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All art is not entertainment,
and all entertainment is not art.

The overly romanticized stereotype of the flighty- disorganized- tortured- misunderstood artist self-destructing in a hotel room does not behoove anyone except Hollywood screenwriters.
Do not get so eloquent talking the talk that you forget to walk the walk.




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Copyright 101 Basics

By Laura Kessler

Avoid the So-Called "Copyright Brokers" and Do It Yourself!

Lately you may have noticed the increasing online presence of organizational entities offering to copyright your songs for you for fees ranging anywhere from $75-$150. While there are certainly legitimate services artists should outsource to PR companies and agents, in my opinion copyrighting should never be one of them for a variety of reasons.

First, the fee to copyright a song is only $45 regardless of who registers it. Anything above and beyond that is a "service fee" and it will literally take the same amount of time to tell the broker the required information as it would for you to easily print it yourself. Second, a copyright is a privately held public record that will belong to you and your heirs potentially. Would you outsource and entrust a total stranger the task of depositing your paycheck at an ATM? I didn't think so. There are just certain legal and financial details we need to take personal responsibility for to ensure they are managed correctly. I have even heard some upsetting horror stories of one of these organizations copyrighting songs in the name of the organization, not the author, and then charging ongoing fees for "renewal" and such nonsense.

For all of the above reasons, my advice as always is self-reliance and personal responsibility for artists. Frankly, anyone too lazy to learn how to copyright their own works is probably going to have far worse problems during their career as a result!

How to Copyright a Song Yourself:

The Copyright Office at the U.S. Library of Congress charges $45 per song. Period. And yes, you should register if you take yourself seriously as an artist. Usually what you will need to fill out for a standard song is a form called the "Short Form PA." It is at most a 2-3 page handwritten form of which most of what you fill in is your address a few times, name of artist, song title, year of creation, and check the appropriate boxes if you are copyrighting music, lyrics, or both. Easy! Now just write a check for $45 payable to the U.S. Library of Congress, put a stamp on the envelope and walk to your nearest mailbox. Voila! You're done and just saved between $30-80 that could have gone to a copyright broker. It's truly that simple.

If you have questions you can call the Copyright Office directly at (202) 707-3000 and speak to a live representative with a surprising minimum of voicemail bureaucracy. I've found them to be very patient and helpful anytime I have called and have almost never even been put on hold before speaking to a live human. (If only the phone company were the same!)

One Nice Yet Legit Way to Save Money on Copyrighting: The Form CON

If you are on a tight budget and are copyrighting an entire album or demo with multiple songs, then in addition to the Short Form PA you also have the option of filling out the "Form CON" to avoid paying $45 for each individual song you need to copyright. This is the official continuation sheet the Library of Congress uses in its records for any additional authorship details you wish to provide. The nice thing about this form is that for the same one-time fee of $45 you can copyright a collection of songs under a single title on the Short Form PA, and then list all the individual song title names on the Form CON so they are safely copyrighted by name.

For example, if U2 had used the Form CON to copyright The Joshua Tree album, the title listed on the Short Form PA would have been something like "Songs from the Joshua Tree" or "The Joshua Tree Album / Collection." Then on the Form CON, they would have listed the complete track list, i.e. "1) Where The Streets Have No Name, 2) I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, 3) With or Without You"..etc. Hypothetically, instead of paying $495 total to copyright all 11 songs on the album separately, the Form CON would have saved U2 $450 and cost only $45 to copyright the entire album. I know a few budget-minded artists who copyright all their individual works annually this way under a single generic umbrella title such as "2007 Collection / Works In Progress," etc.

Down the road when you have more financial resources you may feel it is more business-chic to individually copyright track titles separately, but in truth, you will have just as much copyright protection with the Form CON until then.

And by the way - as of July 2007, the U.S. Copyright Office has been Beta-testing a new cheaper electronic application process that, if deemed manageable, will actually lower the cost to $35 per song. Read more about it and learn how to become a beta tester here:

Ultimately, there are places you can safely cut corners in your artistic career, and other places you should not. I say, save your money on things you can (and should) do yourself easily enough like copyrighting, and instead invest it in smart things with good payoff potential, such as professional web design, photography and graphic design. Remember, you typically get what you pay for, however when you use a copyright broker you may not even get that! Visit the links below for more information direct from the Library of Congress, and don't just automatically trust "informational sites" which are sometimes just posing as a guise for copyright brokers. Free assistance is definitely out there but you do have to first seek it. Best of luck to you, and make some good music worth copyrighting!

Related Links:

U.S. Copyright Office:

Copyright Forms:
---"Short Form PA" - usually this is all you need
---"Standard "Form PA" - at least read the directions on this even if you use the short form because it answers a lot of FAQ's the short form skips over
---"Form CON" - continuation sheet for multiple works

Library of Congress
Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
(202) 707-3000

Art, Controversy and Censorship
...How Influential are Artists?

By Laura Kessler

"The discoverer of an art is not the best judge of the good or harm which will accrue to those who
practice it......The introduction of a new kind of music must be shunned as imperiling the whole state; since styles of music are never disturbed without affecting the most important political institutions."


Thousands of years before Lynne Cheney or Tipper Gore ever existed, Plato expressed his own concerns about the potential influence of artists. And there has been no shortage of leaders over the years who have shared and echoed these sentiments. In the nucleus of every art controversy lies the question: Does art change the world, or does art reflect the world? Is it the precursor, or the reactor?

Unless you've been living in a cave lately, you've undoubtedly heard plenty about Don Imus's controversial remarks on his broadcast as well as the proposed ‘Hip Hop Clean-up' that has been suggested to correct pop-cultural elements some say have helped inspire and condone such remarks in the first place. While I certainly don't wish to compete with the professional punditry that has become a career livelihood for many would-be broadcasters, it seems to me that the Imus / Hip Hop controversy is only the most recent symptom of a much bigger question: Just how influential are we as artists?

Leaving the Imus debate as is - since most educated people already know where they stand on the topic - the Imus debacle is really an opportunity for artists to look at and appreciate the influence we have in shaping a society.

Modern art definitely owes a major debt - or at least an honorary MTV award - to Sigmund Freud. The impact of a scientific professional with heavy credentials making dark taboo subjects kosher for public discussion and expression was possibly the greatest bone ever to be thrown at the artistic community. Freud's work changed society dramatically and naturally artists were first in line to explore - and exploit - the new subjects that were now considered "forward thinking" and "intellectual" to discuss.

Most modern artists don’t realize that it’s only been about 500 or so years since a creative emancipation permanently took hold on the establishment of secular music. I always like to imagine the religious leaders of the time as Lyndon Johnson figures, inundated with hippies, feminists and black panthers on their lawns, except dealing with rebellious long-haired troubadours singing about ghastly secular subjects like love, wine, adultery and cuckolding, not to mention artists who dared to paint landscapes simply for (perverse?) pleasure. (What great raves they must have thrown!)

In truth, however, secular music began to appear in the 12th and 13th centuries initially as a fun amalgam of workers' songs to pass the time as well as the result of traveling French Nobles who hoped to gain attention and prestige. By the 14th century however, silly unrequited love songs had begun to evolve into a bonafide genre, planting the seeds to the modern rock industry. The invention of the printing press also helped things along by giving ordinary people access to perform music at home, paving the way to the current amateur invasion, American Idol and open mics everywhere.

Prior to and even during this time, the church functioned as a sort of creative and cultural dictator with an artistic monopoly that could determine what content could be painted, composed or written about, and artists were generally limited to religious or historical content. Even music and dance were regarded as 2nd class "supportive" mediums used primarily to accompany religious rituals or high government functions. And although there was always the occasional rich patron or monarch who commissioned non-religious work, artists still were deprived of full creative freedom, for even in those cases they were really just fulfilling the need for family heirlooms, which is not terribly different from a modern day work-for-hire or playing a wedding or Bat Mitzvah.

Musically speaking – before we ever evolved into media- frenzied debates regarding the justification of the word "ho" in the vernacular – there was a time not too long ago when the very notes, chords, keys and intervals composers used were actually very strictly monitored. The 3rd interval – now the most basic and essential unit of modern harmony – was still considered a forbidden fruit in the 13th Century. Renegade composers who dared compose with the hedonistic, forbidden chord did so only within secret societies who, according to legend, sometimes met in caves.

Fortunately, the Renaissance came along and lightened things up a bit as the flamboyant fashions, make-up and architecture began to cater to more decadent lifestyles, and music and dance became increasingly acceptable at non-religious social events. Music, however, still frequently took on a secondary role behind dance as a majority of the musical forms (Waltz, Minuet, Tarantella, and later Polka and Tango…) were created to accommodate popular dance steps.

In other art forms, controversy and censorship followed similar paths during and after the 16th century. What Abraham was to the Bible, Rembrandt to some degree was to painters, questioning existing systems and seeking his own answers along a road less traveled. Constantly broke from buying art to study independently, he was obsessed with fulfilling his full artistic potential and was the first artist to regularly paint self portraits. Once while mourning the loss of a beloved bird, Rembrandt stubbornly painted his deceased pet in the background of a painting for a rich patron and refused to remove it from the portrait despite the patron's insistent protests. While not nearly as exciting as a "wardrobe malfunction" on national TV, this was quite a shocking departure from the obedient behavior of your average 17th century artiste.

Like Rock 'n Roll centuries later, secular art and entertainment was here to stay. Still, certain conventions remained culturally forbidden. For example, the tritone, or "blue note" (an augmented 4th) kept its bad rap as "the devil’s note" well into the 20th century and caused Ragtime, Jazz and Blues critics to declare the whole genre "the devil’s music." However (for the advanced music theorists in the room) - throughout the 18th and 19th centuries white European classical composers frequently used diminished chords which are essentially two overlapping tritones. Defenders of modern Hip Hop might argue – why were they not challenged for using the forbidden musical interval?

Billy Crystal once said, "The history of 20th century music is basically white kids wanting to be as cool as black kids." From Elvis to Eminem, most commercial artists and their managers seemed to have figured this out as well. Perhaps that is the real essence of our modern controversies.

Historically, the aristocratic establishment has always felt threatened by the potential power of creative culture to change public attitudes over time. Dictators have always kept a tight leash on artists. The very first groups Hitler targeted, even before the Jews, were the artists and intellectuals, because they are always on the progressive forefront of keeping governments accountable with their respective platforms.

Ask yourself this: If MTV was regularly broadcast in Iran and its neighboring countries, would there be as many up and coming teenage terrorists-in-training with an entertaining medium distracting them in subtle yet powerful ways? And even if that meant an insipid marathon of Punk'd and Laguna Beach, would that really be such a bad thing compared to the alternative? If after-school music programs keep kids out of gangs, what is the primary difference in the Middle East, other than the fact that religion continues to dictate all forms of culture there?

Ultimately, for all the bad press artists get at times, it’s good to know we are appreciated and that there are still many positive examples of music and art making a difference. From Bob Hope entertaining the troops to Sarah McLachlan singing "Angel" to Sept. 11th and Hurricane Katrina survivors, our government leaders turn to us to restore morale, raise momentum (and money), and rally people for action.

From Bono (the heir apparent to John Lennon) and the Red Campaign, to Global concerts for the environment, to VH-1 Save the Music, MTV Rock the Vote, and whether you’re into it or not, the Christian Music movement……these are all powerful examples of the power of art to unite the masses in ways leaders could never achieve alone. Try watching both a live rock concert and a TV Evangelist speaking to a stadium on "mute" and you will see little difference in the visual and emotional content on the screen. And though no good deed goes unpunished (remember the plot to deport John Lennon, and Picasso’s visa denial the same year he painted the dove icon as the symbol of peace), most artists continually strive to make a difference with only modest demand for attention and little expected in return.

There will always be political leaders who masterfully unite to question our industry’s intentions - and sometimes rightly so. But the real question is – will members of our creative community unite just as masterfully to question theirs?

Laura Kessler is a career coach for artists and entertainers. She lives in Chicago and performs and directs a national client base. For more information or to receive future free e-Newsletters, please visit

The Artist As Entrepreneur

By Laura Kessler


My career coaching business grew out of the realization as a teacher that what holds most performers back from finding a career as an artist is not a lack of talent, but a lack of business and emotional intelligence.

As well as fear: fear that they’re not good enough, fear of standing alone, fear of getting ripped off, even fear of success and what it will cost!

For the professional on a career plateau as well as the novice just starting out, here are some tenets for long-term success in the entertainment industry:


As a working artist and entertainment career coach, I am a major advocate of self-reliance for all artist/entrepreneurs. We need to take responsibility for ourselves, our futures, our health, our finances, and our stability in all areas. Only the naïve see entertainment as a glamorous business. Those who have been around for a while know it is incredibly hard work and only the dedicated survive and stick around.

I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is merely "dabbling" in their creative pursuits, rather than pursuing them with the same degree of professionalism required of any job or professional pursuit. Granted, there are blurry boundaries here: the work environment is social, not uptight or white collar, and we usually are friends with the people we work with. However, business is business and success in any field depends on certain constructs. Bands will break up and dream bubbles will burst. Who wrote what? Was it copyrighted? In whose name? Where are the master tracks? Are you really on top of the business aspects, or just having fun jamming in the basement? Do you have what it takes to take this to the next level, or are you secretly content to just look cool in front of your friends?


As a teacher, it used to amaze me how talent is never an indicator of who will succeed. Rather, intangible factors of mental discipline, professionalism, social skills and adaptability consistently prove to be far more valuable. Sadly, talent is often not even necessary to guarantee a commercial artistic career since all art is not entertainment, and all entertainment is not art. Nevertheless, there are many genuinely talented artists out there with something worthwhile to express, and it is my passion to help them overcome both the creative and non-creative obstacles that get in their way.

For many it is simply a lack of time management. Others spread themselves too thin trying to be an expert at everything, when it would be wiser to hire professionals for things like Finale and web design since time is money. Some are under-educated about the craft of music, while others are over-educated and just as ignorant, thinking a piece of fancy paper means they get to cut in line and avoid paying dues. The hardest yet are the paralyzed perfectionists who talk a good game, but never follow through. It is a known fact throughout all industries that passion is necessary to truly succeed at anything. Sadly, a lot of people are drawn to the arts and entertainment fields more because they like the idea of bohemian culture more than they actually have the desire to create anything. Don’t even get me started on that one!!


I always make my clients write out a Mission Statement and Artistic Identity paragraph to be honest about what they really hope to accomplish in their longterm careers. Why do you want to be an artist and why should the world let you? What do you have to give the world that it needs? What do you "know" in your core that you absolutely must express to the masses? Simply pining to make a childhood dream come true is not reason enough in my book.

Consider this exercise: Write your "ideal resume" and "dream bio" for yourself 20-40 years from now. When you think about how certain accomplishments will make you feel, it is easier to connect the dots and figure out what you must start doing now in order to reach those goals later.


When new clients come to me with a desire to quit their day-jobs and find ways to become gainfully employed as full-time artists, they are often surprised by the questions I ask them. Do you have independent health insurance? Do you have a Roth IRA or other retirement account? If you are freelance, are you earning SS credits and reporting fairly? Who does your taxes? Do you rent or own? Do you take care of your body with health, nutrition and some form of dedicated exercise? Do you smoke (especially if you’re a singer) or do drugs? Is the caffeine out of control? The overly romanticized stereotype of the flighty, disorganized, tortured, misunderstood artist self-destructing in a hotel room doesn’t behoove anyone other than Hollywood screenwriters.

A true performing artist uses their physical body every bit as much as a star athlete. Strength and endurance are the very keys to maintaining success and moving upward. Most people maintain their cars, computers and guitars better than themselves. Amps and guitar strings are replaceable - you are not! Take care of yourself.


For some, stability as a music professional may be found in fields outside the music business, yet still within the entertainment industry. For example, doing recording tech for a television show, composing for advertising jingles, improvising a Paul Schafer gig for a comedy theater, teaching at a college, choir directing for a church…..the list goes on as far as your ingenuity will take you. This is a very strong recipe for financial stability that can carry one through shifting circumstances and economic environments.

Consider some of the biggest and most successful entertainment companies of all time such as Disney and Sony. They never rely on putting all their eggs in only one basket, rather they divvy up the slices of their respective pies into multiple mediums that vary in size from year to year. Disney makes money from theme parks, movies, television, CD sales, DVD sales, merchandise, hotels, vacation packages, and more, each cross-promoting the others as a unified brand. Likewise, Sony also generates multiple sources of income from CDs, DVDs, Sony Playstation sales, home electronics, video games and much more. If one medium has a bad Quarter or year, chances are one or more of the others will be doing well enough to carry the slack and keep the company financially stable. An artist can also strategically manage a successful and balanced career in this same fashion.

The moral of the story is: If you want to be successful and innovative, study and emulate successful and innovative people as well as other business sectors beyond entertainment. Read the newspaper and make it a habit to constantly expand your awareness so you are capable of relating to diverse issues and people in all stations of life. Don’t just hang out with artists and musicians at coffee shops.


Ultimately, your destiny as an artist will rely on one thing above all else: YOU. Do not get so eloquent talking the talk that you forget to walk the walk. We all have the drive in us to get things done once we truly get busy and motivated. All the pre-planning, organizing and file-coding in the world achieves nothing without development and implementation. The seconds ticking by at this very moment are now the "future" you once may have talked about and even strategically mapped out at some point. Just come to simple terms with this reality: You will never realistically have "enough time" or the "ideal circumstances" you may wish for. Nor will anyone else, for that matter. The best and only option is to simply make - or steal - the time you need to work daily on your goals. Starting now. The world will not simply hand your dreams to you or anyone else. Your destiny is yours to work for, create and earn. Whether full-fledged fame or Mr. Holland’s Opus, there is a creative destiny in all of us that begs to be realized. Find yours and commit to it today. Good luck!

Laura Kessler is a career coach for artists and entertainers. She lives in Chicago and performs and directs a national client base. For more information or to receive future free e-Newsletters, please visit


Copyright 2007 Laura A. Kessler All Rights Reserved