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A Cappella FAQ Part 2/7

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Subject: A Cappella FAQ Part 2/7

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
     A Cappella FAQ - Part Two: Getting Started in A Cappella and
Copyright Issues

                      Questions answered in part 2:
Q 2.1 I'd like to sing in an a cappella group in my area. How do I go
about joining one?
Q 2.2 I just started a group. What should I do?
Q 2.3 You mentioned choosing a name - where can I look to make sure that
our band's name is unique?
Q 2.4 Can anyone give me some tip on auditioning for an a cappella group?
Q 2.5 My group has a few shows coming up. How do I let people know?
Q 2.6 I have several questions about the role of a manager or agent for my
a cappella group.
Q 2.7 What can you tell me about copyright & legal issues as they pertain
to a cappella?

Q 2.1 I'd like to sing in an a cappella group in my area. How do I go
about joining one?

This depends. If you're...

ATTENDING COLLEGE IN THE USA: There are over 500 collegiate a cappella
groups around the country. Contact CASA (address in FAQ #1) for a list of
the groups at your school and if there isn't a group, CASA can help you
start one. There are also choral ensembles at almost every college.
Contact the music department for a full listing of choral organizations on

ATTENDING COLLEGE OUTSIDE OF THE USA: Many schools have music departments
with a variety of vocal ensembles. If you can't find what you're looking
for, consider starting a group - remember the King's Singers were started
that way 25 years ago. Feel free to contact CASA, SPEBSQSA, SAA, or any
other a cappella organization mentioned in FAQ #1 to help you get things

extensive national and international network of choruses and affiliated
quartets, SPEBSQSA (address in FAQ #1) is an excellent place to go to find
a recreational group. There are barbershop choruses in almost every
metropolitan area in the US and many major countries abroad, and you don't
need a lot of experience to join.

LOOKING FOR A SWEET ADELINE GROUP (women only): Most Sweet Adeline groups
are found in the US, but there are a few in Canada and overseas. Contact:
Sweet Adelines International or Harmony Incorporated (addresses in FAQ

LOOKING FOR A DOO-WOP GROUP: Most doo-wop groups tend to be small (4 or 5
members) and seem to keep the same members for long periods of time. You
may have better luck starting your own group than waiting to join one in
your area. For a list of doo-wop groups in your area, contact CASA or UGHA
(addresses in FAQ #1)

LOOKING FOR A CLASSICAL ENSEMBLE: It's much easier to join a chorus than
to find a small ensemble to join. Check your local yellow pages or a local
sheet music store for the names of choruses in your area -- there are
probably several, each with its own style and demands. Some will be
social/recreational, others will be very serious. Be sure to find out what
will be expected before you join.

(Address in FAQ #1) Put a classified ad in the back of the CAN. It's only
$5 to $15. Be sure to keep your eyes on the CAN as well, as there are
groups seeking members listed in every issue.

NOT HAVING ANY LUCK WITH THE ABOVE OPTIONS: Consider starting a group of
your own. The advantages are many, including the fact that you can set all
of the parameters to your liking: style, repertoire, how often you
rehearse, etc. The disadvantage is that it takes a bit more work than
joining an already established group.

IN ADDITION TO ALL ABOVE SUGGESTIONS: Post a message to and New groups are forming and
established groups are looking for new members every day. And besides --
it's free!

Q 2.2 I just started a group. What should I do?

Believe it or not there are several things you should do right away before
you start singing:

1) Choose a name ... and then make sure your name is *your* name. This
consists of making sure no one else is using your name, and then obtaining
a trademark/servicemark. Check the CASA database at have a lawyer do a national
search to make sure that there are no other musical groups using your
name. Then contact the US trademark office and complete all appropriate
paperwork. The process may be different in other countries but it's still
very important. Your name is your product.

2) If you have problems getting your group off the ground, check out the
very helpful and informative CASA publication titled "Starting an A
Cappella Group".

3) Decide what legal entity you'd like your group to be. Partnership?
Corporation? The laws are different in each state and country. Go to City
Hall, ask questions and fill out the appropriate forms.

4) What happens if one member leaves the group? Does everyone in the group
get paid equally? Who's responsible for filing taxes on your earnings?
Who's liable if you're sued? These and many other questions need to be
answered and put in writing. Your group needs a partnership or corporate
agreement and you shouldn't delay. Talk to an attorney and discuss your
options. DO NOT WAIT until there is a problem -- often it's too late --
and you'll end up wasting money on lawyers and paperwork that could have
been avoided.

5) Decide what needs to get done and whose responsibility it is to do it.
One person can be in charge of the music, another in charge of press kits
and publicity, another in charge of sound equipment, another in charge
merchandise, etc.

6) After you are organized, create a press kit that can be sent to any
prospective clients. Include everything that you would like to tell them
about your self - bios, song lists, testimonials, contact information,
etc., etc. CASA has published a very helpful booklet called "The
Definitive A Cappella Press Kit" containing the information every group
needs to know to put one together. 

Q 2.3 You mentioned choosing a name - where can I look to make sure that
our band's name is unique?

Check The Band Register at and The Ultimate Band
List at . Both sites have thousands of bands
registered. If a band name isn't here, either it isn't being used or that
band has not registered it at one of these sites. It's no guarantee that
it's not in use. It's not a bad idea to also pay a lawyer to do a search
for you.

Trademarking a name is a great additional step -- to document the use of
the name. If you can show that you've used a name before another group,
its possible to have the upper hand, even if the other (newer) group
managed to get the name trademarked.

For Barbershop or Sweet Adeline groups, the various web sites listed in
FAQ #1 will give you a list of group names in their various organizations.
The barbershop one can be found at
. The New Zealand Association of Barbershop Singers (NZABS) at also has a complete list of
places to check to make sure that you're not thinking of using a name that
is already in use by another group.

For a fun time letting a web site with a random name generator give you
some really off-beat suggestions, go to

Q 2.4 Can anyone give me some tip on auditioning for an a cappella group?

Over the years of the a cappella newsgroups existence, this questions has
popped up on several occasions - whether it be tip for existing groups
looking for new singers, singers looking for a group, or singers
auditioning for multiple groups.  A lot of people have contributed some
great advice.  Some of those articles have been gathered together and can
be found at

Q 2.5 My group has a few shows coming up. How do I let people know?

1) Post to the a cappella newsgroups. Be clear about time and location.

2) Send your dates for the CAN calendar to Jessika Diamond at . Check the calendar web site at a complete list
of deadlines and other information.

3) Try "Musi-Cal" (as in Music Calendar) at Basically, it's a central database of
concert listings which you can search with any web browser that supports
forms. What's more, you can add concerts that you know about to the
database with a similar method (or by using email). You can search by
genre, keyword, group name, date of concert, city, state, and country. It
isn't just a database for a cappella, but they have an a cappella keyword
in their list of categories. You can enter information into the database
via email or the Web.

4) Contact the local media (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines). If you
don't know how to write a standard press release, there are several books
available to help you come up with a eye-catching presentation. Also, try
to set up on-air appearances -- morning shows (TV and radio) and
multi-format radio shows are often quite receptive.

5) Send a mailing to those your mailing list.

6) Be sure to tell all of your local friends and relatives. This may seem
unnecessary or obvious but "word of mouth" is free and very effective.

7) Take out small ads or classifieds in the music section of local papers.
This is best if you have a block of upcoming shows, as it gives interested
people a better chance of finding a date that works for them.

8) Poster all local college campus sites. Also, put posters and ads in
every music-related store in the area. Make sure it's clear that you're a
cappella and that the posters are well-designed and reflect your group and

Q 2.6 I have several questions about the role of a manager or agent for my
a cappella group.

The following response is combined from the responses posted by Deke
Sharon (, CASA President and Musical Director for The House
Jacks, and Warren Tessier (, the Former Performer/Manager
for Five O'Clock Shadow.

1) Who writes up the contracts?
Depends on the contract. An agent will have standard engagement and
appearance contracts. Your lawyer should have a hand in all your important
contracts (like your partnership agreement or a record contract). A
Manager doesn't need to do this but rather should make sure that it gets

2) What are managers in charge of doing?
Depends on the group. In a nutshell, everything. More specifically, a
manager is the person who makes sure everything gets done and does a good
deal of this work. This person really needs to be on the ball to justify
the standard 10-25% of all income. 

3) Does a manger need to hire any assistants or techs?
Yes. Again, if you can afford them. The manager hires everybody. Usually,
the some of the manager's expenses (including additional staff) are paid
out of his/her earnings, and other expenses are paid directly by the
group. Make sure you have agreed upon who pays which expenses in advance,
and that it's in your management contract.

4) Does the manager also do bookings?
Depends. In California, for example, it's illegal for a manager to be an
agent as well (although some still do). In other states, no problem. It's
my opinion that the more people you have working for you the better and,
if you start getting big, your manager won't have time to handle all
bookings and all other logistics, so it's good to have more than one
person working for you. However, initially, your manager can do a little
of everything.

5) What important things should a manager know?
Band direction, goals, market dynamics, specifics of the band's genre or
style, what makes them marketable, what sets them apart from other bands,
industry contacts (agents, club owners/bookers, festival producers, and
anyone else who might want to hire your band or help your band get hired)

6) Who does the manager work with other than the band itself (i.e.
recording studios or whatever)?
Everyone the band works with. Managers make excellent "bad cops" making
sure everything works the way it should without forcing the group to have
to argue/demand on their behalf.

A final note: The manager is the "bad guy", the band are the "good guys".
This means that when the time comes for someone to play the heavy (like in
a tough negotiation or when something goes wrong) he should be the one up
front, arguing or bartering for the band. The band shows up, does a great
gig, and goes home. The manager makes everything else happen, and deals
with the crap. 

In the end, the manager's role is up to the group, and is different in
every case. By the way, don't turn your nose up at the idea of a close
friend of the group acting as manager (in the hopes that someone better
will come along). Most groups start this way, and managers learn the ropes
just as performers are increasing their fanbase and perfecting their

Q 2.7 What can you tell me about copyright & legal issues as they pertain
to a cappella?

If you have legal questions, check out "Ask An Esquire" a new service
provided free of charge to the entire a cappella community courtesy of

NOTE: This information pertains mainly to copyright issues in the US. 
However, since many of the regulations are covered by the Berne
Convention, any country that is a signatory to that agreement, should have
similar regulations.  For those of you outside the US, check with your
local copyright offices to verify what is needed in your jurisdiction. 
They will also be able to tell you what forms are needed to register your

Outside of the US, some of the same laws apply, as in the Berne Convention
for those who are signatories.  However, if you are interested in learning
about how things work in your location, there are several places on the
Web you can go.  There are a couple of copyright lawyers in Germany,
Rassmann & Reber, who have created a site with links to places all over
the world, relating to trademark and copyright law. Check it out at: or check their specific page on
copyright links at:

For those of you in Canada, there are a couple of specific places to check
- CMRRA (Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency, Ltd.) at and SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music
Publishers in Canada) at

[Much of the following was learned from the Copyright FAQ which can be
found at and is
maintained by Terry Carroll ( and posted to the
newsgroup monthly. Other info came from postings, especially those from
Jed Hartman.]

There are many detailed facts to be understood about copyright, especially
in a field such as ours where arrangements of other people's (already
copyrighted) works are frequently used. This section will not attempt to
address all possible factors relevant to us but rather an overview of the
laws governing copyright.

1) The Berne Convention

Created by a group of countries in 1886 and joined by the US on March 1,
1988, the most recent document specifying the law is the Paris, 1971 text.
The main parts of the Berne Convention are as follows:

* National treatment: An author's rights are respected in another country
as though the author were a citizen of that country. For example, in
Australia, to use material copyrighted in the US, one must adhere to
Australian copyright law, not American. This is only true if both
countries are signatories to the Convention. (Most Western countries seem
to be signatories. Check out the list in the Copyright FAQ if you're not

* Preclusion of formalities: The copyright cannot depend upon formalities
(such as copyright notices or registration) for a copyright to hold. This
is why all material since 1988 is implicitly copyrighted, even without a
copyright message.

* Minimum terms of protection: The minimum duration for copyright
protection is the life of the author plus 70 years but signatory nations
may choose to provide longer durations.

* Minimum exclusive rights: A nation must provide for protection of six
rights: translation, reproduction, public performance, adaptation,
attribution (paternity) and integrity. Apparently US law differs from this
by removing translation and adding display and distribution but these
points are covered by other laws (trademark, patent etc.)

2) Public Domain material

A work in the public domain is one that can be freely used by anyone for
any purpose. A work is public domain if:

   * the copyright has expired
   * the work is a work of the US Government
   * the work can't be copyrighted (short names, slogans etc. - however,
these can be trademarked)
   * the copyright has been forfeited. This includes publishing without
copyright notice prior to March 1, 1988 (in the US)
   * the copyright has been abandoned, i.e. the copyright holder has made
an unambiguous statement of his or her intent to dedicate the work to the
public domain.

3) Registering a Copyright

First of all, you don't *need* to register your work for it to be
copyrighted. Since the Berne Convention, all works are copyright from the
moment of their creation. In fact, you don't even need a copyright notice
(as mentioned above) but it is a good idea. You should include a
c-in-a-circle, "Copyright", or "Copr.", the year, and your name on the
work to make an official copyright notice. There have been rulings in the
past that (c) is *not* an official copyright symbol, so watch out!

If you *do* want to formalize your copyright by registering it, which
helps in court, you do it by filing the appropriate form with the US
Copyright Office, with payment of $20. Call the Copyright Office
Information Hotline, and leave your name, address and form number on the
voice mail. They will send you an information package on copyrighting a
particular type of work. The number is (202)707-9100 and the packages most
readers of this group will be interested in are:

     Music (sheet or lyrics): Form PA, Package 105 and
     Music (sound recording): Form SR, Package 121

You can also write to them at:

     Copyright Office/Publications Section
     LM 455
     Library of Congress
     Washington, DC 20559

[From here on, the info starts to come less from the Copyright FAQ and
more from varied sources and *opinion*. In some cases, these issues have
not been adequately tested in a court of law, so there are different
interpretations of the law.]

4) Derivative Works - the Legality of an Arrangement

Apparently an a cappella arrangement is legally a derivative work of the
original song. The definition of a copyright infringement is for the work
itself to have actually been copied from (either wholly or to create a
derivative work). So as far as the law is concerned, an arrangement is the
same as the original song, and the songwriter actually "owns" the
arrangement [obviously, the a cappella music idiom was not a major concern
of the individuals drafting these laws.] However, one can copyright an
arrangement of a song, as long as the arranger has been given permission
to arrange the song in the first place.

5) Legalities of Performance, Distribution, etc.

If you can all learn your parts just from listening to an album, you have
done nothing illegal. If you writing anything down, you are in violation
of the composer's copyright. You are legally allowed to make one archival
recording of any performance without paying any fee. An interesting quirk
to this rule is that if you have several people with tape recorders record
you singing a song, all of those tapes are legal. If you make one
recording and copy it for all the people, you have to pay the licensing

Dan Wilson from the Phoenix chapter of the SPEBSQSA, says: Serious
Barbershop arrangers (not the back room ones) get written permission from
the copyright holder to arrange a song. Our International Office in
Kenosha, WI handles the paperwork and gets clearances for us. The fee is
$10, and this allows you to arrange the song and make 4 copies -typically
for a quartet. More copies may be made up to 200 at $.20 per copy. If you
want more than 200, you need to get extended permission. We went to this
formality years ago as the result of a number not-for-profit groups
(churches, schools, etc.) being sued for copyright infringement. The law
allows a fine of $50,000 per TITLE, as I recall. I'd rather spend the ten
bucks and avoid the hassle.

[Another perspective on this issue] Most songs arranged in the Barbershop
style were written between 1900 and 1949, and these songs are owned by a
limited number of consolidated publishing companies who are eager to make
any money that they can off of a song. Songs written after 1950 are
difficult to chase down and very often the songwriter or publisher decides
not to allow any arrangements of a song to be made. The result is that the
law allows any song in the world to be performed and recorded after it has
been released by any artist for the first time, but no one is allowed to
jot down notes concerning their version. There needs to be a law that
allows a licensing fee to be paid for limited numbers of written
unpublished arrangements *of any song* (like recordings). This way,
songwriters will make money, and a cappella musicians will not have to
break the law to make music.

Performance rights are paid for by the performance location such as clubs,
theaters, auditoriums, radio stations, etc., and the revenue from the
license fees is divided among the members of the performing rights groups.

Mechanical license is required to make copies of audio tapes/records and
Synchronization Rights license is required for making videos and movies.
The Harry Fox Agency handles the audio tapes and records. You send them a
letter telling them the titles and the number of copies you expect to make
(not sell), and they will send you a bill. The rate is around 6.5 cents
per title per recording for a song up to 5 minutes long & 1.? cents for
each additional minute.

     National Music Publishers Association, Inc.
     Harry Fox Agency, Inc.
     711 Third Ave
     New York, NY 10017
     Phone: 212.370.5330
     Fax: 212.953.2384

Payment is irrelevant when it comes to copyright infringement. Money is
not the primary issue - control of intellectual property is. Irving Berlin
was always very careful about allowing people to perform, or arrange his
music - whether or not it was for profit. He felt some groups just didn't
do his music justice and refused permission to them. It is a common
misconception that songs performed or arranged without compensation do not
need permission from the copyright holder. The misconception is a result
of assuming money is the issue rather than control.

However these issues aren't entirely clear. One entertainment attorney
informs: "Yes, it's legal to transcribe a song off an album for your own
use. No you don't need permission to arrange a song, perform an
arrangement, or record an arrangement (that doesn't have altered lyrics or
melody), though you will need to pay mechanicals on recordings. Yes, you
can arrange for money, but you're selling a service and not music. You can
make copies of an arrangement for fair use or study purposes within your
group. CASA can give out a few arrangements for rehearsal and performance
purposes, but they can't be published in any way - that right belongs to
the composer.

As mentioned before, some of these issues aren't clear or at least not all
attorneys agree.

6) Fair Use

This is a very tricky matter. Fair use governs the extent to which the
copyright rules may be "bent" if their purpose includes "criticism,
comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research." (from
Section 107 of the Copyright Act, as quoted in the Copyright FAQ).

Four factors are used in determining whether something counts as fair use:

   * Purpose of the use - commercial or nonprofit and educational.
   * Nature of the work being copied.
   * How much of the work is copied.
   * The effect of copying on the potential market for the work.

Things that have been considered fair use in the past by courts include:
quotations of brief excerpts of works in reviews and criticism, use in a
parody, summary with brief quotations, a teacher copying part of a work to
use in class, and so on.

7) Work in addition

A meeting between CASA and a copyright lawyer has resulted in an
additional wrinkle: if an arrangement is prepared without the melody or
lyrics included, but rather includes only the harmony parts, and is meant
to accompany the soloist or lead line, then no copyright laws have been
broken. This is similar to publishing a workbook or how-to book that
provides additional information about a copyrighted work (like a software
program or textbook) without directly copying that work.

A   PMB #1449, 1850 Union St. #14
S   San Francisco, CA 94123-4309 USA
A   415.563.5224 -

End of FAQ Part Two

                   Ann Griffee - FAQ Maintainer 
           The Contemporary A Cappella Society - CASA
          Reply to or
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