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Tips For Dreamers With Ambition



Tip #1 - The music industry is a business.


  • That's important to understand because....if you deal with it as anything other than a business, you will almost certainly fail. If you've had very little business experience or lack a basic understanding of how they operate, you need to learn. Why? As I said above, you cannot succeed in something without first possessing a basic understanding of what it is.
  • Talent, musical proficiency dedication to your goals & self-confidence are prerequisites, not your ticket to stardom. Think of them in as you would a college degree. The degree itself guarantees you nothing....other than the opportunity to compete for what you want.
  • Intangibles such as "creative integrity" may have value to you & your peers, but NOT to a business. As a general rule, businesses care about 2 things - making money & saving money. When you present yourself to industry representatives, keep that in mind. If you can convince them of your ability to accomplish one or both of those goals, that should get their attention.
  • If you're unclear about how someone might "save" a record label money, I'll leave you with 2 examples:
  1. Think about the huge growth of the pop, rap & hip-hop genres in recent years. The bulk of the music & arrangements for those genres is created via software & sampling. That means fewer session musicians, less studio time and lower overall cost of production. They're able to sell those CDs & downloads at a competitive price, but the profit margin is higher because of the lower production cost. Do you really believe that change in public buying habits was a lucky accident?
  2. If you happen to be an artist with a huge online fanbase/following (Justin Bieber), that's tangible selling point. A huge ready-made fanbase means lower promotional cost for the label....again, saving them money.

Tip #2 - Beware of the "Scamortunity"

As you might guess, the term is meant to describe a scam disguised as an opportunity

  • What does a scamortunity look like? Not an easy question to answer, since they come in many forms. As a general rule, the more unbelievable the opportunity looks.....
  • the more skeptical you should be
  • the more extensively it should be researched
  • the more reluctant you should be to participate

In other words, if it seems too good to be true, it almost always is! 

Most cons (scams) are designed to take advantage of existing vulnerabilities. In the case of songwriter/musicians, those vulnerabilities are well known & numerous. Don't allow belief in yourself, belief in the uniqueness of your creations & desire for recognition to become liabilities in your quest for success. 

  • Remember....the music industry is a business & should be dealt with as such.
  • In business, opportunities rarely come looking for you. Don't expect them to seek you out in this industry either. With very few exceptions, they won't!

Tip #3 - Nothing is owed to you.

Many in this business develop the attitude that the world/industry owes them something. Simply put, that is not a productive mindset & will do nothing to further your career.

  • Countless hours of dedication to your craft, skills, talent & creative ability are prerequisites....not entitlements! Virtually every one of your competitors (fellow musician/songwriters) has worked as hard as you have....sometimes harder. Those prerequisites earn you the right to compete, nothing more. View them as you would a high school diploma. That diploma doesn't earn you money, it does get you a job & it won't guarantee admission to the college of your choice. But without it, you don't even qualify to compete for those things, because the majority of your competitors have one.
  • Forget about concepts like fairness. The world of business is based on many rules, but fairness is not one of them. Tangible results rule the day.

Tip #4 - For God sake, spend a couple dollars & get your finished material properly copyrighted.

We're only too happy to spend hundreds of dollars on a smartphone that'll be obsolete next year. ATM fees, wireless streaming fees, credit card interest, bank overdraft fees, apps....all things that we've come to accept as unavoidable expenses. BUT....when it comes to spending $35 to legally protect our own artistic creations, we'd rather not. Seriously....$35???

That's the current U.S. Library of Congress online filing rate for multiple works by a single author. To the best of my knowledge, a Library of Congress registration is the only universally recognized method for proving legal ownership of a work. There are viable legal reasons for choosing this method & I encourage you to verify that for yourselves.

Here are a number of direct links you may find useful:

United States Copyright Office http://copyright.gov/

Why Should I Register My Work? FAQ page http://copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html#automatic

Copyright FAQ - http://copyright.gov/help/faq/index.html

Electronic Copyright Office tutorial - http://copyright.gov/eco/eco-tutorial.pdf

Online Copyright Registration - http://copyright.gov/eco/

Tip #5 - Remember...it's all about the vocals !

It’s common for recording songwriters/bands to underestimate the importance of the primary vocal track. Bottom line….it’s "Priority #1" and should be treated as such.

Why you ask? Simple!

To the ordinary listener, it’s the single most important thing. Non-musician listeners focus the majority of their attention on the vocal (singer).

Sure…everything else matters! Just not as much.

Common Reasons for Substandard Vocals: 

·     Internal Band Dynamics - every member of a band wants to feel like their part is essential to the success or failure of a project. Unfortunately, nothing outranks the melody & the singer's presentation of it. Yes…a strong vocal can benefit from a great musical arrangement. But, if the vocal’s substandard, the best arrangement/performance in the world won’t save it.

·     When recording demos or finished material, vocals are one of the last things to be dealt with. If you’re working in a pro studio, you’re probably paying an hourly rate. If that is the case, you should budget your session time carefully. You can’t afford to blow the majority of the budget on preliminary musical tracks. When that occurs, the natural tendency is to rush the vocal recordings. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen friends make this mistake! Remember, if that vocal isn’t done reasonably well, everyone loses. 

Take whatever precautions are appropriate. When it’s all said & done, that vocal track will represent your song. Shoot for the highest quality you can reasonably achieve.

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile

*This article is the result of a question posed on the Songstuff boards. John Moxey asked the question, these were my responses.

2 people like this


Thanks Tom! This is exactly what I've been looking for. A reminder of the basic stuff we mostly tend to forget. [smiley=acoustic.gif] 

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Good advice Tom, although regarding the $35 copyright fee I disagree that it is the only sure way of proving copyright ownership.


It is important to remember that the vast majority of songwriters struggle to pay their bills let alone spend £39 copyrighting every song.


As I understand it, even if you copyright a work with the US Library of Congress you will still need to take anyone who breaches your copyright to court to show that you legally own that copyright. Bearing in mind that most songwriters struggle with finances they would certainly not be in a position to hire a lawyer to fight a case especially if it was an entity like Sony records who was the perpetrator.


So, what other alternatives are there for poorer songwriters;


(1)       Registered postage to oneself is out of the question because it doesn't hold up in a court of law. The reason for this is that it is almost impossible to prove that it has not been tampered with.


(2)       Posting your work on a website like Facebook, Twitter, Songstuff etc is lawfully proof of copyright as long as it is dated by that website and if your copyright is breached you can first ask your legal representative to send them a letter of `cease and desist` before taking the matter further. Some songwriters who have had their copyright breached by a known artist will sit back and wait until it has procured a great deal of revenue before taking action and whatever amount the song has earned it usually all gets paid to the copyright owner. I remember that in one particular case a whole albums revenue was awarded even though the album only contained one song that had breached copyright.


(3)       Copyrighting online with specialised companies is another option that you can consider.

Copyrighthouse.com Charges a fee of about £10 per year to copyright an unlimited amount of songs.

They maintain a register and also give you a downloadable/printable copyright certificate.


(4)       You can register your songs with your royalty collection agency.

There are a number to choose from depending on your country of residence. Sesac, Ascap, BMI, PRS are just a few.


I hope that this proves useful to those that are less wealthy than others. :001_smile:


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Yep Ray, there are other methods for establishing copyright ownership & time frame.

Perhaps I should have worded that statement a little different. :blush:


What I meant was that it's the only universally recognized method of fully protecting your financial interests.

Should you wish to legally pursue a breach of copyright claim in a U.S. court of law, it makes a big difference in eligibility for damages.

The quote below is taken directly from the Library of Congress website.....https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf




• If registration is made within three months after publication

of the work or prior to an infringement of the work,

statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to

the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an

award of actual damages and profits is available to the

copyright owner.



In other words, if you chose to register your work by any other means, a U.S. court will only allow you to recover actual damages & profits. You will not be eligible for statutory damages or attorney fees. So, in a U.S. court of law, legally establishing ownership & eligibility for claims are not the same thing...hence my use of the word "universally". If it doesn't give you same result everywhere, then it isn't universally recognized.


Many alternative forms of registration have actual disclaimers on their websites, such as.....


not affiliated, nor are works registered, with the US Copyright Office. Services not equivalent to registration under the Copyright Act. Government registration is NOT required for copyright protection.

They tell you right up front that they are NOT equal to a Library of Congress registration.


...appreciate you pointing out the difference!




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Tom, It is good that they provide attorney fees which is definitely a plus for your £39.


My main point was that the majority of songwriters (especially ones that are just starting out) would struggle to pay that money for each song.


I was offering alternative methods of copyright for those that fall into that particular bracket.

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I'd like to add one last FYI, if I may.

Almost never have I paid to copyright a single work.

If you peruse through my copyright records, almost all are registered "as volumes"...containing multiple works.

Back when I registered my first copyright, the fee was only $20 per collective filing. That first filing contained 12 songs (Volume 1) - registered all 12 for just $20.

Same holds true today. Yes the fee is $35, but that fee covers a single filing, NOT a single song registration.


That means my cost per song on volume #1 was only $1.67.

If I registered that same filing today, it would cost me $2.92 per song.

For math challenged individuals, that's less than $3 per song.

Honestly, if it's not worth $3 to guarantee your creative work the maximum protection allowed by law, then what does that say about the value of your song?


BTW - all my experience & consequently my advice is based upon song filings, not lyrical filings. When you register an entire song (lyrics & music) you submit an actual sound recording of the work. In the old days we sent them a tape...now-a-days, it's an mp3 uploaded online. I have no idea what it cost to file for a lyric-only, or what's involved. For all I know the process may be completely different. Since Ray is a lyricist, I thought it was important to point that out. Around here, when we use the term "song", we're talking about a complete song. Lyrical works are referred to as just that...."lyrics".

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If you are lucky enough to live in a country where $39 feels like peanuts, it isn't a problem.


I know of songwriters who aren't in the fortunate position that you find yourself in. They are lucky if they can earn $3 per day which is just about enough to survive on.


This is all about perspective and sometimes it is difficult to step outside of our narrow perspectives and place ourselves in the shoes of others .


I have recently co-written a song with a guy from Uganda who I might add I have sent money to on more than one occasion so that he can feed his family. I have recently copyrighted the song on his behalf because he couldn't afford to do it himself. He can't even afford to join a royalty collection agency so I have had to arrange for him to receive money directly from the record label because the song is getting airplay in the states and UK.


Some people need a cheaper option Tom, and that's why I have given them alternatives to copyright their work. Everybody deserves to have choices and I see it as my duty to inform them of those choices.

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Very nice article, Tom!


I just wonder how one can keep feeling creative when there is so much pressure to remain business minded. The bigger names have their business managers, so maybe there's some offload. What about the independent artists? How do they manage it all? 

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