A couple of years ago, a family member gave me a book called You Will Make Money In Your Sleep. I think it was intended to encourage me to get more than four or five hours a night—a carry-over from my days as a musician and record-producer. That haggard, post-all-nighter look starts to get a little scary when you reach my age bracket. Unfortunately, the generous gift-giver apparently hadn’t given the text much of a look, as You Will Make Money in your Sleep turned out not to be a brilliant get-rich quick scheme or a story of the salutary effects of slumber, but rather an expose of “the financier to the stars”, Dana Ghiaccetto. Ghiacetto was a high-profile investment advisor in the Nineties, who managed to swindle people like Toby Maguire, Michael Ovitz and Phish with that tempting come-on line.

So I admit to a little trepidation when I found out that I would be a panelist at “Music Publishing– Making Money In Your Sleep” at South By Southwest this week:

Music Publishing- Making Money In Your Sleep
Thursday, March 18

Thankfully, I’m not providing any investment advice. Or at least, not exactly. Instead, we’ll be looking at ways to try to make your music work for you. That’s a good topic, especially for the singer-songwriters and indie bands that throng to SXSW each year.

As many of you have probably noticed, the downside to the grass-roots, indie approach to making it in the music business is that so much of the work requires the direct involvement of you, the artist and/or songwriter. In this new 21st century business model, you can only succeed by getting out and building your fanbase person by person, show by show, and that means a lot of hands-on work for the musicians. Now, not only do you have to gig continuously, with all the drive-time, set-up and tear-down effort that is an inevitable part of rock ‘n’ roll touring, you also have to book the gigs, sell your merch, coordinate your own publicity campaign in each town, and spend at least a couple of hours on your social networking site, making sure your fans feel connected. And don’t forget to Twitter while you’re at it.

Not only do you need something that will help make you money in your sleep– you need to find the time to sleep. Probably, you are not in the mood to hear that you now need to become a music publisher as well.

But you do. In fact, as I’ve said so many times, you already are a music publisher– you have been since you wrote your first song. You are not only the author and composer of your song, you’re also the music publisher. The problem is that most songwriters haven’t learned to be effective music publishers. Of course, that’s what my book, Making Music Make Money, is all about. My course, Music Publishing 101 at Berkleemusic, goes even further, and provides a week by week guide to setting up your own music publishing company.

Unfortunately, I can’t promise that having your own music publishing company comes without effort. You have to gather the knowledge you’ll need to be effective. You will need to set up the structure and systems necessary to operate the business, administer copyrights, and issue licenses. You’ll have to strategize about the opportunities that exist for your music, and then make the calls to get your music out there. Maybe you can find an intern or a colleague to help you with the day to day operation of the company. Perhaps you can even partner with a larger, already established music publisher, who can take on most of the responsibility for pitching, licensing and administration. Still, there’s no use kidding yourself that this is a small undertaking. At any level, music publishing is a big, complex job.

Nevertheless, here’s my investment advice for the day (and most certainly, the ONLY investment advice you should ever take from me):

Do it. Stop treating your songs as something more than simply the material you perform or record– start seeing them as the primary assets of your business. Stop viewing your songwriting as inherently intertwined with your performing career. Your songs, and your songwriting talent, can generate income on their own. That’s what music publishing is all about. Here are just a few opportunities that an investment in music publishing could yield:

Place your songs with other recording artists. Let them do the touring and the twittering, while you earn money.

Place your songs in films and television shows. Not only does it publicize you as an artist—it generates sync fees and performance income.

Place your songs in video games or other products. The licensing rates are pretty low, but the exposure is ridiculously high. And you don’t have to travel in a van, tear-down or set-up.

Place your songs in advertisements. It’s not only about grabbing that Apple iPod spot. There are national, local and international advertising opportunities that could fund your band’s next road-trip.

Create new music for film/TV libraries, which license “needle-drop” music to a wide variety of media. The sync fees are virtually non-existent, but because these are non-exclusive licenses, the same piece can be used again and again, generating significant performance money.

Write new songs for projects not tied to you as a performer. Of course, your artist career or your band’s development are the priority. But you’re also a songwriter, and not every song has to be for you to sing. There are artists around the country, and especially outside the US that are looking for songs. Why not spend a few weeks a year taking aim at those?

This last strategy was one that our company, Shapiro Bernstein & Co, Inc., and our partner, Tosha Music, recently employed with one of our top songwriters, Marti Dodson, from the Ohio-based band, Saving Jane. When Saving Jane’s first single “Girl Next Door” (Dodson/Buzzard/Goodman/Martin/Misevski) became a Top Forty pop hit, showed up on NOW (That’s What I Call Music) 22, and was covered by country artist Julie Roberts, we knew that Marti had the potential to be an important pop songwriter, and not only for Saving Jane. We suggested that she spend two weeks traveling to Stockholm, which is the pop-song factory for all of Europe and much of America, and the home of many of the industry’s best production and writing teams. Marti’s first trip yielded Saving Jane’s subsequent hit single, “Supergirl” (written with Mats Valentin from Sweden), which was later covered by Suzie McNeil in Canada, who took the song Top Ten in that territory. The song was used as a theme song by superstar auto racer Danica Patrick, gymnast Nastia Lukin, and showed up once again at the recent Winter Olympics.

Through the investment of a couple of writing trips to Sweden, Marti has now had songs cut by artists from South Africa to Germany (where she recently had the theme song to the German Popstars television show). When your songs are being played on TV in Europe, you’re literally making money in your sleep. That’s the goal. And that’s what music publishing is all about.

You can’t be everywhere at once and you can’t do everything all the time. If your business plan is predicated solely on your performance schedule, you will eventually reach the end of your earning potential, because you can only play so many gigs in a week. But if you have an effective music publishing operation, your songs can indeed be everywhere at once, earning money all the time. Of course, it’s not easy getting your music out there or locating the right opportunities. Yet it’s the best investment you can make, as there’s no limit to the ultimate pay-off. Do it right, and you might even be able to get some shut-eye once or twice a week.

If you’re going to SXSW, be sure to catch this panel. Afterward I’ll be at the South By Bookstore, selling some books:

Thursday, March 18 at 4:45pm

Stop by and say hello! See you in Austin…

    Hey Eric,

    Another great post once again! I look forward to meeting you at the ASCAP expo!

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