How to strike a winning note in music industry

Knowing the moving parts of the business is vital if an artist is ever to truly succeed

The Irish music industry is said to be worth over €470 million annually to the economy. It supports around 11,500 jobs across the island, both directly and indirectly. We’re renowned around the world for our musical talent.

It crosses all genres: Rory Gallagher is still shifting a large quantity of blues albums, Sir James Galway and John Feeley continue to grace the world's concert stages, while U2 are still selling out stadiums and arenas across the globe. Following in their footsteps is a cohort of young, aspiring musicians who want to make as great an impact around the world as their predecessors did.

But they will do so in an environment where record sales in Ireland are falling dramatically. In the four years leading up to 2012, recorded music sales saw a decrease of 56 per cent, a fall of €40 million, while digital music sales only surpassed €13 million.

On a global scale, in 2000, record sales totalled €23 billion; last year they were $13 billion.

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So what must an eager, young musician do to make the most of their time as an artist and what guidelines must they follow?

Alan Murray, a tax consultant for many indigenous and international acts, says that managing your tax returns is key for any musician starting off in the industry.

“It is important that you establish your compliance obligations at an early stage. Failure to do so can result in fixed penalties being imposed by Revenue,” he says.

If you are in receipt of money from events or promoters, even if you’re in a loss-making position, you still may have to file a tax return.

Exemption

Ireland is one of the few countries that have an “artists exemption” for income tax. This exempts certain artists from paying income tax on their first €50,000 received.

Revenue state that artists fall under the scheme if their work includes: a book or other writing, a play, a musical composition, a painting or a sculpture.

“Every artist who’s already established or who’s just starting out should absolutely contact Revenue to see if they qualify for the exemption,” Murray says.

He also emphasises that VAT must be paid by every performer who has charged for a service.

In general, a VAT- registered performer will issue a VAT invoice for the fee amount and charge VAT at the standard rate on the full amount of that fee.

“VAT is a complex thing, but it still has to be paid,” he says.

Eileen Gorman, a solicitor specialising in intellectual property laws, says that if you're a single artist or in a band, you should quickly Google your band's name to ensure nobody else is using it. If the name remains unused, it costs only €70 to apply to trademark your name.

“It’s hugely important for artists. If you have a European trademark, you can shut down vendors who sell illegal merchandise outside of concerts and venues,” she says. “It’s absolutely essential.”

Gorman also says Ireland’s inclusion in the Berne Convention is an advantage to artists who plan to produce at home or abroad.

Ireland, along with 168 other countries, signed the Berne Convention, which requires its members to recognise the works of authors and artists from other member countries in the same way is it recognises its indigenous artists.

For example, Irish copyright law applies to anything published or performed in Ireland, regardless of where it was originally created.

Gorman empathises that a band is not a legal entity and she advises all emerging bands to set up a formal contract to avoid infighting and conflict further down the line. “A band is not as legal entity. It doesn’t set out your legal rights. You can either set up a partnership agreement or set up a company. There’s so much information available from Imro (Irish Music Rights Organisation),” she says.

Internet

But how does copyright law translate to the internet? In Ireland, more often than not, a “notify and take down” approach is adopted. This means that if an artist’s material is being carried on a service (eg Youtube advertisements), and the rights of the owner of the material are infringed, the service provider will be asked and often obliged to remove the material as soon as possible.

There are companies that assist independent musicians, labels and content creators to monetise their videos without sacrificing creative control or rights to their content. INDMusic is one of these companies.

It collects money on behalf of its clients and administers their rights on the video- sharing websites such as Youtube. The firm rose to fame back in 2013 when Baauer's Harlem Shake was a viral phenomenon. The Harlem Shake videos involved one or a handful of people dancing in place to one song, then the video erupts into groups of people breaking out into spontaneous dance.

Such was the success of the craze that it essentially launched INDMusic to become one of Youtube’s largest music networks. The firm, along with YouTube’s automated ContendID, has manually claimed thousands of user-uploaded videos featuring the song.

However, the service has come under fire. Irish musician Gavin Dunne has expressed his dismay at INDmusic's actions, revealing he has received a plethora of emails attacking him for making copyright claims, despite having not done so.

“Hey @indmusic could you please stop putting copyright claims for my songs ON MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL. Thanks,” he tweeted.

If an artist is to ever truly succeed, they will at some point need to understand the moving parts of the music industry. Knowing your tax rights, registering your trademark and setting out a formal agreement between band members are crucial. You will avoid a ton of regret and starting over if you can gain as much knowledge as possible early on.