Digital Distribution makes it easier for musicians in the Caribbean to place their music before a worldwide audience. Through placement in online stores and streaming services inclusive of iTunes, Pandora and Spotify; songwriters, artists and bands can attempt to build a global following while gaining additional revenue. However, before these potential benefits can be gained, musicians must understand how to firstly  prepare their music for distribution and also how to identify and collect the streams of revenue generated by their content.

Selecting an Aggregator

Role and Payment Structure of the Aggregators

Online music services seldom make direct deals with individual artists, unless such artist is of significant stature in the industry. Therefore, to have your music available via these platforms you will need the services of a Digital Aggregator. These are entities that help you prepare and upload your music for digital distribution, as well as provide reports on how your songs are performing in terms of use and revenue. Examples of popular digital aggregators include: TunecoreCD Baby, and Symphonic Distribution. As it pertains to cost, aggregators may either charge an upfront fee (sometimes even an annual fee) or a percentage of royalties or both. The service should be selected after careful consideration of the costs, percentage and schedule of royalty payouts and value to be delivered to the artist.

Preparing your Music for Distribution
Format Selection

In most instances digital aggregators usually recommend that your audio tracks be delivered to them in a lossless audio format such as .WAV, .AIFF and FLAC files. This ensures the highest possible quality and any conversion to other formats will be done by the online services. In addition to audio requirements, they will stipulate quality and dimensions of Album Artwork required.

EAN codes and other Metadata

Aggregators will also require a barcode for your release since it is an actual product placed on the market. You need to get a barcode for the “release”- regardless of the number of songs. The  UPC (Universal Product Code) is preferred for the US as opposed to the EAN (European Article Number). The Digital Aggregators usually provide this as part of their service, however Artists may opt to purchase their own, using services such as Nationwide Barcode. A benefit of purchasing your own would be to establish your ownership of the codes.

ISRC Codes

An ISRC (International Standard Recording) Code is a unique 12-character alphanumeric ‘digital fingerprint’ that stays with an individual recorded track forever. ISRC’s are added to the recording during the mastering stage, or during upload by the aggregator. They are used to trace sales of tracks through digital distribution outlets as well as the owner of a recording.

Like the barcode, the digital aggregators can issue ISRCs. However, it is recommended that owners of sound recordings obtain their own codes that are aligned to their countries of origin. The international agency responsible for issuing ISRC codes is The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). IFPI has affiliates in many countries that issue ISRC codes for recordings among them Barbados and Jamaica. In Trinidad and Tobago, individual owners of sound recordings can approach IFPI and they will be issued personal codes. This can  be done by visiting this link: http://isrc.ifpi.org/en/get-isrc/apply-now and filling out the necessary online form.

Collecting Your Revenue

Types of Royalties Involved

Royalties become due to you when your music is purchased and downloaded or streamed from digital music services. Typical royalties include mechanical royalties to be paid by the service for copying your songs onto their servers, in addition to performance royalties in the case of streaming services making your music available to the public. Like song compensation, royalties are also due to the owners of sound recordings (Master royalties). This may be you or a Record Label or Executive Producer who financed the recordings.

Collection Agencies and Arrangements

Many digital aggregators offer mechanical royalties collection services. In the case of performance royalties, digital services will have licenses from Performing rights organisations (PRO) in their territories (e.g. ASCAP in the United States). These PROs usually collect and then remit your performance royalties to the agency in your territory, of which you are a member and which they have reciprocal agreements with. In Trinidad and Tobago, the Copyright (Music) Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago (COTT) is the only organisation with such agreements. Alternately, songwriters can weigh the possibility of registering with AMRA- a global music collection society that assists songwriters in collecting their Performance Royalties.

Owners of sound recordings, are compensated from the actual sale and streaming of the recordings and paid by the Digital Aggregator. Together with the producers they may split the revenue according to prior agreement. In terms of digital performance royalties for Artists and owners of sound recordings, SoundExchange is the agency that collects this revenue for uses of your recordings in the United States by Internet Radio companies and services such as Pandora which are non- interactive (i.e. the user cannot determine what they want to hear on demand). The revenue split is usually 45% for the Artist, 50% for the owner of the sound recording and 5% for Non Featured Artists (Background Musicians). Registration with SoundExchange is free and open to stakeholders from around the world.

While it is simple for local artists to distribute their music to international services, it is recommended that songwriters and composers who are members of COTT and other regional agencies have a discussion with their agency on the best path to follow in terms of collection of revenue from international sources. This discussion would surround, whether the agency can collect your digital royalties from various digital uses internationally, so that you neither leave money on the table nor cause any confusion in the administration of your revenue collection.

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