Tony Tobias has worked in the cultural industries in Canada for more than 35 years, in the fields of music and media rights management, among others. His publishing company is Pangaea Media & Music Inc., and he’s a member of SOCAN’s Board of Directors. Saukrates is a veteran, Juno-nominated Canadian rapper, singer, and record producer who co-founded Capitol Hill Music, and sings in the group Big Black Lincoln. He’s also a member of Redman’s Gilla House collective, and has worked with K-os and Nelly Furtado. Here, they discuss publishing in hip-hop music.

Tony Tobias:
If you’re a hip-hop songwriter, you should be concerned about what you own of the copyright, which translates into multiple potential revenue streams. Some hip-hop producers don’t have a great handle on what music publishing is. The producer contributes to the master track, but the recording is a different entity to the song, so we have to differentiate – they’re separate as far as copyright is concerned.

There are also different types of producers. The producer-as-investor tells the artist, “I didn’t write the song, but because you can’t pay me, I’m proposing that you put me on the song as a co-writer, so I can benefit from airplay – that might be my only revenue.” Here, the artist retains copyright, as he or she does when working with the producer-as-arranger – or beat-maker – who comes up with beats for the song the artist has created. As an artist, don’t let that producer convince you that they have now co-written a song. The producer-as-composer actually has ideas as a musician and collaborates with the artist on the actual writing of the music, with a clear understanding that they are co-writing and sharing copyright.

In a writing-room situation, before you start, say, “OK, everybody in the room is cool with the fact that this is a collaboration/co-songwriting thing here, and before we leave the room we’ll agree about who contributed what, and here’s the sheet that we’ll all sign, basically accepting the percentage that we agreed.”

These days the lines get blurred between beat-makers and producers. The more talented beat-makers play a huge role in putting a song through the roof. They can take some of the producer credit, or share it, because they have taken it that far.

A lot of times, new beat-makers get opportunities on a mixtape, which nowadays is just putting your music out there so people can get a feel for what you do. So in that case they might say, “You can use it for a minimal amount, but it’s non-exclusive” – and they’ll retain their publishing, and reap the long-term benefit. Two years later, you call the beat-maker again, and it’s not the same: you can’t use this piece of music for nothing, non-exclusively or exclusively. It’s a battle. It’s war out there!
Up-and-comers don’t even think about the red tape before they go in the studio. That’s something for all veterans to take note of, to keep it loose and be free with it and deal with it all afterwards. If it don’t fly, you find a way to change it, to replace the sample or said musician. The sky’s the limit.