We discuss all things vocals with music producer D.Ramirez

This week we caught up with music producer Dean Marriott, better known as D.Ramirez, talking all things vocals.

Ivor Novello nominee D.Ramirez is responsible for a multitude of ground breaking releases. These include 2009’s #1 underground anthem ‘Downpipe‘ with Underworld & Mark Knight, plus ‘that’ genre defining remix of Bodyrox’s ‘Yeah Yeah‘ Top 40 #1 in the mid-noughties. You may even remember him as The Lisa Marie Experience.

One not to be missed.

We discussed his experience of working with vocalists & topline writers (as well as vocal samples) in the studio, plus his comprehensive approach to vocal production.

This inspiring interview is brought to you straight from his London studio and is jam packed with useful tips and information whether you are a vocalist, topline writer or music producer!

Watch the interview back here now.

Guest blog: A season in the life of an independent Artist

It’s been 7 months since I quit my day job to work as a full-time artist. And I have not regretted this step for a single minute. The level of fulfillment from knowing that I’m working on developing my talents is the highest I could wish for!

There are challenges though, and that’s what I want to share with you. Not because I want to whine, but because this stage of any music artist’s journey of following their bliss is often not visible, communicated or celebrated. Yes, celebrated because, without this stage, you can’t pass onto the next one. It is one of the building blocks, and it’s an essential part of the foundations.

 

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?

Mainly the feeling that I do all of this for nothing… Wait, what? You just said you found the work fulfilling! And yes, I did say it and yes, I do find it fulfilling. What is hard to overcome is seeing that many of the activities I did over the last few months are rather a long-term return on investment (such as building an audience from scratch, recording songs, being paid to perform) – something I didn’t foresee when I set out to do them.

So if I can share something with another ‘new’ independent artist out there, when you set out on this journey, work on your craft, your brand, build your audience and determine your short term and long term goals and income streams. And don’t be shy to put dates next to them. It might look disappointing/impossible at first but it will also give you a better handle on things.

 

SHORTLIST OF THE THINGS I’VE DONE OVER THE LAST 7 MONTHS:

So here’s a short list of things I’ve done over the last 7 months, most of which haven’t added much income to my wallet – mostly because they tend to have a long-term return on investment:

  • Studied and got a certificate from a songwriting course with Berklee online.
  • Written my first custom song for a lady who won it as a prize at an Xmas House Concert I gave. This was a gift since I wanted to gain experience of writing for someone else. The song is in its final production stage (mixing/mastering) and will be released as a single soon. I want to offer writing custom songs for others, too and I thought I would have started this earlier but I set no deadline for myself and so here I am… Did I mention that setting deadlines for yourself is important?
  • I’ve developed the concept of a donation based private concert tour in support of the Rainforest Fund and offered it to my audience via social media and my mailing list. I got a few likes and replies but that’s it… Why? I have yet to find out, but it probably needs more campaigning and a bigger audience than I have at the moment.
  • I’ve created a cover song program called “Pop Gone Jazz”, which meant learning circa 20 new songs. I’ve called about 50 – 60 hotels and event companies to offer them this program, often hearing ‘we like your music and we’ll get back to you when an opportunity arises” – well, so far no one got back to me… Why? It might need more following up, maybe my brand is not developed enough yet, maybe something else…
  • I’ve had one of my songs remixed for “Ibiza Beats Volume 10” Compilation CD (for a very modest flat fee). Nice to know my voice will be floating somewhere in Ibiza beach clubs… yet it probably won’t pay my bills. But hey, it’s a small success to celebrate!
  • I’ve played a number of open mics with a very positive response from the audience, often asking me to come back. It’s great to be wanted but these are all free gigs or they pay tips only. In addition to nominal payment, the challenge I often face is that I’m a piano/keyboard player and if no piano is provided, I would have to rent a car to bring mine… which costs money, while the gig pay won’t cover it. Hmmm, not a good investment strategy. Therefore, you don’t see me performing as often as guitar players do.
  • I’ve updated my website and have kept my social media up to date… While this is fun, it does take up a significant amount of time. And I’ve learned that I have a lot of tweaking ahead of me yet!
  • I’ve spent a good amount of time learning about and researching legal questions concerning copyright/songwriting etc. – which I needed for the contracts for the remix and the custom song. This has been very helpful and revealing. Definitely a good investment of time and money! But it’s still an investment, not a return on it.
  • I’ve done Facebook Live performances of my songs where listeners have a chance to support my music by contributing into a virtual tip jar. This is a great way to perform for people from the comfort of my own home, and gives my online audience a chance to support my music… this needs consistency and development on my part. I hereby pledge to work on it!
  • I’ve attended songwriting workshops and a Musicfair where I made new contacts in the music industry. This has proven to be a very worthwhile step, especially because I am now working on a new single with a producer I met there!

SO WHAT’S NEXT?

I’ve quickly realised that I need help in determining how best to move forward, and develop my music career. The first step in this has been booking one-to-one consultation sessions with Anna Russell of AR Artist Management.

This is a very exciting step with quite lots of growth and new realisations completed in just a couple of sessions already. As I’ve found out, it can sometimes take much longer (3 years and over) than I hoped to ‘break an artist’ – i.e. get them to a point of a sustainable music career. And that’s provided that things go well, developing the right strategy and being consistent and disciplined in applying it.

Knowing this is both liberating and challenging. Liberating because I no longer hold myself to unrealistic expectations to get it all done within 6 months, and challenging because I realise I somehow need to support myself financially while working on the longer-term goals, alongside my short term goals. That will probably include doing work that is not directly related to my music, which often makes me sad. But giving up is not an option, as the alternative would mean becoming a bitter and disappointed person, and that’s not good for this world. And so I continue to look into my heart when making decisions at each intersection, while the beat goes on

This blog was sent to us by independent music artist Petra Jordan, who is based in Amsterdam. You can follow her development here at her own blog.

 

Learn More

If you would like support in your journey as an independent music artist from AR Artist Management, please register your interest in our ‘Self-Manage Your Music Career‘ online course here.

Tips for optimising your Instagram as a music artist

An Instagram employee takes a video using Instagram's new video function at Facebook's corporate headquarters during a media event in Menlo Park, California on June 20, 2013. AFP Photo /Josh EDELSON        (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

If Instagram isn’t a platform you are already using as a music artist then you should be.

Not only is it one of the most used social media platforms in the world (300 million users log on every day – that’s a lot of music fans), but you also get a higher level of engagement on Instagram than you do on Facebook, which is crucial if you are focusing on growing your audience.

Finally, Instagram’s features lend themselves really well to music artists as you can not only photograph all the behind-the-scenes of what you do, but also share video and audio (albeit in small clips) and now that it’s launched Instagram live, it also allows you to broadcast activities and performances at any time you wish.

I want to highlight why you should be using Instagram as a music artist and how to optimise this so you’re getting the most from this incredible tool.

 

Treat your Instagram account as a music blog

As with any social media platform, it’s best not to think of your Instagram account as a promotional platform or a way of selling your music.

Instead, think of it as a way of building a relationship with your audience and sharing things which will be of value to them – things they’re going to be passionate about and enjoy. These are likely the same things you are passionate about and enjoy, namely music.

It follows that showing what you do as a musician – rehearsing, recording, songwriting, singing, performing – is going to be of interest to your online followers.

Instagram allows you to document your day-to-day musical journey, easily & quickly, creating a blog all about your music. However unlike a blog you don’t need to write long-form, as the emphasis is on the visual.

And because you are documenting rather than creating content with this approach, Instagram provides new and independent artists with a way of sharing value and telling your story in a sustainable way.

 

Use hashtags

Why? Simply put, hashtags allow your audience to find you when searching for content via hashtag. This means they immediately give you more visibility to those already seeking out #singers and #newmusic, for example.

It is worth doing some research on which hashtags are most used within your field or genre. A tool you may find useful for choosing the relevant hashtags for you is websta.me. This allows you to search hashtags relevant to your field to find the most used ones.

In fact, if you go to websta.me/hot you can also search the top 100 hashtags being used on Instagram right now. At time of writing ‘Music’ is currently number 42 of the top 100 used hashtags on Instagram.

You can also create your own hashtags, related to any current campaigns or musical activity (for example, a song name, EP release, a catchphrase you use, or something you’re known for).

Instagram allows you to add up to 30 hashtags per post, however this can end up looking a bit untidy (and some would say spammy) if all added into the body of the post caption. To avoid this you could use 4 or 5 hashtags  in your main caption, but you may then also want to add a further 25 in a separate comment underneath to help ensure your post is ranked and seen by as many people as possible.

 

 

Make use of the features Instagram is pushing

At the moment, this means Instagram stories and Instagram live.

Don’t shy away from using these great tools, especially as engagement in the stories and live feeds tends to be higher than engagement on individual posts. They allow you to engage more directly with fans, especially in the live videos where you can address people’s comments and questions live. And how fantastic for fans to be able to open up their Instagram accounts and hear an artist they love, live from their living room! As a music lover, for me this is something that never gets old.

Instagram stories and Instagram live are also a great way of sharing several moments from your day, as opposed to feeling like you are spamming followers by posting 12 photos a day. This is particularly useful of course on a day such as an EP release day or the day of a big show, allowing you to document the day from start to finish, including all the behind-the-scenes.

 

Quick tips…

1. For brand consistency, use the same profile picture that you do elsewhere online and create a relevant biog.

2. In order to space the biography as you would like, you may need to type this out elsewhere (for example in ‘notes’ on your phone) then copy and paste it into your Instagram biography as the app doesn’t allow you to do this within it.

3. Link it to your main social media platform and/or place to hear your music (Youtube, Spotify, Soundcloud etc).

 

4. Add your location to your posts wherever possible too. This further adds to the blog-like element of your account, and helps others who’ve visited that same location find you.

5. As a time saving tip you may want to type the 30 hashtags most relevant to your posts into the notes on your phone and then simply copy and paste these into a comment on your Instagram posts each time you post.

6. Engage with people – if followers ask questions, answer them, if they like or comment something you’ve posted, acknowledge them, and get involved with others on Instagram who you like (for example, fellow music artists). In short, show your appreciation.

7. Finally, Instagram is one platform that I think is best not scheduled in advance – for a more organic and natural blog feel, simply snapshot your musical activities as you go!

 

Learn more

For even more tips and information on how to optimise Instagram as a music artist, you can watch our AR Seminar on this topic here.

 

Not giving up on music: How to stay motivated

In this week’s blog I am going to be talking about not giving up on your music and how to stay motivated when times get tough. And by tough I mean those times (which can last hours, days, weeks, months, and beyond) where you feel stuck in your music career, you may have faced a rejection (or, let’s face it, several rejections), the actions you’ve been taking haven’t had the results you’d hoped for and you’re left feeling demotivated, disheartened and uninspired.

When that happens, it can be easy to temporarily lose your faith in the career path you’ve chosen, and worse, your love of music.

I don’t think there is anyone who has embarked on a career in music and not felt like this.

With that in mind, here are some tips on how to stay motivated.

 

  1. Recognise that every music artist feels like this (even super-successful ones).

Recognise as fact that no one following a career in music escapes the feelings of rejection, demotivation or lack of inspiration you experience from time to time.

I can tell you from experience of working with new artists, right through to globally successful acts, that even artists who have achieved recognition and sold millions of records still face rejection, still have to carve out opportunities for themselves, and certainly still suffer periods of demotivation. I have had more than one conversation with very ‘successful’ artists who have been on the verge of quitting.

It’s simply not possible to avoid when you are doing something that requires courage and tenacity, and you’re doing it in an industry which can feel very uncertain. However, there are some ways you can lessen the impact of these – which brings me on to the remainder of my tips…

 

  1. Expect rejection

By the very nature of life, never mind the music industry, you are not going to get every opportunity you go for. Not every song you write will be released, not every song you release will be a hit, not every performance you give will be your very best.

Unfortunately, just because you’ve put lots of work in, you’ve spent the time, or you’ve done the research, doesn’t always mean something is going to go your way. There are other factors and variables of which you have far less control – timing, market trends, other artists and organisations, the music industry at large, world events, luck if you believe in that – which all play a part to some extent.

If you learn to expect that and become comfortable with the idea, the rejections have far less impact and the successes become that much sweeter.

However, what you can control – you should. The reason for this is that if you are rejected, or a performance or a release doesn’t have the impact you hoped for, at least you can walk away from it knowing that you did your very best. That you worked your hardest, or produced your best work. Because that’s all that any of us can do.

This brings me neatly on to my next tip:

 

  1. Have an objective for every action you take

For each action or activity you take, set a specific objective that you would like to achieve from it. Know why you are taking a certain action, and what return on investment you are hoping for from it.

Try to make this objective achievable (whilst still making it something you may need to stretch to reach) and find a way of being able to measure it. In other words, make sure there is a return on investment from every single thing you do.

For example, if you are playing a gig, your objective might be to test out a new song you’ve been working on in front of a live audience. Or to convert five members of the audience into subscribers to your mailing list.

If you reach your objective, you can be satisfied that you got what you needed from the exercise and it was a ‘success’, regardless of whether it then leads onto something further or not. If you feel you have achieved your objective and that it was worthwhile doing, then it was worthwhile doing.

In last week’s blog ‘How to prioritise tasks as a developing artist’ I talked more about having an objective for every action you take, and why you should only undertake tasks which have a return on investment. You can read this here.

 

  1. Take a practical approach

I am not one for telling and reminding people that the music industry is tough, or that there are no guarantees, or that you should have a back-up plan. To me, those are negative messages and falling back on them when things don’t seem to be going right doesn’t help you.

Instead, try taking a more practical approach and assess why something hasn’t had the response you wanted. Look for gaps in your knowledge, or mistakes that may have occurred, or shortfalls in your offering.

Because once you know these you can fix them! This should make you feel better immediately, because this means that most challenges do also have a solution. A solution which you can find, research and become better at.

Assess and then adjust for the next time. This is how you learn and grow.

 

  1. Be clear on why you are doing it

If you are a regular to this blog or the AR Seminars, you will have often heard me compare being a music artist to running a small business, and it’s true. You have to believe in your offering, you need to be entrepreneurial, you need create a great brand, implement a strategy and build an audience for your ‘product’ (your music).

You will also no doubt have heard the whopping statistic that 90% of all small businesses fail. In fact, I checked and according to 2016 statistics, 93% of all small businesses will eventually fail and that there is a 1 in 200 chance of succeeding overall. Now I couldn’t find any data, but I’d be willing to bet that the statistics for having a successful music career sound ominously similar.

Of course, when you are thinking about going into business everyone tells you this statistic, and I am guessing that as someone who has aspired and persevered with following a career in music you’ve no doubt been warned countless times how competitive it is; that you should have a back-up plan; that your goals are unrealistic. Am I right?

So, what makes us persevere, even with the odds stacked against us?

It’s got to be a bigger why. You must (subconsciously or consciously) know that this is something you want or need to do, that it’s a risk worth taking, that you believe deep down you can do it, and you must have an idea of why that is.

Think about your own personal why, write it down somewhere, and in times of doubt and demotivation, get it out and remind yourself of why you’re doing it. Consider what the alternative to following your dream is for a minute.

This is usually enough to re-gain perspective and drive you forward in following that why.

 

  1. Successful artists are the ones that don’t give up

This is stating the obvious, but bear in mind that any music artist who you deem to be successful, or even just slightly further on in their journey than you, is an artist who didn’t give up.

We’ve already discussed that there is not a single person following a music career who hasn’t faced rejections, or negative feedback or hitting dead-ends. With that knowledge, you can be sure that any music artist who is sustaining and succeeding in their music career, simply didn’t give up during the tough times!

In my experience, it is this single factor that often defines the difference between a successful artist, over and above their talent, music, or brand. Food for thought…

 

Learn more

To register your interest for the AR ‘Self-Manage Your Music Career‘ online course, which leads you through how to create your brand, build your audience, implement a strategy to follow for your music career and monetise your music, click here!

 

Here are the 4 things you should focus on as an artist

For any artist trying to ‘make it’ in music, the dream might be to focus exclusively on your passion – that is, the creation and performance of the music – for a living. The reality of course is that you will have found yourself wearing many hats, busy all the time with numerous tasks demanding your attention (from invoicing and managing your social media, to attending industry events and marketing), often whilst juggling a part time job or music studies.

Often this creates a sense of busy-ness without much sense of progression. It can be very difficult to know exactly which things you should be focusing on to move your music career forward.

As a result, many of the independent artists I meet are looking for the exact steps they should be taking in order to succeed. The truth is that this is almost impossible to provide because every artist is unique. They are different in style from one another, with different aspirations, different strengths and appeal to different audiences. The exact steps that may work for one artist can be completely wrong for another.

There are many variables and nuances to be considered, and it is only with full visibility and understanding of each of my artists unique set of circumstances that I can help them successfully navigate these. It is not surprising that every established artist’s route to success is so individual.

However, while there may not be a steps-to-success formula for artists, there are 4 things you need to focus on to succeed (whatever that looks like for you, because again this is also different for each artist or musician).

You should find that each of the individual tasks you undertake as an artist fit within one of these 4 key focus areas. If they don’t, ask yourself if they are essential or is it simply work without a return on its investment?

 

1.Create a brand

Having a strong brand as an artist is key – it is what represents you and your music to the world. If it doesn’t sound, look and feel aligned with the artist you are, you will find it hard to connect with both potential fans and the music industry.

So, what constitutes your brand as an artist? At the very core of your brand is of course your product (the music you create or perform), surrounded by your brand assets (for example your logo, website & social networks, your singles/EP’s artwork, your live show, your image etc).

Understanding exactly who you are as an artist, and making sure that your brand reflects this, will be a large part of your focus in the early stages of your career.

 

2.Build an audience

There is a misconception that you don’t start building an audience until you have the perfect body of musical work, which you release via a record label, to an unsuspecting public who then become ardent fans. This is rarely, if ever, the case. In my opinion audience building begins as soon as you have some music and a brand you feel is as strong as it can be at this current point in time.

It is having an engaged audience which gives you your leverage (and people to play to!) so you want to be building this continuously, starting as early as possible. When you do release music, it will fall flat if there is not an audience already in place ready to receive it.

You should be spending a little time on building your audience every day. A simple way of doing this is to document your day-to-day musical journey – why not share a snapshot from today’s rehearsal, songwriting, recording session or gig on your artist social networks? It is the behind the scenes that will always be most captivating to an audience.

 

3.Implement a strategy

You need to have a strategy – a plan – if you are going to achieve your career goals. It should detail your objectives, the actions you need to take to achieve those, and set clear deadlines for each action step. This gives you the roadmap to where you want to go as an Artist, and can also provide more structure and routine to your working week (very helpful as an independent artist).

No Artist Manager would work without a clear strategy for their artist, so as an independent artist you should be putting this in place for yourself. It will let you to see exactly which activities work for you and which don’t, allowing you to change tactics and direction when needed. More importantly, it allows you to track your progression and ensure you are in fact moving forward.

Without this, you can end up stuck in the rut of doing things as you’ve always done them – which may not actually be working for you.

 

4.Monetising your music

This is often the last thing that artists think about, much less focus on consistently. However, if your wish is to make a full-time living from music, at some point the questions of how and when you can monetise what you do must be considered. There are a few key income streams in music at present, namely live performance, songwriting, brand partnerships and record sales/streams. However, for most artists these are medium-long term methods of monetisation.

It is in creating a strong brand, building an audience, and following a strategy that you can eventually monetise your music. And the more your audience grows, the quicker you can get there. After all, it is your fans who will stream and download your music and buy tickets to see you perform.

This is not to say that making money early on in your career or as an independent artist isn’t possible, but it is difficult without consistently focusing on the four areas detailed here.

There’s no roadmap to success in the music industry

Ok, so each of these 4 areas are broad – this is not an article encouraging less activity, but rather encouraging you to focus on the right activities.

I stated at the beginning of this blog that there were no exact steps you can take to succeed in music. However, I believe each of these four focus areas can be broken down into a series of exact steps artists can take to ensure they create a strong brand, build an audience, implement a strategy (one that is tailored to them) and monetise their music effectively. This is the closest thing you can get to a roadmap to success in music, and it’s a journey you can take independently.

Learn more

Here at AR Artist Management I am in the process of developing an online course, which will allow you to work through each of these four focus areas in detail, ensuring you are focusing on the right things, in the right order. To learn more about this you can register your interest here.

The real cost of a vocal topline – Part 2

On last week’s blog we began discussing the real cost of a vocal topline, having observed a devaluation of singers and topline writers within the electronic music community. We asked if you agreed with this statement or not and received some interesting responses from both topline writers and producers (you can see these and join the conversation here).

In order to gain a clearer understanding of the cost of writing, recording and producing a vocal topline we have broken down the topline process, determining the approximate cost to the vocalist/topline writer for each step. Please note that these are based on average costs and only applicable in a scenario where the vocalist/topline writer is collaborating remotely with a producer.

THE TOPLINE PROCESS – STEPS
1. The vocalist/topline writer writing the melody, lyrics, harmonies and full vocal arrangement
2. The vocalist/topline writer recording demo(s) for the Producer’s approval
3. The vocalist/topline writer making amendments to the topline in preparation for final recording
4. The vocalist/topline writer recording the final vocal topline stems (including comping etc.)
AVERAGE COST TO VOCALIST/TOPLINE WRITER
1. Vocalist/Topline writers time – indefinite; Vocalist/Topline writers training and experience – years
2. Vocalist/Topline writers home studio set-up and equipment costs – several £100 minimum; OR the Vocalist/Topline writer hiring studio time and engineer to record demo(s) – between £100-£350 minimum
3. Vocalist/Topline writer’s time – indefinite, depending on how many amendments the producer may want. Further recording costs may also factor at this stage.

If you are a producer who has requested the services of a Vocalist/Topline writer to feature on your track, recognise that the process alone means that they will be incurring several expenses – often into several hundred pounds. This does not account for possible lost earnings elsewhere, whilst they take the time needed to complete the above process. So, it could be that the vocalist/topline writer has spent largely on expenses and/or lost revenue, long before receiving a session fee and co-writing split, the norm which is usually agreed between the two parties.

Of course, no one size fits all, and every circumstance must be considered individually. The point we wish to make is that the business of making and releasing music is expensive. Whilst the overall return on investment in releasing music has declined, the time, skills and experience required to make a quality track have not. It is here where the disconnect which can lead to vocalists and topline writers being devalued comes.

Agree or disagree that you need to invest in your music, if it is to reach the standard you hope for? Head over to our Facebook page and leave a comment there now.

Next week we will be looking at the overall costs to producers in procuring a vocal topline, but for now we’d love to hear your thought on this topic.

The real cost of a vocal topline – Part 1

So, you want a vocal topline for your track? But you don’t want to pay for it, at least not too much.

But what is ‘too much’? Despite working hard to deliver quality vocals to music producers at reasonable prices, we have noticed a discernible devaluing of singers and topline writers amongst the electronic music community. Many producers feel they should work for free, and be happy for the opportunity to do so. It’s a complaint we often hear from the singers and topline writers themselves too, including many established names. It seems that singing, and even lyric and melody writing (the definition of a topline), are often not considered as skilled a trade as music production.

Speaking with many electronic producers, one of the reasons presented for this is ‘everyone can sing’, by which they mean that everyone has use of their voice – not the same as having incredible natural talent, a distinct tone, and years of singing training to ensure professional technique. By this same argument, anyone with access to a laptop can produce music – but this is not the same as having years of experience, an innovative use of sounds, or fantastic software/hardware, much less a great record. Another reason given is the fact that while a producer may spend several weeks working on one track, the singer and topline writer’s work appears to be done in the few hours they spend in the studio recording the finished topline. Little accounting seems to be made for the many hours often spent developing the melody and harmonies, writing the lyrics, arranging the vocal and rehearsing the performance of it to ensure the topline is captured at its best during recording. Let’s not forget the many years, finances and efforts invested into learning and perfecting their craft, just like the best producers.

That music production is any more-or-less skilled than singing or songwriting (and vice versa) is an argument we simply can’t get behind. We believe mutual respect between the two is vital amongst the electronic music community.

Agree or disagree? Head over to our Facebook page and leave a comment there now.

We will be breaking down, in real terms, the true cost of a vocal topline next week but for now we’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Are Topline Writers & Producers equal in the collaboration process?

As you will know we have been putting the finishing touches to AR Vocal Agency’s ‘The Topline Library’ – a service which provides pre-recorded acapella vocal toplines, primarily to music producers. The Topline Library will be launching very shortly, and will be updated with new toplines every month. Since you are a subscriber you will gain exclusive access to the library on the first Tuesday of every month (like today) so mark it in your diary.

In order to make the service the best it can possibly be for both our clients (music producers) and our content generators (topline writers/vocalists), we have surveyed and interviewed several music producers, topline writers and vocalists from our community. You may be one of them. Hearing your thoughts on, and experiences of, the topline process has reaffirmed for us the fact that an industry standard – if one exists – is rarely adhered to. Furthermore, the contribution that both parties make during the collaborative process, and the respective rights attributed to both producers and topliners/vocalists, remains an area of huge misinformation and misunderstanding. This has become a topic of fascination at the AR Vocal Agency and we hope to better understand the opinions and feelings of producers, topliners and vocalists, so that we are able to better inform and add value to those within the music community. With that in mind we would love to hear your thoughts, and open a conversation around the topics which we see sparking greatest debate.

With that in mind, we would love to hear your views and provide a platform for the music producers in our community to converse directly with the 2000 topline writers and vocalists in our community, starting today. So, without further ado, whether you are a music producer (or someone who works with them) or a vocalist/topline writer we would like to hear your thoughts on the following question – in the collaborative process between a topline writer/vocalist and a music producer working together on a track, do you feel that the topliner and the producer’s contributions (skills, talent and time) to that track are equal?

Please comment with your thoughts here.

We hope that this will be both insightful and useful for you to be able to make direct contact with one another. As such, as well as our usual content, this will be a regular feature for the AR Vocal Agency community moving forward.

Join us over at the conversation now.

Vocals We Love – Autumn 2016

We wanted to take the opportunity to share some toplines, vocal performances and vocal production/edits we have been loving recently. In no particular order, the below list have all been on the AR Vocal Agency office stereo on rotation in recent weeks and we hope they provide some inspiration whether you are a topline writer, vocalist or producer.

Robyn – Main Thing (Mr. Tophat Remix)

Emelí Sandé – Hurts

Becky Hill – Warm

Sasha – Track 10

Nao – Happy (Live)

Lady Gaga & Florence Welch – Hey Girl

Fono – Feet On The Ground

Kaytranada featuring Craig David – Got It Good

Disclosure featuring Kwabs – Willing & Able (Live)

The Golden Boy – Good To You (vocalist Jasmine Knight – one of our own!)

Which vocals have you been listening to recently? Let us know over at our Facebook page now.

Know Your Rights: Topline Writers, Producers & Vocalists

The collaborative process between music producers, topline writers and vocalists (who may or may not also be the topline writer) in creating a song, should lead to an end product which all parties can be proud of. However, when it comes to the respective rights of each person involved, it can also lead to conflict and misunderstandings – like this example of Avicii and Leona Lewis.

In the complexed and multi-faceted area that is copyright and royalties it’s not hard to see how confusion can ensue. However, there should be no excuse for failing to recognise the rights of topline writers and vocalists, as well as those of producers, whom have jointly created music together. Unfortunately, we see too many cases where at least one party has not had their rights recognised nor registered with the necessary organisations. These are most often due to a lack of understanding and administrative oversights, as opposed to malice. This is why it is so important that topline writers, vocalists and music producers all take responsibility for being as knowledgeable in this area as possible and ensuring they are discussing terms from the outset of a collaboration. In turn, record labels must also take responsibility for recognising the Rights of all parties involved in the creation of a record and reflecting this in their agreements.

As a vital aspect of making and monetising music, we will be writing about this in more detail and offering resources to topline writers, vocalists and producers on this in future. However, let’s start with the basics. Whether you are a topline writer, songwriter, producer or vocalist, if you have collaborated on the creation of a song in any way these are the rights you need to be aware of and what you can do to ensure these are being administered correctly.

 

Songwriting Splits (Copyright)

If you write any part of a song, whether it is the topline melody, the lyrics or the backing track, you are due a songwriting split (and in turn a share of publishing income – mechanical royalties and performance royalties) of that song. Therefore, this would be relevant to topline writers and lyricists, as well as music producers if their production constitutes songwriting work (i.e. they wrote/produced the instrumental parts of the song, as is typical in electronic music). You would not be eligible for a songwriting split (or any publishing income) if you recorded vocals on a track as the singer, but did not contribute in any way to the writing of the song (please note – in rare cases there could be exceptions to this if you had been expected to do a large amount of vocal arranging, create (write) extensive harmonies or heavily ad lib). It is also not unheard of in electronic music that a featured vocalist who did not contribute to the songwriting may still be offered a songwriting split, in lieu of a session fee, by way of payment.

The way in which songwriting splits are decided are often determined by a few different factors – for example, how many people have been involved in the songwriting process or how much you contributed to the song. Historically, the lyrics and topline melody of a song would make up 50% of the song, while the instrumental/backing track parts would make up the remaining 50% of the song. However, in electronic music these two features of a song aren’t always equal. Furthermore, whilst a song may be split 50/50 between a topline/lyric writer and a producer, it is common practise that both parties will actually own 50% of both the topline/lyrics and the track – despite who wrote what. More on songwriting splits and the complexities of determining each writers split here and here.

Whichever splits are agreed between the songwriters, it is important that this is stated in writing (as early as possible but certainly before the song is exploited in any way) and that each writer then registers their share of the song so they receive the correct publishing income which may arise. To ensure you catch all the types of income which are generated from owning any musical copyright you must register your songwriting splits with both the Performing Rights Society (PRS) and the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) here.

 

Mechanical Rights

Mechanical Rights compensate the writer(s) of a song when that song is reproduced or distributed either in physical form, such as CD or DVD, or streamed/downloaded from the internet. Therefore, you are entitled to Mechanical royalties if you wrote any part of the topline melody and lyrics, or indeed the instrumental backing track, and thus it is relevant to topline writers, lyricists and producers. It is not relevant if you only recorded a vocal without having written any part of the song.

If you have written any part of a song which is due to be released on a record label, you should be awarded mechanical royalties even if you are not the named or main Artist of the song. This is often overlooked if you are a topline writer collaborating with a producer or Artist who signs the song on which you collaborated to a record label. Labels do not always use due diligence in checking how many writers were involved in the creative process and will sometimes agree mechanical splits with the main Artist/producer without including the topline writer. This is a too-often occurrence in dance music.

Therefore, if you are a topline writer you should be ensuring that your contribution to the writing is reflected with a share of the mechanical royalties, and that both the Artist with whom you are collaborating and the label releasing the song are fully aware and in agreement – ideally before the song is signed but certainly before release. You should also be a member of the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) who will collect the mechanical royalties due to you, on your behalf.

 

Performing Rights

Performing Rights compensate the writer(s) of a song when that song is played (in either live or recorded form) publicly at concerts and festivals, as well as being broadcast on radio, TV and certain digital platforms, or played in clubs, venues, shops, and public business establishments such as gyms etc. Therefore, you are entitled to Public Performance Royalties if you wrote any part of the topline melody and lyrics, or indeed the instrumental backing track and thus it is relevant to topline writers, lyricists and Artist/producers (in the context of electronic music). It is not relevant if you recorded a vocal without having written any part of the song.

If you are the writer of any part of a song, in order to receive your writer’s share you need to ensure you are registered as a rights holder member with the Performing Rights Society (PRS) in the UK. You can do so here.

 

Neighbouring Rights

As with the above, Neighbouring Rights also relate to public performance of a song. However, while public performance rights compensate the writer of the song when their music is publicly performed, neighbouring rights compensate the master holder (usually, the record label) AND the performer when a song recording is played in any public forum. Therefore, if you perform on a song (for example, sang the vocal) you should be awarded neighbouring rights even though you did not write any of the lyrics or melody. These rights therefore apply to lead vocalists, backing vocalists, session singers and all instrumentalists who perform on a song recording. This means you will be awarded royalties (the ‘Performers Share’) each time a record you perform on is played on radio and TV, or in clubs, venues, shops, and public business establishments such as gyms etc. If you are the performer on a record, in order to receive your performers share you need to ensure you are credited as a performer at the time the song is registered with neighbouring rights societies – Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) in the UK. You can do so here.

Please note that neighbouring rights aren’t paid in the USA, and therefore not applicable to US plays of your record.

 

Disclaimer: please note that rights, royalties and how they are administered can differ from territory to territory – the above are specific to the UK. Most other territories have equivalent societies as all those mentioned above.

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