Friday, February 15, 2013

Do I Need to Trademark My Label Name

If your record label is a registered business, then your label name is your "trade name". Trade names are not officially protected under copyright law, so technically speaking, someone could start a record label using the same name. That might sound a little scary, but most record labels will not meet the requirements for qualifying for a trademark. A trademark is a branding of a service or product that you can prove to be unique from what other companies are offering. There is very little room to do that as a record label.

Just because you probably won't be able to trademark your record label name doesn't mean that there aren't things you can do to keep your label branding strong. Get an internet domain name that matches (as closely as possible) your label name. Have a label logo and a distinct set of catalogue numbers. If you are an indie label, always promote your label along with your new releases. Make building your label identity a priority in case someone else does come along and think up the same name. The more established you are, the less likely someone is to run with the idea of ripping off your name. It may sound counter-intuitive - after all, your established label name may open some doors - but the jig would be up almost instantly. Anyone serious about establishing their own business will realize that they are much better off building their own label brand.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Music Industry Myths: You Can Do It All Yourself

There are tons of myths about how the music industry operates, and when you're trying to break into the business, these misconceptions can send you down the wrong path in a big way. This is part five in a series looking at common music business myths so you can avoid falling prey to them. Be sure to check the bottom of the article for more information.

Let's get one thing straight up front here - you can do A LOT yourself in the music industry. This is not an argument that you need some big major label behind you pulling the shots or that you need to give up a lot of control over your music career to make it in the business. No way. DIY ethos in the music industry often leads to the best of everything - the best music, the best labels, the best show - you name it. In fact, being able to do a lot of things yourself in your music career will pay off for you in a big way.

Here's the "but" - no matter how much you want to, you can't REALLY do it all yourself. On a small scale, you can, but when you want your music career to grow, you're going to need some helping hands. Here are a just a few reasons you might need help pulling off your music goals:

You May Not Know The Ropes

If you're new to the music industry (or even if you're not), you're bound to enter uncharted territory at some point. As you might recall, another music industry myth is that you shouldn't admit you don't know something - and when you're trying to take your career in a new direction, it's a good idea to find someone who can help you figure out how to make it happen. Help is good.

You Don't Have Time 

No one has time to do everything. If you take on too much, everything is bound to suffer. When you're trying to build a music career, the work is seemingly endless. Delegation is a skill, and so is knowing where you're strong and where you're weak and bringing in people who make up for your weak spots.

This issue is especially important for musicians. When you're running the business side of the band single handedly, you're distracted from the music itself. Although it's not always practical or possible, having someone take on some of these tasks for you is ideal.

You Don't Have The Connections

You need to be careful about who you work with in the industry, but if someone legitimate comes along that has been at this a little longer and has the ability to open some doors for you - go for it.

Outside Perspectives Help

When you're running things yourself, it's easy to get so wrapped in your small projects that you don't see the big picture. Having someone else around brings in fresh perspective and can help point out potential problem areas you have overlooked.

Here's another way to look at this notion. Taking a DIY approach doesn't absolve you from having to do all of the same work that the big companies do to promote an album, promote a show or any other music related task. The process is still the same, and since you have far less pull than a bigger company, if anything, you need to work harder. That is why DIY usually isn't so much "do-it-yourself" as it is "do-it-with-a-small-group-of-likeminded-people."

So, keep in mind, although you don't have to sacrifice your rights and your control of your music career, sharing some of the responsibility in a way that works for you can help you reach your goals faster.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Music Business Etiquette. Oh Yeah, That Matters!

Think music industry etiquette doesn't matter? Think again. There may be some things about the music business that make it less uptight than other industries, but word of mouth is a large part of what makes the business tick - and when an industry runs on word of mouth, how you treat the people you encounter counts. Now, I'm not saying that you need to bring a host(ess) gift to your next business meeting, but there are a few things you can do to avoid becoming THAT guy / girl. Here are a few music industry etiquette tips to help you stay on the right side of your fellow music biz types.

1. BCC Is Your Friend

When you send an email to a group of people, use the BCC (blind carbon copy) field. If you don't, everyone who is copied on your email list can grab the email addresses of everyone else - and not everyone is going to be cool with that. Using BCC says, hey, I appreciate having this line of contact for you, and I respect your right to decide who does and doesn't have this address. This is true of both industry email lists and fan email lists.

Of course, accidents happen. If you accidentally CC rather than BCC your email list, apologize. It still might not make you the most popular kid for a little while, but at least you have acknowledged that you understand that you have compromised the privacy of the people on your list.

2. Use Follow-Up Sense

You're waiting for some feedback on your song/business prop/etc. And you're waiting. And you're waiting. And it's just not coming.

Frustrating? Oh, absolutely. But there is a line between following up territory and restraining order territory. Don't cross it. Unless the entire world will collapse if you don't get an answer on something by 6 PM, if you're calling or emailing multiple times per day, you're probably going overboard. Likewise, don't track down home numbers, etc, and try to catch people out that way. If you make multiple follow-ups, a simple, "I know you're busy, but..." and a "please let me know if you need more info" make gentle reminders that you're waiting for news. Stay polite, annoying as it may be.

3. State Your Business

The first time you make contact with someone, give yourself a proper introduction. Don't assume they know who you are, and don't do things like (one of my personal faves) send an email that simply says something like, "let's work!"

Of course, don't start at birth, either -. "Hi, I'm so and so from such and such" plus a few details and maybe a website link work fine. Then, explain why you're reaching out, be it booking a show, soliciting advice or just because you like what they're doing and wanted to open a line of communicaton. If you're hoping to meet up or have a phone call to discuss something, say so and suggest a few times. Be clear and concise - you're more likely to get a response if people can actually understand what you're after.

4. Keep Your Appointments (And Buy The Coffee)

If you make an appointment with someone, keep it or reschedule it. Bonus points for being on time or calling if you are going to be late. It is just good manners, period. Plus, not showing up for a meeting makes you look irresponsible, unreliable and scatty.

Likewise, if you request a meeting with someone to ask for advice or pitch something to them, consider springing for their coffee/drink/meal if at all possible. It is a gracious thank-you for their time. Of course, money can get pretty tight in the music industry, but if you can do it - go for it.

5. Put It In The Vault

The music industry is a very small place. You may have the goods on a lot of music business deals gone wrong, not to mention the personal goods on what so and so did on tour or why so and so got booted from the band. Tempting as it may be to blab - zip it. This is doubly true of your own deals gone wrong. You may feel incredibly slighted by your band break-up or management collapse, but take the high road when pressed for details.

Two good reasons to button your lips? Well, one: gossip is a two way street - you probably have a few stories of your own you'd appreciate someone keeping close. Two: being a big mouth says, "if our working relationship doesn't work out, I will violate your trust, too." Doesn't exactly instill confidence.

6. Take Your Lumps

Not everyone is going to like everything you do. Whether their displeasure is expressed by declining to work with you or in review form for all to see, don't even think of sending an outraged email or getting them on the phone to confront them. Yes, maybe they DON'T get what you're doing, maybe they're the only ones to have ever complained - just let it ride. You can't bully someone into liking your music. There is no accounting for who likes what, and you can't predict it or change it. If there are "fair enough" points in a bad review, take them. Otherwise, your time is much better spent focusing on the people who are into what you're doing and making peace with the fact that there is no such thing as unanimous in the music biz.

7. Respect the Free Stuff

Free stuff, like guest list spots or promos, don't just fall from the sky. They may be free to you, but someone is paying for them. Getting to go to shows for free or getting free music are great perks of working in music, but try not to send your favorite band into bankruptcy by treating your 25 closest friends to a free night out at their show. Be reasonable when requesting guest list spots and other free things.

8. Thank You

Did someone take the time to respond to your request for advice, give you a recommendation or introduction or help you in some other way? For goodness sake, thank them.