Registering your songs on SOCAN and SoundExchange is an important step in ensuring you aren’t leaving money on the table. Get this out of the way before you release your album. No matter what you’ve heard, I assure you it’s worth doing – on the low end, it can result in cheques that help to cover gas or a hotel room on tour, or, with a little luck with Satellite radio, can represent thousands of dollars generated passively once your album is released.
Seen those self-deprecating posts about receiving SOCAN cheques for $0.07? Don’t let that dissuade you. If you are using SOCAN to its fullest and playing a couple of shows a month, you’ll be getting paid considerably more than that even without radio play. The live performance side of SOCAN royalties is under-subscribed and rarely talked about, but offers bigger payouts for most emerging bands than radio royalties.
Before we move on, now’s the time to have the talk about how are you going to divvy up songwriting credits. Those songwriting shares will need to be input into the SOCAN and Sound Exchange databases for payouts. Some artists choose to democratically split songwriting credits equally among all members (say 20% each for all 5 members), while others may give sole or majority songwriting credit to those who wrote the lyrics or came in with the rough sketch of the song’s major musical themes (most commonly paid out by SOCAN), but crediting everyone in the group as performers on the recording (which is paid out through Sound Exchange).
Whichever way you’re leaning, just don’t make assumptions on how everyone in your group views your creative processes. I’d recommend deciding this early, and clearly, so there’s no surprises or disputes later on.
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Okay, now it’s time to get technical. First things first. You’ll need to generate International Standard Recording Codes (ISRCs) for the songs on your album. Why do you need to generate and assign ISRCs to your release? Simply, they are what allow for the tracking of the life of that song – when and where it’s played, and if those plays on radio or TV should be generating royalties for you as a songwriter, etc.
This can usually be done for free or for a nominal fee when uploading your album to a digital music distribution service like CDBaby, TuneCore, LANDR, Distrokid, etc. as a simple one-click optional add-on. However, if for whatever reason you choose not to use one of those services for digital distribution, you can still generate ISRCs for your release independently by contacting an ISRC Agency. As well, if you’ve already generated an ISRC for a previous release with the same project, you won’t need to generate a completely new one (more on that shortly).
Why do you need to generate and assign ISRCs to your release? Simply, they are what allow for the tracking of the life of that song – when and where it’s played, and if that play on radio or TV should be generating royalties for you as a songwriter, etc.
The ISRCs will have a basic format:
First two letters: country code based on your residence
Next three letters/numbers: registrant code assigned to you
Next two letters: year of the recording
Last five digits: designation code (essentially, counting up for each song you’ve released that year)
So, for example, an ISRC of CA-K7R-22-00001 means it’s a recording made by someone living in Canada, released in 2022, and it’s the first song they’ve released that year/the first song on their album. The K7R is assigned to the registrant when signing up for their ISRC. Once one has this code, it’s as simple as counting up for each subsequent song on the album CA-K7R-22-00002, CA-K7R-22-00003, etc. And the best part is, for releases in subsequent years, no additional work is required. The artists can simply update the year/song #s for the next release by following the formula: CA-K7R-23-00001, CA-K7R-23-00002, etc.
It’s not enough to simply have these ISRCs in your possession, it’s important that they are linked to your songs when you upload them to your digital distributor, to sites like Bandcamp, and in the metadata of your digital files used to press CDs, etc. In the case of digital distributors, this should happen automatically if you click that option, and in cases like Bandcamp uploads, it’s as simple as filling out the ISRC fields for each individual song. However, for the purposes of pressing CDs, make sure that you share the ISRC with your engineer before they finalize the mastered files. They will need to be included in their Digital Description Protocol (DDP) file for you to take to the pressing plant.
SOCAN – the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada – is a Canadian rights management organization, which is a fancy way of saying that they collect earnings for songwriting when your songs are either performed, whether live (by yourself or someone else), on radio, streaming or tv, or reproduced on other media like CDs and vinyl. Sign up for a SOCAN account, and then follow the steps to register your works.
Seen those self-deprecating posts about receiving SOCAN cheques for $0.07? Don’t let that dissuade you. If you are using SOCAN to its fullest and playing a couple of shows a month, you’ll be getting paid considerably more than that even without any radio play. The live performance side of SOCAN royalties is under-subscribed and rarely talked about, but offers bigger payouts for most emerging bands than radio royalties.
Real World Example: Napalmpom released two full-length albums in 2014 and 2017 and played over 200 shows to support those releases. The music was not overly radio-friendly, though we did get some radio play. The lifetime SOCAN statements for each member of the band are sitting at just over $2,000 each, which alone may not seem significant. However, at five members, that represents an additional $10,000 of revenue for the band that would have been left on the table without SOCAN registration.
For most artists, SOCAN will have two major revenue streams: radio and live performance. While there is potentially stronger revenue from radio royalties, this can often be an elusive source for emerging artists, or artists whose style of music doesn’t often get widespread airplay.
However, less known is that SOCAN also collects royalties earned at venues and festivals when your songs are performed live by yourself or other artists. By registering your songs through SOCAN, and filling out the Notification of Live Music Performance (NLMP) form that’s available from your account on their website after every show, you’ll earn royalties through SOCAN even if you’ve never been played on the radio. Unfortunately, 9/10 bands I talk to who have SOCAN accounts set up, and bemoan their hilariously small paycheques, were never aware of this other revenue stream.
What’s even better? Live show royalties can be claimed retroactively (while retroactive ranges vary, SOCAN recommends doing so within a year of the performance, though I’ve heard that up to 3 years prior can still be collected fairly easily).
Caveats: in order for live sets to qualify for these royalties, the show will have had to have had a paid cover charge of at least $6, and be substantiated with proof (a ticket stub, a jpg of a poster from the show with a ticket price visible, a digital promotional asset with the same, or a contract from the promoter). If you’re posting your show posters to social media as part of your marketing, it should be easy enough to grab them when you’re ready to submit them to SOCAN.
Long story short? Every time you play a show, you’re earning not just the money from the artist fee/door, you’ll also be paid, roughly 9 months later, by SOCAN for that same performance of your songs. While the amount per gig depends on a variety of factors including the overall pool of money and artists making claims in a quarter, the size of venue, etc., it should work out to a not insignificant amount each show.
Real World Example: on average, Napalmpom was earning about $8-10 extra per member per show through SOCAN’s Notification of Live Music Performance (NLMP). While $40-50/show isn’t the make-or-break amount needed to turn this into a sustainable living, it can help greatly on tour with gas, hotels or a good meal. For most independent bands and artists, this will represent a far greater payout than radio royalties. Don’t leave it on the table!
Sound Exchange is a US-based rights management organization that differs from SOCAN in that it collects royalties based on who performed on a given recording, rather than for the songwriter specifically. Importantly, Sound Exchange collects those royalties from satellite radio, which, because of its global audience, can pay out upwards of $40 US per play.
Real World Example: Self-Cut Bangs’ debut release came out as a digital-only album in the middle of the pandemic with no team behind it. Despite that, it surprisingly found some moderate play on Satellite radio. Because the songwriting and performance of those songs was handled by two people equally, Sound Exchange royalties were relatively large for a band of our size. In the first year of its release, the album generated a combined $12,000 CAD in royalties, largely through satellite radio play. Again, not a viable career path, but enough to help fund subsequent tours and releases.
So, before releasing an album, but after finalizing your digital distribution, head on over to Sound Exchange, create an account and claim your songs – each member of your band should do the same. If you’ve used a digital distributor, they will likely already appear in the database and just need to be claimed with the appropriate shares to be divided amongst the members.