Being a Musician is a Business (Music Rights Administration)

The word administration can be quite boring…

However, in the music context, it can be quite exciting.

A common example of music administration is when a musician wants to administer the rights of another person, such as someone else in her band. Another situation is when a singer/songwriter is considering entering into a publishing administration agreement with a publishing administrator.

Let’s start with the situation where you want to administer someone else’s rights, because you want to make decisions on their behalf. This may be of interest as you don’t want to seek approval from them later. You might need to make a decision quickly, and the other person might be busy at work, out of the country, or no longer talking to you.

Let’s say you’re in a band and your band collectively wrote a song together. If you’re the lead writer, whether you’re the front person or not, you may be sharing the songwriting credits with the others in the band, as a way to ensure everyone gets a piece of the related royalties. It would be preferable if you have the authority to make decisions about the composition on behalf of the other members in your band. One way to do this is to be given the authority to administer the rights of your co-writers for their share of the composition.

Let’s say you’re a singer/songwriter and you’re recording an EP with a music producer. Perhaps your arrangement with the producer is that he or she is entitled to a percentage of the EP’s compositions. Your arrangement might provide you rights to administer the producer’s share of the compositions.

These are examples of administering someone’s share of the composition. You might also administer someone’s share of a master recording.

If you and someone else, whether an investor or a creative partner, co-own a master, the arrangement might be that you administer the other person’s share of the master recordings. With these rights, you can make decisions on behalf of the masters, and don’t need to go back and seek approval anytime someone wants rights granted in relation to the master. If there’s a distribution deal or a music placement opportunity, the person (or company) who controls the rights in the master must be the one to grant those relevant rights to others.

If you’re administering someone else’s share, of either a composition or a master, it might make sense that you’re paid a commission for your time, or you’re compensating someone else for the right to make the decisions. As with many situations… it depends!

Another way the concept of administration may be relevant to your music career is when you consider having a third party, namely an established administrator, seek royalties on your behalf, along with seeking royalties for many other people.

That company is seeking the right to access royalties for you, so you can focus on writing and performing great music. There are fees paid to the administrator. What depends on the situation is what percentage you’re giving to the administrator as a commission.

There are some administrative tasks that are more manageable for an artist than others. However, while signing up for SoundExchange for digital royalties, and ASCAP for public performance royalties, is generally done by many artists themselves, there are publishing administrators who will take on these tasks in addition to seeking other publishing royalties that are more difficult to access on your own. Signing up with societies and other organizations to access royalties is not how many musicians want to spend their day, even if it’s done just once at each organization. The one stop shop of using an administrator can be very appealing.

Also, many musicians are not familiar with all the royalties that are available to them as a writer, performer, and/or master rights holder. Having a third party collect money on your behalf, which is otherwise “sitting on the table” waiting to be accessed, is very tempting. However, I don’t suggest signing on the dotted line without understanding the agreement you’re being asked to sign by an administrator.

Key provisions to understand in such agreements include:

(a) the term (the duration of the agreement),

(b) what the administrator is entitled to receive when the term ends,

(c) whether funds are being paid in your name or in the name of the administrator,

(d) what fees are being retained by the administrator as their commission,

(e) what costs the administrator can get reimbursed through your royalties before commission is calculated, and

(f) whether the grant of rights being requested is too broad in comparison to the rights they need to do what they promised to do.

If you plan to create great music (which you do), and plan to share it with the world on all platforms (which you do too), and want your music placed in various entertainment projects (why not), then it’s important to think about whether you should be administering the rights of anyone else in your music creation ecosystem, and if someone should be accessing royalties for you.

If you need help writing an administration agreement for someone else to sign, or understanding and negotiating an agreement you’re asked to sign, so long as you agree that the word administration isn’t boring, we look forward to hearing from you.


Edwards PC, Creative Law is a boutique law firm provides legal services to Music, Film, Animation, TV, Digital Media, Game, Software and Publishing industry clients. For more information and blogs, please visit www.edwardslaw.ca

© 2018 Edwards PC

* This blog is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Please contact Edwards PC, Creative Law or another lawyer, if you wish to apply these concepts to your specific circumstances.

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