By Dwight Brown
A New Year brings more opportunities for songwriters to get ahead.
So what’s up? Co-writers are leaving the strongest mark on top ten hits. Spotify wants to do the right thing when it comes to songwriter royalties. The digital age is heaping complications on jazz musicians, but makes composing a snap. Deaf consumers want the lyrics to songs’ in movies subtitled on the screen. Why not?
January is a great time to watch and appreciate the evolution of songwriting.
Most of the top-ten selling tracks across the US, UK and Australia in 2015 contained compositions that, according to Music Business World, had one thing in common; more than one writer. Just two of 16 tracks across the three top ten charts were completely penned by the artist who performed them. 87.5% involved a third-party songwriter who was not a featured artist.
Whether the co-pilot was a hired hit-maker or intimate collaborator, it makes no difference. Essentially opportunities + teamwork + creativity = a hit. The biggest song in all three territories was Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars’ toe tapping, hip-swaying “Uptown Funk.” How many writers does it take to bring in the noise and the funk? 11!
Billboard.com says, “The track [Uptown Funk”], which is tied for the second-longest reign on the Billboard Hot 100, initially was credited to six songwriters: Ronson, Mars, Jeffrey Bhasker, Philip Lawrence, Devon Gallaspy and Trinidad Jones. Then after the publisher for the five writers of The Gap Band’s 1979 hit “Oops Upside Your Head” lodged a claim, that quintet helped to divvy up the nearly $2M in songwriting royalties.
So, which two artists wrote their entire top-ten songs in 2015? Adele? No. Justin Bieber? No, no, no. Drumroll… 1. Fetty Wap wrote “Trap Queen.” 2. Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” remained on the U.K. charts in 2015.
There may be light at the end of the tunnel for songwriters and publishers who want Spotify to be more accountable when it comes to royalty payments. Billboard.com points out that James Duffett-Smith, Spotify’s global head of publisher relations, detailed a plan on the service’s website that stated they “will invest in the resources and technical expertise to build a comprehensive publishing administration system to solve this problem.”
Purportedly, Spotify will work in conjunction with the National Music Publishers’ Association and other publisher organizations around the globe to build a music publishing database that, when completed, will properly manage licenses and publishing royalties distributions going forward. Spotify notes one set of challenges in paying fairly, “When it comes to publishing and songwriting royalties, especially in the United States, that’s easier said than done because the data necessary to confirm the appropriate rightsholder is often missing, wrong, or incomplete.” Even though Spotify revealed that it paid more than $3 billion in royalties to date, including $300 million in the first quarter of this year alone, some publishers are wary. What’s not debatable is that streaming royalties are an important revenue source for artists who write songs. Fingers crossed.
To read the entire Duffett-Smith blog, click here.
The digital age has brought jazz artists negatives and positives, notes Ted Gioia, an American jazz critic and music historian who wrote The History of Jazz. On ASCAP.com, Gioia notes that on the one hand, monetizing songwriting in the digital age is an ever-evolving challenge that requires vigilance, a strong publisher and a smart publishing administration service. His article recommends treating music as a product, not content, because people pay for product.
On the other hand the laborious task of writing charts has been streamlined. Software packages like Finale mean scores can be prepared in a fraction of the time it used to take Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie or Gil Evans to write a chart. According to an old New York Times post, Grammy-winning jazz pianist/composer Herbie Hancock has made that transition from paper to computer. Gioia reflects, “A composer can hear everything before the musicians ever see the chart. And the scores simply look so good, in their glistening Adobe pdf format. I’m almost ashamed to show musicians my old handwritten pieces.”
If you’re not hearing impaired, this point of contention may have never crossed your mind. But if you’re part of the 10% of the population who has a hearing disability, you’ve probably been annoyed or ticked off that when music plays in the background of a film, and there is a vocal track with words, even if the movie is subtitled/captioned, it most often does not include the lyrics. Imagine watching Straight Outta Compton, reading the dialogue and not knowing what the rap songs in the background were saying. That’s the point: sometimes lyrics to songs are integral to getting the full intent of a movie.
Members of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf
and Hard of Hearing filed a particular lawsuit, in California in October, 2015, that raises the argument that studios are falsely advertising their products and violating the civil rights of deaf consumers. “While the dialogue of some movies or shows are indeed fully subtitled, the practice of not subtitling song/music lyrics is frustratingly widespread,” states the complaint. “Movies or shows that do not include the subtitled song/music lyrics withhold the full enjoyment of the movie or show from deaf or hard of hearing consumers. If parts of the movie or show are not captioned or subtitled, then deaf and hard of hearing consumers should be told as such before making a decision to rent or purchase the DVD, theater ticket, or streaming.”
Lyrics are important. Songwriters get that.
There’s room for growth and change in the world of songwriting in 2016. Let’s make it happen.
- Justin Hayward Of The Moody Blues Talks About His Classic Song “Nights In White Satin.”
- ASCAP EXPO Adds Master Sessions with Pat Benatar, Desmond Child and Warryn & Erica Campbell
- N.Y. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney Lends Her Support to Songwriter Equity Act of 2015
- BMI Congratulates its 2016 Oscar Nominees
- Steven Tyler Joins Board of NMPA S.O.N.G.S. Foundation