An Exploration Step-By-Step Guide
From digital distributors and administrative representatives to more traditional industry players like record labels and music publishers, there is a head-spinning array of companies that administer content and collect royalties on behalf of creators.
Changing copyright representatives is a regular part of the music business. It does not have to be an emotional or negative experience. As the goals for your music and/or the goals for your business develop and change over time, you may come to realize that your current arrangements no longer serve your needs.
The following guide provides a road map to switching providers, and should help copyright owners obtain the best services available for their works.
With that in mind: every situation is unique, and we do not intend for the following steps to serve as end-all-be-all instructions for anyone. Those signed to deals with major record labels, major publishers, and other entertainment companies may face greater difficulty when attempting to terminate an agreement or switch to a different service provider. Always consult with an attorney before signing any new agreement.
Why We Wrote This Guide
You deserve the best services available to you. If you feel your composition and sound recording copyrights currently are not seeing their full potential—or if you simply don’t know whether they are or not—then it’s time to take action.
First, consult with your current music representative. See if they are able to discern whether your works are realizing their full potential.
If you do decide to switch, it may seem intimidating at first to try to organize all the information that a new service provider will need from you when you’re switching away from your current provider, so we’ve written a guide to help you through the process. Following the steps outlined herein will prepare you for a switch to a service provider that will better enable you to leverage your musical and audiovisual content and start collecting more royalties.
How to Change Your Music Services Provider
Step #1: Consider why you want to leave your current music service provider.
Music service provider, in this case, refers to any organization or company handling metadata or copyrights on your behalf. It might include a:
- Digital distributor
- Music publisher
- Record label
- Music publishing administrator
- YouTube CMS manager
- And more…
It will be important to note why you want to leave your current music rep: Are you not getting the customer service you expected? Are you not receiving the royalties you believe that you’re owed? Before you terminate officially, consider reaching out to a representative at your current service provider and having a conversation about why you are choosing to leave. It may help them better serve others.
Step #2: Identify the types of services you need.
Oftentimes, this begins with one question: “What do I own?” Compositions? Sound recordings? Both? For example, if you are a songwriter or a music publisher, you control underlying composition copyrights. You should be collecting:
- Domestic and foreign performance royalties from your PRO(s)
- Domestic and foreign mechanical royalties, including U.S.-based streaming mechanical royalties from the Mechanical Licensing Collective
- Synchronization royalties from YouTube videos using your compositions
- Synchronization fees from your film, TV, and commercial placements
- Lyric use
If you are a record label or an independent recording artist, you control sound recording, or master, copyrights. You should be collecting:
- Any artist royalties outlined in your recording contract or distribution agreement
- Non-interactive digital performance royalties from SoundExchange
- Synchronization royalties from YouTube videos for your sound recordings
- Synchronization fees from your film, TV, and commercial placements
- Neighboring rights
Step #3: Audit your copyrights.
A copyright audit is the first step towards fully collecting the royalties you’re owed from the use of your musical and audiovisual works online.
The purpose of a copyright audit is to give songwriters, publishers, artists, labels, and film & TV companies a detailed picture of how their works are represented online and subsequently, who is collecting revenue as a result of their exploitation.
Ideally, a copyright audit for North America may review the following public databases:
- YouTube, where 3rd party administrators can claim assets on behalf of composition and sound recording copyright owners.
- Harry Fox Agency, Music Reports, The Mechanical Licensing Collective, & CMRRA, which collect royalties on behalf of songwriters and music publishers from a variety of different digital services
- The U.S.-based and foreign performing rights organizations which collect performance royalties on behalf of songwriters and publishers.
- SoundExchange, and other agencies responsible for collecting royalties from the public performance of sound recordings, including neighboring rights.
Click HERE to obtain an audit from Exploration.
Click HERE to download a sample audit template.
Step #4: Analyze your audit (and ask for help if you need it).
A proper audit will include your metadata (song titles, co-writers, split percentages, ISRCs, ISWCs, territories, etc.) organized in a spreadsheet along with any information applicable to who is currently managing your copyrights.
Once complete, it will give you a better sense of where you should be collecting unearned royalties with the help of a new service provider.
Step #5: Request a metadata export from your current service provider.
Before you make anything official with your current service provider, collect any information you possibly can about your copyrights. Your current service provider should be able to provide this in a simple Excel spreadsheet or file export.
Once you receive this metadata export from your current service provider, augment it with any information that appears to be missing, including song titles, co-writers, split percentages, ISWCs, ISRCs, territories, and more. It is in your best interest to make your metadata as complete and detailed as possible. Often, your new service provider will be able to help with these tasks, so don’t worry if it seems daunting.
For help completing your metadata export, see this catalog metadata template.
Step #6: Identify potential new service providers, then contact them.
There are hundreds of service providers to choose from, each offering services that differ from one another in important respects. For a clearer understanding of what each entity should be doing for you, please read these guides:
- What is a Record Label?
- What is a Music Publisher?
- What is a Digital Distributor?
- What is SoundExchange?
- What is the Difference Between a Major vs. Indie Music Company?
Once you’ve researched the type of service that you need and who in the industry can provide it for you, reach out to the top ones and request to speak with a representative. Note that before you terminate with your current service provider and sign with a new one, you should feel comfortable and confident with the arrangement.
Step #7: Terminate with your current service provider.
Note the term length of your contract to determine the soonest you are able to legally terminate with your current service provider. Contracts with music service providers often last for a definitive length of time—such as one year—and then may automatically continue on a yearly, quarterly or monthly basis. Some contracts offer a termination window within which you can legally terminate, and will then provide a date of official termination after which your copyrights will no longer be under their representation. Everything depends on what you negotiate and sign with a given company.
Per your contract, you may also need to provide official notice to your current service representation via certified U.S. mail. Here is a sample of what that can look like:
*Name of Your Service Provider
Re: Termination of [name agreement type], account/ID # (if applicable)
Dear [company name],
I am sending you this written notice to request termination of [our agreement] effective [date of cancellation]. I would appreciate you sending me written confirmation that the termination has been put into effect. Please initiate the necessary steps toward termination on your end, and cease charging my account for payments.
*Thank you for your attention to this matter. Awaiting your reply.
- Terminating with a Music Administrator
First, submit an email request to your current service provider, including your name, mailing address, song titles, and the reason you want to leave (optional).
If you properly follow the termination clauses of your agreement, your service provider will then need to submit a request to various organizations (the PROs, mechanical royalty collection agencies, SoundExchange, etc.) asking them to relinquish administration of your publishing royalties under the name of your current provider.
It can take some time for these various organizations to process this request. In the meantime, your royalties should not go uncollected. Until another publisher is handling your copyrights, your royalties should be paid to you through your current service provider, depending on the terms of your agreement.
Note that with a traditional music publishing agreement, it may not be as easy as sending a notification of your intent to terminate. This is because the publisher may actually own your composition copyrights, among other reasons. It is important to carefully read your contract to see whether this is the case.
Some companies make it as easy as submitting a web form in order to terminate.
- Terminating with a Digital Distributor
Depending on the terms of your agreement, it's possible that you may be able to keep your previous releases with your old digital distributor but release your new recordings through a different one. If this is the case, it can be done without a takedown notice. For example, if you have released a single through CD Baby in the past, but want to release your full-length album through DistroKid’s digital distribution service, it is not necessary to transfer the single over to DistroKid if you do not wish to do so.
However, you may want to have all your works under the same roof, so to speak, in which case you would need to take the steps to takedown and transfer them.
Terminating with a digital distributor is not as simple as clicking a “cancel” button. Your distributor will have a process in place for taking down your recordings from the various digital platforms, and this can take days or even weeks.
Again, some digital distributors offer completely web-based sign-ups and cancellations. A quick Google search: “how to cancel with _____” should point you the right way.
- Terminating with a Record Company
Terminating with a record label, unfortunately, is also not as easy as clicking “cancel” on a website. Typically, part of a record label’s business model is owning your master recordings for a set period of time and collecting revenue from them.
As such, most recording artists sign a contract with their record label transferring rights to the master recordings to the label permanently, or for a set period. Your recording contract will specify the terms and conditions for termination.
Labels will want to review the original agreement with their legal team before proceeding with any type of termination. It bears repeating that you should carefully review the recording contract yourself and consult your own experienced attorney before initiating termination with a record label.
Step #8: Sign up with a different service provider well before the date of termination from your current representative and deliver your catalog.
Signing up with a new service provider almost always involves signing a legally binding contract as the first step. Make sure you (and a copyright lawyer) read your new agreement carefully before signing it so you can best understand the terms.
Once an agreement is signed, your new copyright representative should then provide a step-by-step process by which you can transfer your metadata and they can ingest your catalog. Some provide hands-on personal assistance.
Your new representative will want to know exactly when your copyrights fall out of the legally-binding agreement you had with your previous representative (the date of termination). Have this on hand if possible.
Step #9: Work with your new representative to resolve ownership conflicts on digital platforms and collection agencies with your previous representative.
When you change who is managing your composition or sound recording assets on YouTube, SoundExchange, etc., your new copyright representative will place your assets in conflict with your previous representative. This is by music industry design—and it’s why your date of termination is so important.
Once the previous representative relinquishes ownership of your assets to your new provider, all conflicts will resolve and the money held in escrow over the date of termination will flow once again to you, this time through your new representative.
Another function of good copyright administration is clean song metadata. Keeping an accurate list of your songs along with as much information as you can gather will limit potential hold-ups and ensure as smooth a transition as possible.
Step #10: Confirm that your song catalog has successfully transferred from your previous copyright representative to your new one.
Your new copyright representative should help you confirm that your song catalog has fully transferred away from your previous representative. It is worth checking with them after a few weeks to make sure your catalog was fully ingested, that any conflicts have been resolved, and that your metadata is correct.
You may request another audit with them so you can be sure.
When in doubt, reach out for guidance from an attorney or from someone with music industry experience that you trust.
You deserve the best available representation for your creative work.