A guide to leasing and buying online. What to expect and what pitfalls to avoid.

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In the last two years, leasing beats and instrumentals on the internet has become an accepted way for artists and singers to get instrumentals, and good business for music producers. There’s a huge selection of leasing websites to choose from, some of them very reputable. If you’re thinking of leasing a beat (from the smoothbeats site or otherwise,) take 2 minutes to read this article. I’ll try to explain how leasing works, and what traps you can fall into…

What exactly is a lease?

Essentially, you’re buying the “right” or permission to use the beat from the producer.
Here’s how it works.

1. The producer creates the beat and uploads it to a website.

2. The artist (that’s you!) downloads the beat from the website, paying a one-off fee. This is the license fee.

3. The artist writes a song to the beat and records it at home, or in the studio.

4. The artist can use the finished track (instrumental + song) in anyway he or she sees fit, usually for a demo or uploading to the internet, sometimes a full blown album release. The artist has the right to collect all royalties (more on this below) from any sales of the finished track.

The above is a typical example. There are other ways to use a leased beat. Directors and actors often lease beats for use in videos and films, especially those aimed at online distribution.

What about royalties?

Royalties are payments made to artists, song writers and producers for the use of their music, and sales of records.

Ideally, when you buy a lease to use a beat, the producer will agree to waive any royalties that he or she would otherwise be entitled to. When a producer creates a beat, he or she automatically has the copyright for that piece of music and would normally expect to receive royalty payments for it’s use.

Ask the producer if he or she would be willing to sign a “royalty release form” so that any future royalties would go to you, the artist. Remember, the producer’s payment is the license fee and the right to re-license the instrumental.

Who owns the beat?

In the case of a lease, the ownership (a.k.a copyright) remains with the producer. This way, the producer can supply other artists with a lease to use the same beat. Its a win-win for both the artist and producer. The artist gets the use of the beat without paying hundreds of dollars, and the producer can derive an income from his or her work.

What can I do with a lease?

Usually, anything! However, many producers place restrictions on the lease – more on that below. The only thing you can’t do is re-sell the beat as an instrumental. In other-words, you have to add vocals or use the beat as part of a video.

Things to look for when leasing a beat.

1. The agreement.

Most websites have some form of agreement governing beat use. It’s important that you have a look at this before parting with your hard earned cash. The agreement governs the relationship between the producer and the artist in respect of the use of the beat.

Some producers will supply you paperwork. Other sites, (like smoothbeatsonly.com) use a system similar to downloadable software. Using this system, before clicking on a download link, you “agree” to a set of terms and conditions.

Make sure that the lease agreement can be viewed on the producer’s website prior to purchasing a lease.

2. Length of Lease.

Most artists rightly assume that once they’ve leased a beat, they’re free to use it forever. Some producers restrict the length of time that an artist can use the beat for – sometimes as little as two years. There’s no reason at all for a producer to place these restrictions on leases – unless he or she is looking to up-sell you to another product..

3. Restrictions on use

Some producers place restrictions on what you can use your completed track (beat + your song) for. For example, they may restrict use to demos only, or a certain number internet downloads or CD pressings. Why? Who knows. Make sure you check before you plan a 5 year world tour…

4. Have any samples been cleared by the producer?

A sample is an audio extract of another record (often classic and famous tracks) that’s used as part of another track.

Copyright and ownership of an original sample is likely to be held by the original artist or record label, and they won’t have given the producer permission to use the beat. Some producers attempt to get around this problem by suggesting that the artist “pursue the right with the original copyright holders to use the sample” – in other-words, hand you the responsibility.

This is rubbish. The producer should never sell you a leased beat for which he or she does not own 100% of the copyright.

This is mainly a problem with hip-hop beats, but can affect other genres as well.
If the beat you’re considering leasing contains an obvious sample, the producer may well be breaking the law distributing the track in the first place.

If you’ll forgive me a quick plug, all beats from the smoothbeatsonly site are sample free.

5. Use of sample CDs, sound libraries, loops and virtual instruments in the beats.

This is an issue which is rarely covered by producers, but is as important as copyright clearance for samples.

When a producer creates a beat, he or she often uses sounds or loops taken from sound libraries designed for music production. For example, the snare drum on a beat might come from “Phat Hip-Hop Drum Kits Volume 3.” You get the picture.

Each one of these sound libraries have a license agreement (familiar yet?) which covers the use of the sounds within musical productions.

Not all sound library agreements allow the use of their sounds in leased beats. If a producer leases you a beat containing “uncleared” sounds, they’re breaking the law.

For example. I recently purchased a sound library of guitar recordings for use in my musical productions. I had to apply for a “special license” from the library vendor in order to use the sounds within leased beats.

The moral? Make sure that your chosen producer knows the licensing laws for his or her chosen sounds!

6. What about tracked out files?

Tracked out files, otherwise known as “Multi-Tracks” are a way of supplying a beat broken down into it’s constituent instrument files. So, the producer will supply a single file for each instrument featured in the arrangement. With the right software, the artist can re-mix the levels of each instrument, add parts and modify the beat in a variety of ways.

If a producer offers multi-tracks, pay close attention to point 5 above! If a producer is supplying multi-tracks for a leased beat, there’s a very good chance that he or she is distributing files from sample CD’s and sound libraries illegally – probably without knowing it. In effect, they are re-distributing the sounds and samples in their original “raw” form – which is expressively forbidden by most sound library agreements.

If the producer has created their sounds from scratch, then you’re good to go. Make sure you check with the producer beforehand. If they can’t answer this question, think twice.

Hopefully, you’re now armed with a little more information about leasing. If you’ve got any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me!

Posted in Artists, Websites