The music business is a seemingly impossible morass for artists to navigate with money hungry managers, agents, labels, promoters and middlemen all looking to take a piece of the pie from what you are creating. At every step of the way there will be contracts, which unless you have a proper legal background, much of it can appear to be gibberish. Deciphering label contracts, show deals and individual song splits can make an artist head spin and can leave you open to getting taken advantage of if you don’t have someone to help to interpret the language. Lawyers are necessary, but can often be expensive. In steps Cosynd, which is billing itself as the “LegalZoom for the music industry.” Founded by Women in Music President and Rumblefish/SESAC veteran Jessica Sobhraj, the company helps creators in music, video or literature register their copyrights and create legally valid ownership agreements such as split sheets.
The platform starts at a free tier allowing users to create unlimited split sheets for free and one creative document or registration a one-time fee. After that, you can sign up for a $10/month fee of $100 annually to create unlimited complex copyright agreements. If you need to, you can invite your attorney to review your Cosynd agreement. If you don't have one, Cosynd connects you to Priori Legal, which can help you find lawyers. We chat with Sobhraj about the platform, what are some common mistakes artists make and how she got into the business.
1) How did you get into the music business?
I started out as an intern, just like countless others in the music industry. For the last decade, I’ve worked in various roles in licensing and rights management as a freelancer and within companies such as SESAC and Rumblefish. Early on, I became a member of Women in Music, the largest and longest running nonprofit for thousands of women in the music industry. It’s such a supportive community that I was compelled to join as a volunteer. I served on the Fundraising Committee, joined the Executive Committee, and then became President in 2015.
2) What is your favorite part about the business?
Each creative industry is exciting and challenging and Cosynd is emerging as the most promising technology to help those creators meet those challenges in an affordable and easy way. To be at the forefront of developing technology specifically for the intersection of copyright and collaboration is my favorite part about the business - there are no rules and we get to tackle new challenges each day, which has always been fun and exciting for me.
3) What are the biggest challenges you face on a daily basis?
For most entrepreneurs, I think time management is certainly a challenge. There is always a never-ending list of things that we would like to accomplish, but only 24 hours in a day. Some of those hours need to be spent on self-care and doing what is necessary to avoid a burn out. For me, I start my day by making a list of the top 3-5 things that I know I need to get done and focus all of my attention on completing those tasks first. Everything I’m able to accomplish after that is a bonus and I know that I’ll always end each day feeling accomplished rather than overwhelmed.
4) What are the biggest challenges of going from a place at an established company to then starting your own company? What are some things that people might not know or expect about that step?
Being an entrepreneur is an emotionally and financially taxing endeavor. It often takes twice as much time and capital to launch your venture than you originally thought. This journey is even harder for CEOs who shoulder not only the success of the company, but also the successes and expectations of their partners, investors, and employees. Transitioning from employee to CEO can be a jolting experience. Without the cushion of a predictable paycheck or the support of a team, the pressure can seem insurmountable if you haven’t planned for these lapses. I was fortunate enough to have a supportive partner at home as well as supportive cofounders and advisors at Cosynd – actually, we built our advisory board before we wrote a single line of code! We were also one of a handful of promising startups to be accepted into the Monarq Incubator and Pipeline Angels. Both organizations understand the challenges that female entrepreneurs, in particular, have and select the most promising startups to empower with funding, mentoring and other resources. For me, having a supportive group of family, friends, mentors, peers and co-founders was crucial to Cosynd’s success.
5) If you weren’t in the music business, what would you be doing?
It’s hard to envision not working in the music industry – it’s all I’ve ever known! I believe that the most meaningful thing we can do for ourselves is to translate our passion into our careers. Finding ways to support and empower the creative community is something that I am deeply passionate about. So, if I weren’t working in the music industry, I would probably be working in another creative industry and eventually would have still co-founded Cosynd. Creators in the music industry and their counterparts in other creative industries all face very similar problems with copyright registration and ownership. We recognized this early on while developing Cosynd and changed the types of copyright agreements that our users could create. Now, creators from every creative industry (not just music) can form copyright agreements and copyright registrations that cover film, music, literature, and visual art. As a founder, there’s nothing more exciting than helping an industry that I’m passionate about while also getting to broaden my horizons into other creative spaces!
6) Why did you start Cosynd?
Cosynd’s team has decades of experience in working with creatives and helping them resolve issues when their copyrights are not protected with ownership agreements or copyright registrations from the beginning. We created Cosynd with one simple goal in mind – to make it easier and more affordable for creators to protect their content with quality tools that aren’t overwhelming to use. Cosynd is an essential toolkit that lets creators register copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office and easily form split sheets, work for hire, and copyright ownership agreements with their collaborators. With Cosynd creators can get everyone on the same page about who owns their content, how it can be used, and what rights they all will have if things go wrong. Creators can negotiate the terms of these agreements, invite attorneys to review (if they want to), and e-sign quickly and easily, so that they can get back to doing what they do best - creating!
7) How do you vet the attorneys you work with?
Building an agreement on Cosynd with your collaborators is a really simple process. We ask you and your collaborators very straightforward questions to understand what everyone’s preference is for each term. There are also tips and explanations to guide creators that are just learning about copyright for the first time. The creator that initiated the agreement is presented with their collaborators’ preferences, organized by the most popular choices. Then, that creator chooses the final terms for the agreement that will be presented to all of their collaborators. At that point, each collaborator can invite their attorney to review or edit the agreement if they want to or they can simply sign the agreement as is.
Cosynd isn’t an attorney referral service, but if you don’t have an attorney and would like one to review your agreement, our users can be matched with an attorney by our partner Priori Legal, which has their own process for vetting qualified attorneys.
8) What is the future of Cosynd? What other contracts or legal matters will it try and cover in the future?
We’re constantly developing and anticipating what creatives will need next. Currently, creators can register their copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office on Cosynd, but shortly they will be able to register their works with other agencies and royalty collection societies such as ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and more.
9) What are some of the biggest mistakes you see artists make with their legal matters?
Copyright can be a complicated topic to address because of all of the nuances that exist particularly with collaboration. Who owns the content? What percentage do they own? What rights does each person have and what can they do with the content?
What most creatives aren’t aware of is that under U.S. copyright law, their collaborators have an equal claim of ownership of their content by default, unless there is an agreement in place stating otherwise. Things can get really awkward and expensive when creators have to resolve ownership issues when it’s time sell or license the content, instead of taking care of this beforehand. Using Cosynd helps creators avoid this pitfall and so many others.