your artwork conforms to the distributor's specs.
In some instances, it is possible to file an SR form to cover both the musical composition and your particular recording of that musical composition. The instructions for Form SR discuss when and how you can do this.
13) Trademark Notices/Registrations. Be very sure that you have the legal right to use the group name and label name which you have chosen, and consider the advantages of filing trademark applications for those names. Also, make sure that your liner notes contain a proper trademark notice for the name of your group, and (if applicable) the name of your label. Information about trademark notices can be obtained at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office web site.
Note: If you plan on submitting a SoundScan as well as BDS, Mediabase or other reporting companies application, be sure that you obtain a bar code specifically for your own record. If, instead, you "borrow" someone else's barcode (or the duplicator's general barcode), your sales and broadcast will be credited to them and not to you.
Hopefully, the above checklist will help to reduce, at least slightly, some of the stress and strain of putting out your own records. The key, of course, is to think ahead as much as possible. Some of the steps mentioned above, such as obtaining sampling clearances and mechanical licenses, can take some time and a lack of planning can unnecessarily increase your costs and/or delay the release date.
Also, make sure that you have all of your "ducks in a row" before you schedule any record release event. It's not an enjoyable experience to be locked into a record release date, only to find out at the last minute that you aren't going to be receiving your CDs from the duplicator by the time of the event or that there are legal or technical problems with either the CD or the CD artwork.
By thinking ahead, the odds are much better that your record release will proceed smoothly and that, after the record release, you will be able to spend your time and budget effectively promoting the record, rather than having to spend time doing repair damage.