Guide to Releasing Mixtapes & Remixes

Posted by Shawn Folk on

 

Licenses Needed


The challenge with officially releasing Remixes is attaining the necessary licenses. There are two different sets of licenses you need:


  1. Publishing - You have what’s called a Compulsory license where songwriters are required to grant permission for usage of their work. As long as you inform the songwriter and pay the mechanical royalties, they effectively can’t say no - unless you’ve drastically changed the work. All you have to do is inform the songwriters of your intent to use their work and pay them mechanical royalties for the use. This can be handled through Agencies like the Harry Fox Agency. There are also a number of digital distributors that will handle the entire process of attaining the usage rights and paying the mechanical royalties. Getting permission from the Publishing aspect can be pretty easy because the songwriter can’t say no.
  2. Master Use License - This is where things get sticky. There’s no Harry Fox Agency for attaining rights to use the master. There is no Compulsory license for the use of the Master. Whoever owns the Master recording can say no and charge whatever they deem their work is worth for usage.

When you cover a song, you’re just using the Publishing. When you Remix a song, you’re using the Publishing AND the Master recording. You need permission and have to pay both the person that owns the Publishing AND whoever owns the Master.


With digital downloads, you’re responsible for paying mechanical royalties. If you sell a digital download for $1, you’d only earn 91¢ because you’d have to pay around 9¢ to the songwriter.  With streaming, the streaming platform is responsible for paying the mechanical royalties. If you earned $1 from streaming, you’d keep $1 because the money for the songwriter comes from the streaming platform.  


Playback -  Recreate the instrumental


With all the challenges of releasing a Remix coming from the Sound Recording, the best bet is to avoid it. You can commission a producer to recreate an industry beat as a work for hire or pay session musicians to playback it back. Session musicians can be found on websites like Fiverr where you can have an instrumental played back pretty cheaply.


A Remix is a derivative work where you’re creating something new using the elements of a pre-existing work. You’ll need permission from the songwriters of the work to release your Remix legally. Though you’ll still need to seek permission, it’s only for the Publishing and you’re less likely to have to deal with a Record company demanding thousands for usage. Because you’re changing the song, it doesn’t classify as a cover which means you can’t utilize the Compulsory license. You have to get explicit permission from the songwriter(s).  


Getting Permission:


You can find the copyright owners of a song by searching the databases of PROs like Ascap, BMI, and SESAC or the ones in your country. The records of the PROs are likely to be more accurate than song credits. Once you identify who the copyright owners are, you’ll need to find a way to contact them which isn’t easy to do. PROs don’t provide contact information so you’re on your own there. Another option is to enlist the help of a Sample Clearing House.


Sample Clearing Houses are agencies that handle the process of getting samples cleared. Because you need explicit permission from the songwriters, doing a Playback Remix is kind of like Sampling so the process is pretty much the same. I just had an artist clear a Sample using this company: https://www.dmgclearances.com/services.php Their website hasn’t been updated in years which, as a former web designer, really grinds my gears but in real life, it looks like they get it done.


Pros:


  • You own the Master recording - If someone sampled your recording, you could sue.
  • 100% of the Sound Recording revenue from streams goes to you - Unless your agreement with the songwriter states otherwise.
  • Content Id won’t claim your music because it’s a new recording and won’t match the audio fingerprint of the original.
  • The songwriter of the original may agree to split the mechanical royalties with you.

 

Cons:


  • Higher production costs due to having to pay producers or session musicians for playbacks
  • Finding contact information for songwriters
  • Set up time - You’ll have to wait to hear back from songwriters and negotiate agreements.
  • Lawyers - You may have to hire an attorney to write up an agreement between the songwriter and you.
  • Sample Clearing House costs - if you go this way, you’ll have to pay the company to handle the process. Their fee doesn’t include what you may have to pay the copyright owner to clear the sample.

 

Mixbank - Pre-cleared Songs


Mixbank is a platform that allows you to legally distribute remixes. They handle all of the legalities and payments. All you have to do is upload your Remix. There are a few restrictions that come with using Mixbank like the fact that you can only distribute to Tidal, Apple Music, and Spotify. Additionally, Mixbank forces you to use their auto-generator to create cover art, and they’re hiddeous! A lot of songs only allow distribution to Apple Music and NO other platform. You’re also not informed of there being any territorial restrictions. If you’re only allowed to release a remix in territories outside of the US, you wouldn’t know.


I released a Remix of Aloe Blacc’s “I Need A Dollar” to test out Mixbank a few years ago. In my dashboard, it says I have 22 streams from around the world but none in the US. When I search for the song in Apple Music, my Remix doesn’t even come up. It looks as if it’s not available in Apple Music in the US. I don’t know that for sure and there’s no easy way to find that out in Mixbank without contacting customer service.


There’s no information on royalty splits. You don’t know what percentage of revenue will go to you or the people that own the original, nor how much Mixbank keeps for itself. Mixbank also restricts you to singles so you couldn’t release a mixtape using Mixbank, only singles.


Mixbank has a library of pre-cleared songs. It would be best if you build a list of songs you’d like to remix, searched the database for those songs, and only recorded the songs with clearance. Most of the time, when artists are looking for information on the legalities of releasing a Remix, the songs have already been recorded. At that point, your hands are tied. The songs you can’t clear have already been recorded so you either write it off as a loss or risk being sued and/or having it removed.


Tip

Because Mixbank only allows you to release singles, you can combine all of your Remix singles into a Playlist. Spotify allows you to add custom Playlist covers, so does Apple Music.


Pros:


  • Less work because the instrumentals you want to use are already made.
  • Lower production fees because you’ll only have to pay to record your Remix, and that’s only if you don’t have a home studio.
  • You can legally distribute your music to streaming platforms and earn revenue from your remixes.

 

Cons:


  • You’re restricted to only 3 streaming platforms and most of the time, it’s really just one.
  • They force you to use ugly auto-generated cover art.
  • Songs have territorial restrictions.
  • You’re not informed of what the territorial restrictions are.
  • The revenue splits are a mystery.
  • You can only release singles so Mixtapes are out of the question.

Risk It


Soundcloud, Youtube, and Bandcamp are all platforms with loose or non-existent copyright enforcement. The BIG caveat with going this way and using these platforms is MONETIZATION! The copyright owner whose music you’re using may have Content ID and if so, your upload will be claimed and your revenue will be taken and paid to them. There is also a less likely possibility that your video will be removed and you’ll receive a copyright strike.


Youtube provides a searchable library of songs and their copyright policies which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/music_policies?ar=2 If you follow the policies the copyright owners have provided, you won’t have to worry about copyright strikes. Monetization may still be an issue but strikes won’t.


Soundcloud doesn’t provide such a library but also doesn’t have as many artists utilizing Content ID. Most Content ID programs are exclusively for Youtube so Soundcloud isn’t as heavily policed.


Bandcamp doesn’t police uploads AT ALL. You can host an entire mixtape there without concern for copyright strikes, Content ID, or anything like that. If your song Remix blows up you might have a problem, but even then, you’ll probably just get a cease and desist order.


The problem with Bandcamp is discoverability. On platforms like Youtube and Soundcloud, people are searching for the original version of the song you Remixed. That’s the point of doing the Remix. When people search for the original version, your Remix comes up as a result and you hope that the user is intrigued and checks it out. On Bandcamp, that’s not likely to happen so it kind of defeats the purpose of doing it in the first place.


If you have a pre-existing fanbase that can work as foot soldiers to spread the word about your Remix of a popular song then Bandcamp can work. If you’re using Remixes as a catalyst to build a fanbase, probably not.



 

Release Optimization


Properly titling your remix


The benefit of doing a Remix comes from Search engines like Google and internal website search engines like Youtube’s and Soundcloud’s. When a user types in a search string, these search engines pull results based on the terms in the search. If a user ran a search for “Billie Eilish Ocean Eyes” the platform will pull results with those words used in that order. The closest matches will rank the highest.


If you Remix Nas’s “New York State of Mind” the title should read:  New York State of Mind - Nas (“Your artist name - Remix) or New York State of Mind - “Your Artist Name” ( Remix). If you change the song title and try to be creative by playing on the words, you won’t get the benefit of the Search engines. DO. NOT. MESS. AROUND. WITH. YOUR. TITLES!


Retention


When users search and click a result, search engines monitor whether they come back to the search and click on other results. Returning to the search and clicking other options indicates they didn’t find what they were looking for. The links users click and don’t return to the search, will rank higher than those where they do. If your Remix has a misleading title, the retention will be low which will lessen the possibility of you appearing in a search.


Best advice, make sure users know they’re clicking on a Remix and aren’t expecting the original version.


Backlinks


Just as important as your Remix title, are Backlinks. A Backlink occurs when a website links to your Remix. If you post a link to your Remix to a blog, that would be a Backlink because that Blog is linking back to your Remix.


  • Soundcloud - Post the audio version of your track to your Soundcloud and link to the Youtube version in the description.  
  • Youtube - Post the video version - even if it’s just an Art Track - to Youtube and link to the audio version on Soundcloud in the description box.  
  • Blogs - Create a Medium account, Tumblr account - honestly, you want as many accounts on as many blogging platforms as you can handle - post your video and audio to ALL of your blogging platforms. Don’t forget to add your links to whatever text you put underneath.
  • Your website - Post your video and audio file to your website.
  • Bandcamp - Post your Remix to Bandcamp and put a link in your description.
  • Fiverr - buy Blog placements on Fiverr


 

Remix Monetization Chart


Type

Mechanicals

Performance

Master Royalties

Playback

No/Maybe

No/Maybe

Yes

Mixbank

No

No

Split

Risk It

No

No

No



Remix Registration Chart


Type

Songtrust

Ascap/BMI

SoundExchange

Digital Distribution

Playback

No

No

Yes

Yes

Mixbank

No

No

Yes

Yes

Risk It

No

No

Yes

No



Resources:



Blogging Platforms:



Sample Clearing House: DMG - https://www.dmgclearances.com/services.php


Fiverr Session Musicians: http://bit.ly/2TYOWD9


Fiverr Bloggers - http://bit.ly/2YRNne8


Work for Hire Agreements - http://bit.ly/2FYOIY2










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