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500,000 views Lessons from YouTube

The Gifford Children's Choir has had tremendous success recently at getting media attention.  I posted a video of the choir to YouTube and we are just about to break 500,000 hits.   Key to the success is first off to have a musical performance that will be interesting to people all over the world, second is to work to learn what forums attract people that would find that selection interesting.   Our piece was from a video game so getting it posted to the major video gaming sites was essential to our success.   Find the forums, sign up for them well in advance of the release of your video, become familiar with the technical language that exists on many of these sites, be honestly respectful and interested in the medium you are using, and tell everyone you know to check out your video.   Get your students and parents involved. My greatest resource was my teenage son who held the reigns in this endeavor.  Don't be afraid to think outside of the box and respect the knowledge the younger generation has mastered.   If you come off as manipulative no one will respect you on any forum.  
     Use facebook and other social networking sites to also help get the word out.  I would suggest setting up a general Facebook account that you friend everyone to and a second you keep more selectively so that you can actually enjoy it.   Any site that has searchable content can play to your advantage.  get familiar with Twitter so that you can see how people search for content . 
      Blogging has become a way of life for me and the parents of my students.  My parents check the blog several times a week and frequently post comments.  The blog has given me the opportunity to voice my concerns, seek assistance, complement the choir and the volunteers and to work toward developing a booster club.  It has given me a place to keep many documents that I might otherwise misplace such as rosters, calendars, deadlines etc.  When something is really time sensitive using email is a better way to let the parents know about sudden changes in rehearsal schedules or emergency cancellations.  When traveling with a group, a blog is a great way to let worried families know that their children are OK or to share pics of the choir.  It is also a great way to put your videos in order for viewing.   Don't worry about having to check for comments you can set it so that they show up in your email.  you can control who can post as well.  If you choose to, you can make the comments people post await your moderation.   There are also very interesting statistics that are fun and valuable to watch.  Wordpress not only tells you how many times people looked at your blog, but also which post they read.  
    I am still a noob at all of this.  However I see the potential of the tools our children take for granted while many of us put aside as unnecessary.  Here are some of our links and some other useful ones:
    Our primary parent communication blog:
    Our new publicity site:
    Our YouTube channel:
    search Jack Senzig on Facebook
see our latest cover of "Still Alive"
                         cover of "Acapella"
                         cover of "Telephone"
                         Three commissioned pieces
Replies (13): Threaded | Chronological
on May 18, 2010 7:28pm
   I was really impressed with your choir's performance of "Still Alive" when I ran across it on YouTube, and my video-game-crazy daughter thought that arranging that song for children's choir was absolutely ideal.
   I'd love to know who did your arrangement, and how you obtained permission from Jonathan Coulter and Lady Gaga to arrange their songs for your choir.  I would like to create an arrangement of a currently popular song for a group I work with, but I'm concerned about copyright and showing respect for the songwriter.  He does have a website, so of course I could try to contact him directly, but I wondering if I need to go through a rights-clearance agency.
   Congrats on your 500,000 views.  The choir is totally worth it!
    Nancy Curry
    freelance vocal coach and music director 
on May 19, 2010 8:59am
Hi, Nancy. You are right to question the copyright status of ANY such currently-popular songs. The best rule of thumb to follow is that ANY song you want to perform probably belongs to someone, and you need permission to do anything with it. The exceptions (under U.S. law) are very tightly written and restrictive.
And there is no "rights-clearance agency" for making "derivative works" (which is the legalese for "arrangements." You can automatically get permission by paying for it for public performance (ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC) or for recording (Harry Fox Agency), but permission to arrange must be individually negotiated with the individual copyright owners, and they have the right to say yes, or no, or to charge whatever they feel like.
That said, most published arrangements have this covered because publishers could not take a chance on NOT having it covered. Self-published or custom arrangements tend to be a different story, and a good many arrangers don't bother to get permission because they have no intention of selling or distributing their arrangements, but simply intend them for their own ensembles. That's a fine line, and one that the law does NOT recognize, but it's a fact of life for many arrnagers--and especially for jazz arrangers. One major exception is the women's barbershop arrangements available through Sweet Adelines, Inc. They are fanatic about complying with the copyright law, and are set up to help their approved arrangers apply for permission and remit the per-copy royalties on their arrangements.
All the best,
on May 19, 2010 1:26pm
 If you get a mechanical license for a recording (which they can't reject), that includes an implied permission to arrange. Section 115(a)(2) of the U.S. copyright law says:
(2) A compulsory license includes the privilege of making a musical arrangement of the work to the extent necessary to conform it to the style or manner of interpretation of the performance involved, but the arrangement shall not change the basic melody or fundamental character of the work, and shall not be subject to protection as a derivative work under this title, except with the express consent of the copyright owner.
I would assume that "style or manner of interpretation" would include arranging a solo song for chorus.
on May 19, 2010 2:29pm
Exactly right, Allen, and this automatically creates a real gray area:  does the permission to make a "musical arrangement" for recording imply (because it certainly does not state) that the arrangement may be performed live, a separate right under U.S. law?  There's no question that this provision goes directly against the overall ban on making "derivative works" without permission.
And I would not assume that arranging a solo song for chorus would not be acceptable.  The "fundamental character of the work" seems to me to involve the stylistic approach rather than the exact forces being arranged for.  This quote does, however, make it clear that the ownership of the arrangement is NOT vested in the arranger, but remains the property of the copyright owner of the original copyrighted work.
A good example of this in action is the music of Irving Berlin.  He really like the arrangements done by Fred Waring's stable of excellent arrangers, because they didn't mess up his music but rather showcased it.  Changing a ballad to an up-tempo rock version, on the other hand, really WOULD change the "fundamental character" of the work, as did EVERY arrangement on an album called, I think, "Red, Hot & Cole."
on May 24, 2010 6:10pm
      See my more general comments below but specifically to answer the arranging question, I transcribed the pieces and then arranged them a bit to make them work for my choir.  I would contact the copyright owner for the piece you want to arrange first but I wouldn't expect a response.   Listen to the advice of the others that posted here and make a decision as to what you are comfortable with.   Valve could have our video taken down at any minute but that just isn't going to happen.  
Hope this and my other reply are helpful to you.
on May 24, 2010 6:43am
I'm hoping that Jack will come back to this topic and answer Nancy's question about "how (he) obtained permission from Jonathan Coulter and Lady Gaga to arrange their songs for (his) choir." I'll drop him a PM.
David T
on May 24, 2010 5:58pm
              You guys are seriously over thinking this.  You are all absolutely right in the letter of the law but not in what publishers and copyright owners want.  When it comes to YouTube the rule of the day is if they don't like it, they'll take it down.   I asked permission for Still Alive from Jonathan Coulton who sent me to Valve who owns the copyright.   I emailed Valve several times to ask permission and they did not respond.  They have gotten 500,000 people to think about their video game for free.  I'm sure they love what we did for them especially since they have a new version of the video game coming out in December.  I emailed Pure Records to get permission to arrange, perform and post on YouTube one of the Kate Rusby pieces that I have up on YouTube.  I also asked them if they would sell me a mechanical license for 500 copies as I hoped to sell a CD containing their song to my children's parents.  They actually laughed about the YouTube request saying that no one had ever asked permission before and said i could make Cd's for a fundraiser for the choir if I wanted without paying.  
                   I am a huge supporter of copyright laws.  I rarely make illegal photocopies and usually order the music later.  I don't burn copies of music for my own use except when trying to find something new. If I like it I buy it from Itunes or the store.  If I use someone's copyrighted material I ask first.  If I was told "No" I wouldn't use it.   If I use someone's copyrighted material in a concert where I do not charge admission and make no money from it, I try to help out the copyright owner in some financial way.  I bought Jonathan Coulton's album off of LaLa even though he doesn't officially own the copyright.  I bought Kate Rusby's songbook and all of her albums from her website and Itunes.  Some of you may think I'm simply justifying and I guess I am, but all you are doing is promoting their works.  I am sure more copies of Still Alive have been purchased because of what I did.  It is a win-win.
     Here is my suggestion for anyone who wants to cover a popular song.   First of all, ask permission.  When you don't get a response, go ahead and cover the song but accept the possibility that the copyright owner may take it down if you put it up on YouTube or other similar sites.  Put it on SchoolTube if you only want your community to see it. Don't make any serious money off of it.  If youtube offers revenue sharing, don't sign up.   Go through the proper channels if you are going to sell CD's to anyone but your own student's families and even then you should still try to get a license.   Do something to generate income for the copyright holder such as suggest families buy their albums and put a link on your blog and purchase the print and recorded versions yourself.  If you want the legal route follow the advice of the people above.  If you want to stay within what is done a million times a day on YouTube follow my suggestions.  I would much rather put "Used by permission" at the bottom of anything I use but it just doesn't seem to work that way.  Pure Records is the only company that has ever responded to my emails requesting copyright permissions.  
on July 1, 2010 1:35pm
Based on recent rulings, Jack is right in that the current court leaning is that copyright holders can decide whether the copyright infringement hurts or helps them.  If they determine that it is detrimental to their business, they'll complain.  If they decide that, "Hey, that'll sell copies" or "That doesn't hurt us"; they will do nothing.  Therefore Youtube has developed a policy that is "If the copyright holder complains, we'll take it down".
What this means for us in the choral business is this: We do not need to be the police for copyright holders. Not only do they own the copyright, but they also own the right to complain or not complain.  For us to become dogged enforcers of the copyright law is to place us somewhere in the vicinity of the 1st century Pharisees, who believed that they knew better than God what God wanted. For practical purposes, this means:
1) Practice files for your choir which help choirs sing the music better will help spread good music and assist publishers.  If a publisher wishes to take offense at an online practice file because it (according to the letter of the law) is a copyright violation, so be it.  You take it down, and don't perform the piece.  No one else hears it, and the piece does not sell as many copies as it might have.
2) Audio and Video recordings of music are more difficult because if you throw a crappy performance of a piece of music onto YouTube; it could actually hurt a copyright holder. But (and this is totally my opinion based on personal experience with 3-4 vocal pop pieces I've arranged for my groups in which I contacted the copyright holders) I believe that  most pop performers are flattered that you like their musc enough to have your singers perform it and most of them (the pop stars)  began their careers under the guidance of people like us.
So, is it a copyright violation? Yes. But it has been recognized and ruled that copyright laws have not and cannot keep up with the changing face of technology. If a copyright holder decides to take offense and enforce the law, we must comply.  If they decide it is not worth their time or that the violation actually works to their benefit; they will allow the infringement to occur.
on July 2, 2010 6:00am
Jim - I agree with much of your post, but not all. Here's why:
Choral publishers (and other copyright holders on choral music) are "small fish" and tend to be much less able than the larger publishers to track down and deal with copyright infringements. Therefore, just because they haven't yet complained about a violation doesn't necessarily mean that they've decided that the YouTube videos are OK. Taking the philosophy of "it's not a problem unless they complain" into another arena, then I guess it's OK for me to steal a car off the local Ford dealer's lot and drive it around until they complain? I'd be giving them free advertising/exposure of their product while driving it around, so they should be OK with that, because it will sell more Fords. :-)
What do you mean by practice files? Many groups consider "practice files" to be copies of commerial recordings of the works that they burn to CDs and distribute to their singers. That's obviously illegal (by avoiding purchase of the commercial recordings), yes? But I think you're probably referring to things like "part-predominant" recordings made by the conductor or his/her designee, and I agree that those are beneficial not only to the ensemble, but if they result in more and better performances of  a work, then they surely benefit the copyright owners by promoting the music.
As for audio/video recordings on YouTube, I think that the ethical thing for someone to do is to attempt to contact the copyright holder and obtain permission. Most of the choral publishers have copyright departments/contacts for communications with people seeking various types of permissions. It's their intellectual property, so trying to ask permission seems to be the right thing to do. Putting the burden on them to somehow discover all such recordings online isn't fair.
on September 12, 2010 4:40pm
Holy cow James, thanks for the link to the news article.  This makes me breathe easier about my choirbragblog.  I have been linking videos by category to help choir directors find new-to-them repertoire.  I try to find the publisher and octavo number and post ordering info.  It would seem I am presently protected.  Thanks.
on July 2, 2010 5:40am
Jack - thanks for the details and your good advice (I didn't notice that you had responded until now).
on September 12, 2010 4:27pm
I didn't see that this discussion has continued.  
I have some new info for you.  YouTube has united with Warner and UMG (Universal Music Group) and implemented a massive automatic search bot that seeks out copyright infringement.  It has taken down thousands of covers of popular songs and synced uses.  For some it simply puts an ad on the video telling where the actual song can be downloaded (such as itunes).  
Here is a funny example: This guy used a queen song to accompany his I hate UMG video and they put an ad to download the song on his video!  Lol You can protest a takedown and there are video tutorials on YouTube to help.
I think putting ads on the video is a great solution and i hope that becomes the norm.  I am also pursuing the issue of how to get a license to put things on YouTube as it does not seem to be covered by BMI or ASCAP (for print and performance licenses) or Harry Fox Agency (for mechanical licensing).  I am considering writing my masters thesis in part on this topic to develop an easy how to tutorial for staying on the right side of the law in a digital age.   Wish me luck.
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