Saturday, 13 August 2016 for Classical Music "Cover Songs"

Since several years I have published some of my music renditions on CD Baby, which has allowed me to bring this music to sites like iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and others, either as myself (e.g. iTunes, Amazon) or as Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra (e.g. iTunes, Amazon). I do like CD Baby because of the one flat fee that is to be paid when submitting music recordings for publication. No annual fee occurs, only a small fraction of the royalties is kept by CD Baby to cover expenses. This seemed to me more reasonable than paying an annual fee for the low number of listeners which my renditions attract. All these recording are either in public domain (composer dead for more than 70 years), or I hold the copyright on my own compositions.

A few weeks ago I found on the CD Baby a link to the service, and I was wondering what that was - so I checked it out. Turns out this is another music publishing site. It was recently acquired by CD Baby, hence the link to this competitor on their site. But LOUDR has one additional feature: it provides licensing for cover songs. This is a big deal: Finally I would be able to tap into the rich oevre of more recent composers such as Kodaly, Prokofiev and others. Licencing their music for my own "performance renditions" had been cumbersome: I would have to purchase a number of mechanical licenses ahead of the publication time and then would have to continuously track the downloads. I am also not sure if streaming would need a mechanical license. So all of this prevented me from publishing compositions by these copyrighted composers - really a pity. But LOUDR offers the capability of including a "cover" license for publishing such music. A "cover song" is any music which was written by a composer and is now performed by someone other than the composer. This terminology is of course more targeted towards popular music with its songs, but the principles also apply to classical music. Any music by a composer whose death occurred not more than 70 years ago is copyrighted, and any recording of this music requires a mechanical license. So I gave this music publication at LOUDR a try, and here are my experiences.

Excellent: Low Cost

LOUDR does not charge any up-front fee, which for an album at CD Baby is $49 (sometimes with a special offer reduced to $29). LOUDR also does not charge for the UPC code, which at other sites (e.g. CD Baby) costs $20. So this is a great upfront-savings. LOUDR charges a 15% fee of the purchase price for each sold track. If this is a cover song, the fee goes up: $0.091 for songs shorter than 5 minutes, and $0.0175 per minute for longer songs. This is then included in the fee that is subtracted from the revenue of each purchase. Details are given on their website. There are some additional fees for payment and for external sites, but in the examples given for a $10 album, the earnings paid out to the music creator are between $4.26 and $8.00 for each sold album. Since there is no up-front fee, there is also no pressure to create albums with many songs to make the best out of this fee. Instead one can opt to submit singles and therefore have more frequent releases.

Excellent: Attribution to Contributors

When entering the data for each track, LOUDR allows to specify a variety of contributors: arranger, composer, conductor, performer, remixer, soloist, vocal percussionist, and "featuring". This allows really to give appropriate credit to all contributors. For classical music it is especially relevant to distinguish between composer, conductor and performer. It is then also straightforward to indicate the original copyright holder (for classical music that is usually the composer).

Not so good: Classical Music Titles

Classical music faced always difficulties in the online music culture where in most cases the "artist" is the band/singer and the composer together. This is all ok when labelling for example the song "Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles: the title is clear, and the artist is "The Beatles". But indicating a classical music artist is more complex: there is the composer, then the performing orchestra and the conductor. Who should then be named as "the artist", as the meta data fields for online music require? There seems to be no real consensus - I have seen versions where "Smetana" is given as the artist for "The Moldau", but I have also seen this title as "Smetana: The Moldau" and then the artist would be the conductor - or the orchestra. To fight this chaos regarding the naming of classical music titles, the online music distributors such as Amazon, Spotify and Apple have apparently defined some standards on how such classical music track titles are to be named. One requirement is that the name of the composer should NOT be in the title.
This is all fine, but LOUDR has applied even more stringent requirements of the title. This is specified in their Style Guide which can be downloaded on their web site. This guide specifies for the track titles:

"Song titles must be formatted as
[Name of Work] in [Key], [Catalog Number]: [Movement Number]. [Movement Title]
For example:
Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67: I. Allegro con brio"

This is fine for most classical music before 1900. Newer music, however, often is not given with a key or a catalog number. If a title does not correspond to this strict scheme, LOUDR rejects it. I tried it with Zoltan Kodaly's "Dances of Galanta": I gave the correct original Hungarian title with translation: "Galántai táncok (Dances of Galánta)", without key and catalog number, as this is not shown in the score nor in any reference to this composition, but it was refused several times by the strict LOUDR upload system which seems to either operate automatically or is done just by someone screening for this specific required format. Only when finally someone from the support team responded to my request, then they did go ahead with the finalisation of the submission.
I would recommend that someone with a knowledge of the classical music repertoire would screen those titles and could then decide if the title is properly formatted. The current approach only adds unnecessary delays.

Customer Support, well...

LOUDR claims that their customer support would respond within 48 hours. But they appear to be overwhelmed, and I had to wait for responses to my emails a few days longer. They are very friendly and helpful, so I have no complaints there. But the long delay just adds to the whole publication process time. It may be also because the response is simply through email. CD Baby does have a similar approach via email, and I believe this adds to the delay time because email needs to be filtered for spam. I can imagine that their public email address gets a lot of spam mail, and therefore the processing of regular mails takes longer. I would suggest that they replace their email support system with a kind of forum with registration and login, to avoid the spam filter issues. Also they should have some support on weekends, to avoid that long backlog on Mondays coming from weekend-artists such as myself.

Overall this is a great and very promising site, and after the "Dances of Galanta" I have already another 20th century classical music treasure in the pipeline - hopefully the title issue will have been sorted out soon, because again this composition has no catalog number and therefore has already been rejected once ...

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