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Universal Music Group Withdraws Ownership Claim to My Song
July 14, 2018

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I was unable to collect RO (rights owner) royalties for one of my songs, because ownership to the song was being claimed by Universal Music Group, Inc. UMG's claim of ownership to my song was reported to me by SoundExchange, a company that collects and distributes royalties to musicians when their songs are played over internet and terrestrial radio. All of my songs are registered with SoundExchange.

Since I wrote and recorded the song claimed by UMG and never sold the rights to anyone, I immediately disputed the claim. SoundExchange attempted to negotiate the dispute, however, UMG did not relent. As a result, all radio royalties earned by the song would be held indefinitely by SoundExchange until the ownership dispute was settled between UMG and me.

I immediately emailed UMG with background information about the song, explained that I never sold the copyright to anyone, and asked them to settle the dispute by rescinding their claim of ownership. I waited several days, but UMG did not respond.

I then wrote a cease and desist letter and mailed it to UMG. Within a half hour of receiving the letter, UMG responded to the dispute by rescinding their claim of ownership to my song. [PDF copy of the letter.]

It is now up to SoundExchange to accept the dispute settlement and pay me my due royalties.

How UMG came to claim ownership of my song is a mystery to me. My guess is that a radio station somewhere along the way made a clerical error by reporting my song to SoundExchange as cover of another artist's song by the same name which is owned by UMG. When the song ownership went into dispute, UMG probably realized the song they owned by that name was not my song, however, assuming I was probably a typical independent musician who would not pursue legal action, they simply ignored the matter. When they received my C&D letter, they realized their assumption was wrong.

Had UMG not complied with my demands in the C&D letter, would I have taken them to court? Absolutely. They obviously have a lot more lawyers than I do, and the process would have been very costly, but this was a clear case of intellectual property theft. No one is going to get away with stealing a song from me. Recording covers of my songs is fine and even encouraged, but claiming to own them is a different matter entirely.

My View on Awards Considerations for Positively Polka
June 20, 2018

Since distributing my new album to DJs, fellow musicians, and other professionals in the polka music industry last week, I've been overwhelmingly requested to submit my album to various polka organizations for music awards nominations. I am both humbled and flattered by these sentiments, because I hold the opinion of my fellow musicians in high esteem.

My personal feeling, however, is that I create music to bring enjoyment to people – not to garner trophies. The only accolades that mean anything to me are the personal compliments and words of encouragement I receive from those who listen to my albums. Twenty years ago, I would not have hesitated submitting my music for awards consideration, but now that I've grown a little older, trying to win awards is just not my style. A plaque telling me my music is a winner may look good on a résumé, but it's not going to make my music sound any better.

One friend, however, brought up a valid point in favor of submitting Positively Polka for awards: I'm not the only musician on it. I have to admit, I never looked at it from that angle before. I am extremely proud of the talent that Abby, Mollie, and all the other vocalists and musicians contributed to my album, and I would never do anything to prevent them from receiving the recognition they so rightly deserve. So here is my official stance on the subject:

I will not personally submit Positively Polka for any music awards, however, anyone else who appeared on the album has my permission to do so, and I will support their decision 100%.

Having a Ball in Nassau?
June 18, 2018

I received this photo the other day. Can you guess who sent it? Here's a hint: It came from someone who was apparently decorating the dance hall with Old Style cans.

Do You Copy CDs?
June 4, 2018

I am often asked whether or not there are ways for bands to prevent their CDs from being copied and illegally distributed. Unfortunately, there is no way prevent it. Despite copyright laws and protections, audio CDs can be copied almost as easily as documents these days. Most of the copying is being done by people who either don't fully understand that what they're doing is illegal, or they do understand it's illegal but they're out of touch with the impact of their actions.

Below is some information regarding the copying of compact discs. Some of it is based on laws, and some of it is based on practical, acceptable scenarios regarding intellectual property rights and accountability.

When you come into possession of a band's CD, whether you purchased it or received it as a gift, what you're actually receiving is a single-user license to enjoy the music on that CD. You can listen to it at home, in your car, on your computer, or on your portable music devices. You can rip the songs from the CD to put on your MP3 player, and you can even keep the CD at home and burn a copy of it for your car or boat.

What you absolutely cannot do, however, is make copies of the music on that CD for anyone other than yourself. You cannot copy the CD for a friend or make digital copies of the music and distribute them in any way. That is the law.

If you decide later on that you'd like to sell the compact disc at a rummage sale or on eBay, you must delete all of your copies of the music from that CD from your computers and MP3 players, and you must destroy any CD copies you've made for yourself. When the CD transfers to a new owner, so does the license to enjoy the music on that CD.

When someone makes an unauthorized copy of a recording for someone else, it's called pirating. Piracy affects all aspects of the audio and video recording business, but grass-roots bands, such as polka bands, are affected the hardest; their market is typically very small to begin with, which means every CD sale is an important one. When you buy a CD from a polka band, chances are you're merely helping them pay off their enormous recording expenses as they aim to break even.

Recording an album is expensive. Studio time, talent fees, licensing, and manufacturing costs typically add up to several thousand dollars. 100% of those expenses must be recovered through album sales.

If you think making a few copies of a band's CD can't hurt, here's some food for thought. Shortly after I released my Polka Pontoon CD in 2014, practically every musician I ran into had a copy of it, and yet, very few of them were registered sales. Most of those musicians openly admitted they received burned CD copies from other musicians. I estimate that there are literally more illegal copies of that CD in existence than legal copies.

There are a handful musicians who purchased legal copies in bulk to give away to their friends and fellow musicians, and if it weren't for them, I would have ended up taking a bath on the project. Nonetheless, the losses to piracy were so damaging that I would never risk making a second volume.

Since the pirating of CDs can't be prevented, my purpose for writing this article is to help deter it. Now that you understand the impact you have when you make an illegal copy of a band's album, I'm hoping that you'll think twice and choose not to do it. The polka bands who are still recording and releasing albums are selling to a market that's much smaller than it was just fifteen years ago. They need every dollar from every sale just to reach their goal of breaking even. Please don't take a single sale away from them. Support your local bands by purchasing only legal copies of their CDs.

A Few Words for Those of Us Who are Third and Fourth Generation Fans of Polka Music
May 21, 2018

It's generally been accepted that we were all born a few decades too late since we missed the heyday of Polka music. When we talk about the "Polka greats" we typically name musicians who thrived in the 50's, 60's and 70's. The best musicians of that era became household names because Polka music was so popular at the time. Although the popularity of Polka music is just a fraction of what it once was, there's something that absolutely cannot be overlooked about the time we're living in now:

Being a music producer means I get to work one-on-one in the recording studio with some of the best singers and musicians around. After working once again with Abby Broeniman, Mollie Busta, and David Austin on the production of my latest CD, and being privy to their level of proficiency behind a studio microphone, I am convinced that while the heyday of Polka and it's biggest names have long passed, some of the higest-caliber talent in the history of the genre is living and working in our generation.

We will always remember and cherish the bands and musicians of the past, and we may long for the by-gone days of overcrowded Polka clubs on every street corner, but when we go out to hear some of the bands performing today, such as Barefoot Becky, Gary Bruggen, Klancnik and Friends, and Steve Meisner to name a few, we're not just hearing the best polka music available today; we're hearing polka music as good as it's ever been.

Whenever we wish we could step back into the 1960's to catch Johnny Pecon or Eddie Blazonczyk in concert, let's not take for granted that we need only look to our current generations of musicians and vocalists to find equivalent greatness. Popularity adheres to a time clock. Talent does not.

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