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.

Free Weekly Seminars for Singers & Songwriters

As you may know we recently created ‘The Vocalist Network ‘ – a private Facebook group for our extended network of vocalists.

Amongst exclusive content, tips for developing your career and a support network of other singers & songwriters we hold free weekly seminars, every Wednesday at 12.30pm GMT. You can see just one of these here:

 

Answering your questions live (Seminar 3) – The Vocalist Network

 

These are fast becoming our favourite part of the working week!

The free seminars are open to all vocalists, singer/songwriters and topline writers – join The Vocalist Network now to attend.

 

Introducing The Vocalist Network

2016 has been a year of huge transition at the AR Vocal Agency. Mostly, we have been thinking about how to best serve the incredible network of talented vocalists and topline writers we have built up.

AR receives so many questions from our vocalists about how to move forward in their careers, and it is a source of frustration that we haven’t had a platform to address these. Until today.

I have set up a private Facebook group called ‘The Vocalist Network’ and would love you to join us there!

The main purpose of this group is to offer a free source of advice and information for vocalists & topline writers, which you can apply to your own music career. It is also a great support network of fellow vocalists.

What you can expect from the group

Every Wednesday we will be holding a live seminar on topics such as how to secure backing and session vocal work, collaborating with music producers, topline writing tips, and how to market and promote yourself as an artist. Our hope is that this will help you to better self-manage your own career, especially as many of you work independently.

Support & Advice

In addition, The Vocalist Network will allow you to ‘crowdsource’ tips and help from your peers – offering the support of likeminded artists. Who better to answer the questions and understand the challenges you face than those who are on a similar path?

Join

Our aim is to make the AR Vocal Agency the most valuable resource for vocalists and topline writers working within the commercial music industry. Join us there now and help us do so!

The real cost of a vocal topline – Part 3

Last week we looked at the costs incurred by a vocalist/topline writer in writing and recording a vocal topline (you can see this here).

For balance, and to help instil a mutual respect between vocalists/topline writers and music producers, we also wanted to look at the costs to a producer when working on a collaboration. Again, please note that these are based on average costs and only applicable where the producer has recruited the vocalist/topliner to write and record a vocal for them.

AVERAGE COST TO PRODUCER

  1. Time – an indefinite amount spent researching and sourcing the right vocalist/topline writer; working up the instrumental track; placing the vocalist’s initial ideas onto a demo; producing the final version of the track; mixing & mastering; liaising with the vocalist/topline writer, and shopping the track to record labels, for example.
  2. Production & marketing costs – Considerable: on studio time (whether hiring a studio or working from home with equipment purchased); mixing & mastering costs (if not doing this themselves); legal costs (for potential contractual agreements with record label, publisher and possibly the featured artist); artwork; marketing & promotion costs, including digital marketing, radio plugging, club promo and social media strategy, such as Facebook advertising.
  3. Vocalist session fee – traditionally, anywhere between £250 – £2000+ depending on the scale of the release and the level of the Artist a producer has asked to feature. As a benchmark, for a professional ‘demo’ recording by an experienced session singer (not the final featured Artist – this is often done as a ’placeholder’ vocal for the producer to work around) a typical fee can be £350. A separate fee would then be applicable for the final recording session. Obviously very established vocalists and topline writers, including ‘names’, will ask for whatever their current market value is deemed to be – this could be considered more a ‘feature’ fee rather than a ‘session’ fee. Whilst of course producers and vocalists often negotiate lesser fees between themselves, the Musicians Union currently advise a standard recording session fee of £120 for 3 hours, with overtime paid at £30 for every additional 15 minutes of time (correct as of 2016 – reference).
  1. Publishing split – the producer should expect to offer the topline writer a split of any publishing income generated by the track, as a co-writer on the track. Please remember that the vocalist and topline writer may not be the same person, in which case a split of publishing for the writer becomes even more pertinent.

In practise, the above scenario and related costs can differ hugely; it is a very competitive area of the music industry and there are several variables that affect exact costs and remuneration for the producer. We often (understandably) see shortcuts being taken (using uncleared samples, not paying singers/topline writers) by producers who do not have the same resources available to them as those who are very established/major label backed. This breeds innovation but too often this is applied to their business dealings, as opposed to their creative process.

So, what would help make sourcing affordable, quality vocals easier for producers? We’d love to hear your thoughts over at our Facebook now.

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.

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.

The Subject of Subjectivity

The subject of subjectivity – in music it’s a big one. Not simply that we, of course, have differing tastes, musical influences and ways of expressing ourselves musically. But we also seem to hear, and certainly feel, music differently. The very definition of subjectivity being ‘based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes or opinions‘ speaks of a purely emotional response, rather than one informed by facts or science. This has given us a rich musical tapestry, none of which is better illustrated than in electronic music– an umbrella term for a diverse and often polarising multitude of sub-genres (here are just some. Gulp). This is no doubt a positive, for both music listeners and music creators; the scope for musical expression being so broad that people of all tastes and influences can find escapism in it. But it can cause an issue when applied to the business of music.

This is never more true than when producers and topline writers come together to create a track. There are a number of reasons this can be the case–a fusion of the twos differing musical styles, ways of writing, and inspiration included. However, it can be far more complexed than that. If people hear and process music somewhat differently to one another, this is a very minor disparity compared to how we describe and talk about music to one another. What is generic to the topline writer may not be to the producer, what is underground to one may not be the next, likewise what commercial, universal, leftfield or catchy are, to use some terms frequently bandied about in electronic music. We even recognise differences in the way sub-genres within electronic music are understood or described. This is largely where misunderstandings and setbacks can occur within the topline process. It is with this in mind that we ask all of our clients (the producers) to provide musical references which illustrate the key stylistic traits they have described to us in their topline briefs. This must then be followed with extremely clear communication of what is required to the topline writer.

One thing that does seem to be widely accepted within commercial music is that all producers (not to mention their respective publishers and record labels) are looking for hooks– those short riffs or phrases which catch as many listeners ears as possible and make a song accessible. Again, not exactly a scientific definition but we all know them when we hear them. They can be created within the produced track itself, but are more often left to the topline writer/vocal to bring to the track. At the very least a producer needs to have allowed the required space and flow within a track for the topline writer to embed them (when writing a topline to a pre-produced instrumental that is). There is a formula to writing in such a way, however to achieve this by speaking purely in (very subjective) musical terms is near-impossible. It is for this reason we ask all of our clients, in addition to the (subjective) style or feel of music they are hoping to create, what their objectives for their track are –who is it to appeal to and on which platforms? Which record labels are they hoping to find a home at? What are their radio targets for the track, ideally?It is in identifying these types of clear-cut goals to a track that musical subjectivity can remain a creative gift, without becoming an obstacle to the topline process.

-AR

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