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New MU Event Series on Maximising Your Income as a Recording Musician

From copyright and contracts to royalties and rights, a new MU event tells you all you need to know about maximising your income as a recording musician.

Photo ofNeil Crossley
By Neil Crossley Published: 26 June 2023 | 3:09 PM Updated: 26 June 2023 | 3:44 PM
“Equitable remuneration is all about fair compensation for performers and performing artists when music has been played publicly or broadcast.” Photo credit: Joseph Branston

Everything you need to know about earning a living as a recording musician is covered in a new event being run across the UK by the MU’s Recording and Broadcasting team.

The main objective of this workshop, which will run until the end of 2023, is to advise and empower anyone who is working as a session musician, or who is engaging a session musician on a recording, about potential income that they are entitled to and how to ensure they receive it.

The event aims to outline your rights as a musician, delving into all things copyright, and explaining how to protect them. Contracts, agreements and the problem of so-called ‘buyouts’ are also covered. The end goal is to equip and empower you with the knowledge that could earn you royalties for a lifetime.

Outlining the work of the MU Recording and Broadcasting team

One of the first workshops was held at St Margaret’s Centre in Swindon on Saturday 17 June, and hosted by MU Officials Jessica Craig and Michael Sweeney. Jessica began by outlining the work of the R&B team, which deals with collective agreements, licensing, royalties and advice on copyright.

Jessica outlined the difference between featured and non-featured artists, the former being a contracted artist or band whose name a track is released under and who will receive a royalty from sales or streams, and the latter being a credited, non-contracted musician who is due a session fee and further use fees.

She went on to explain equitable remuneration, the sum owed to featured artists and non-featured artists:

“Equitable remuneration is all about fair compensation for performers and performing artists when music has been played publicly or broadcast,” said Jessica. “It’s not governed by contracts…That is what you are due as a musician, so it can’t be bought and sold.”

Joining PPL is free to join and distributes income directly to performers

The Recording and Broadcasting team highlighted the importance of all recording musicians joining PPL. This is the free-to-join UK collection society that collects equitable remuneration from the various venues and broadcasters, then distributes the income directly to performers in accordance with its distribution rules.

Self-releasing artists should join PPL both as a rights holder and as a performing artist, said Jess, and all recording musicians would benefit from joining to receive the royalties due to them. “Musicians can upload the tracks, upload the performer information and PPL will do the rest,” she said. “It’s amazing how people don’t know to do that. It’s free, so it’s well worth doing.”

The MU has Collective Agreements

Session musicians, of course, are often employed to record music for media projects, such as films, TV, adverts, computer games and albums and are paid by the session. Recording and Broadcasting Official Michael Sweeney outlined the various collective trade agreements that cover such work.

The MU has collective agreements with the BBC, ITV, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and independent film and TV producers who form the Producers’ Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT).

The MU’s Recording and Broadcasting team collects and distributes royalties payments for sessions undertaken under all these agreements. In 2022, the team paid out its highest ever payment of royalties, distributing £1.37m to musicians – both members and non-members – by the end of 2022.

Earning Secondary Income from Syncs

Most of these increases in revenue came from the secondary use of previously released commercial recordings that are synchronised, or ‘sync’d’, to adverts, film, TV and video games. At the event in Swindon, Jessica Craig and Michael Sweeney showed examples of major tracks that had been sync’d, which generate a secondary income for the musicians on the recording.

This was an area of the event that really galvanised the interest of the musicians in attendance. The clips chosen were Mark Morrison’s Return Of The Mac, used for the McDonalds ’Welcome Back’ ad campaign; Jess Glynne’s Hold My Hand which has been used for the Jet2 Holiday campaign; and John Williams’ Star Wars theme, performed by the LSO and used in a Lego campaign.

The indirect promotional effect of secondary incomes

“It’s amazing that over 40 years later, these musicians are still earning from their creativity,” Michael  said. “Secondary royalties can provide stability and financial security, so the musician can thrive and continue to be creative. These are valuable income streams that can potentially support you for years.”

He cited an anonymous example of a musician who received over £20,000 from secondary royalties within a 12 year period. In addition to the “endless earning opportunities”, he said, there is an “indirect promotional effect” for the musicians involved as well as support and association with the film or the product.

Such secondary usage and renewed interest in a track can also yield fresh work opportunities from advertising agencies, production companies and other clients, said Michael, “because it’s the sound that they want”.

Using the Right Contracts

Of course, receiving such royalties all depends on the musician having filled out the correct contract, that agreement being registered correctly, and the current contact details being provided so that the MU can distribute the royalties.

Using the right contracts is the key to being able to earn properly and fairly as a recording musician, whether you are a featured or non featured performer. Signing away all your rights or granting a buyout will limit the revenue streams you have and your ability to continue earning from the same recording over and over again.

In all three MU syncing examples, the recordings featured musicians recording for major artists, signed to major labels, with collective agreements in place. The well-oiled administration processes of the MU, music supervisors and major labels help ensure musicians have the correct contracts and agreements, and that their performance fees will be registered and paid.

But for self-releasing artists, the process could arguably be far less seamless. A session musician or an artist hiring a session musician will have to ensure that the relevant contracts and agreements are used and registered correctly. There are also a whole range of other admin tasks to consider when doing it all yourself, such as ensuring all the correct metadata is input in your PPL registration and that ISRC codes are allocated to each recording.

How Musicians viewed the Event

The musicians attending the event acknowledged that it had been extremely useful in clarifying gaps in their knowledge and raising awareness of new factors they may not have considered.

“In terms of my own music, it was invaluable,” said MU member Ben Langridge from south Wales. “It’s good to know that I have rights and I have potential areas where I might not be covered… that my own music is valuable, how to protect it, how it’s going to be used in the right way and whether you’re going to be seeing any revenue from it. Also, knowing that there are things that you need to do and that the MU has your back for all of that.”

The MU Recording and Broadcasting team will be running more of these events across the UK throughout 2023, which we’ll be notifying members in our event section, our twitter channel and through emails.

In the meantime, to find out more about the work of the MU Recording and Broadcasting team, visit the dedicated section of our website.

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