Michigan Minstrel Music LLC

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Recording 101: A Primer on Recorded Music -- Part 5

By John F. Sase, Ph.D.

Howard Hertz, Contributing Author

Gerard J. Senick, Contributing Writer and Editor

In order to finish a good product, expect editing, mixing, and other post-production work to take the lion’s share of budgeted time. When we add together all of the production and post-production time, we should anticipate an investment of forty to fifty hours per track. In other words, a total of 500 hours for the entire album can be considered the norm. This is why having open access to a home studio for most of post-production is highly valued. Part of this value comes from the fact that ears tire easily; consequently, prolonged post-sessions that require acute listening produce diminishing returns. Any work beyond mundane cutting, splicing, and adding fades and plug-in effects demand the perspicacity of fresh ears. Tired ears usually result in a substandard mix that will require costly reworking.

When do you know when the mix is done? This question is like asking a chef if the soup is done. It is a matter of knowing. We could define that point in a commercial recording as the one at which a constrained optimum is reached. It is the point at which the artistic vision is achieved subject to practical budgetary constraints; you know that the soup is done. For some engineers, this point comes when they play it through a pair of crappy old car speakers. For others, this point may be defined as when you play the recording for others who have not heard it previously and it feels right to them as well. In any event, you will have gotten the best vocal and instrumental takes, have used your studio wizardry to achieve maximum sound, and feel that the music is ready to be unleashed on the world.

Complementing the technical and economic side of recording is the legal perspective. Our guest author Howard Hertz explains that a tangible contribution to a recording (known as the master) or song (the composition) may result in copyright ownership or performance rights being held by any person contributing to the work. In order for the artist or the record label to emerge from the studio with an album that s/he or it fully owns and therefore may distribute for sale to the public, agreements should contain proper “work-for-hire” language. (Essentially, a work for hire means that the contributor relinquishes ownership claims on the master or composition by stating that all work was performed for equitable compensation.)

Hertz emphasizes that these agreements must be signed by all producers, engineers and side-person musicians who have worked on the project. Typically, the artist or label should own the copyright to the master recordings contractually. On the other hand, the copyright ownership in the underlying composition may be owned by multiple writers of that piece of music. However, if agreed to in writing by all parties involved, the artist or label may “buy out” these rights. Often because of the potential complexity of such agreement, a “split sheet” for each work is filled out after the recording of the composition. This sheet lists the determined percentage of the song or instrumental that was written by each contributing party as well as the percentage of the publishing rights that is owned by the publisher of each party involved. Then, the split sheet is signed by all of the contributing parties, thus making the determined, assigned split a binding agreement.

This is a very important point. It is often overlooked by many casual or informal musical groups that lack the understating of business law, which will treat them as a General Partnership. Operating as such an entity implies that all partners are held to have equal shares if no written agreement exists. In respect to the business of music, Mr. Hertz iterates that, if there is no written and signed agreement to the contrary, then a composition is owned in equal shares by each writer who contributed words or music irrespective of the percentage of their actual contribution. Hertz provides this illustration: “[I]f three writers contribute to a work and have no signing to the contrary, they each own one-third of the copyright, even if one of the writers only contributed one line of lyrics and might have likely agreed to a five or ten percent share of the song if it was put in a split sheet.” A word of wisdom to all musicians and audio producers and engineers: have a qualified entertainment attorney on your side to guide you through these choppy waters.

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