An Examination of the Songwriter & Music Publisher Relationship [PART 1]

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq. Justin is an entertainment and media attorney for The Jacobson Firm, P.C. in New York City. He also runs Label 55 and teaches music business at the Institute of Audio Research.]

 

UPDATE: Read Part 2 of this series here!

We will now examine the music publisher and its exclusive publishing agreement with a songwriter. In addition to the standard exclusive publishing agreement explored below, there are other types of related agreements a songwriter could potentially sign with a music publisher, including a co-publishing, sub-publishing or administration arrangement; however, these will not be explored in this article.

Music publishers, which include Sony/ATV Publishing, Universal Music Publishing and Warner Music Publishing, are companies that manage a songwriter’s rights in a track. This may be typically referred to as an “administration” right in the composition. This provides the publisher with the right to license the music to others as well as to collect payments from any third-party for their uses of the songwriter’s work. The publishing company also handles the “paperwork” associated with the composition, including registering the copyrights in the songs, indexing the track with the appropriate Performing Rights Organization, as well as accounting and distributing the collected funds. A publisher may also “shop” a songwriter’s tracks in order to obtain licensable placements for its signed talent. An individual responsible for this task is sometimes referred to as a “song plugger.”

In most instances, the songwriter and publishing company equally split all of the proverbial “publishing monies.” In reality, this means that fifty (50%) percent of the total amount earned is allotted for the “writer’s share” of the composition and the remaining fifty (50%) percent is allocated for the “publisher share” of the composition. Since a single track can have several co-writers, this means that several publishing companies and other individuals may also be entitled to a part of the “writer” or “publisher” share of the track. For instance, if a song has two co-writers, the “writer’s share” of the composition could be split equally with each writer receiving fifty (50%) percent of the entire track’s “writer” share.

The streams of income generally subject to an exclusive publishing agreement include mechanical royalties, public performance royalties, synchronization fees and print incomes. Mechanical royalties are paid for the use of a musical composition on CDs, vinyl, cassettes and as MP3 downloads. In the United States, the Harry Fox Agency is generally responsible for collecting and distributing mechanical royalties. Print Income is also subject to these agreements and applies to any funds earned from the sale of the printed musical work, such as in lyric and musical score folios, individual sheet music and when the same is displayed or sold as sheet music on the Internet.

Public performance royalties are also subject to a publishing agreement. This income is due when a musical composition is publicly performed, including when it is played on the radio, at a nightclub, a concert hall, or a stadium. These funds are collected by Performing Rights Organizations (P.R.O.). In the United States, the P.R.O.s are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. A songwriter must become a member of a P.R.O. in order to receive their public performance royalties. Additionally, each country has their own P.R.O., so a foreign citizen should become a member of the organization in their country of citizenship.

Finally, synchronization income, referred to as “synch” monies, are subject to the same publishing deal. This income is paid when a composition is displayed with a visual image, such as in a motion picture, in a television program, in a music video or in a video game. There is income here that may also be collected by the owner’s respective P.R.O.

As is standard with most exclusive recording agreements, the deal is usually cross-collateralized with any other agreements between the same parties. Again, this means that any advance and any other funds expended on behalf of the writer, whether under a recording contract or a publishing contract, are recouped against any royalties earned from either agreement. If possible, it is prudent to limit or prevent the cross-collateralization of the agreements; however, most companies will not permit this.

In addition, some publishing companies attempt to cross-collateralize the royalties earned by one co-writer in a composition with that of any other co-writers of the same track. This permits the publisher to credit any royalties earned by any co-writer of a composition toward the outstanding royalty balance of any other co-writers of a song, even if they are not attributable to this particular co-written song. If it is cross-collateralized, the publisher is permitted to credit any royalties earned by any co-writer of a composition, even if they are not attributable to this particular co-written song, toward the outstanding royalty balance of any other co-writers of a song. It is prudent to ensure that each writer’s royalty account is not cross-collateralized with any other co-writers of a track by ensuring that only tracks written by one writer are credited toward that writer’s outstanding balance without permitting the cross-collateralization of accounts with any other co-writers.

Another point to be aware of is that an artist should try to ensure that if they are signed to both a recording and publishing agreement with the company; and, if the company wants to extend one of the deals, the other deal is also not automatically extended. This prevents the artist from being dropped from the label while still being signed to the publishing company.

One final matter that should be addressed in this arrangement is the songwriter’s creative control and approval for the uses of its compositions. In particular, a writer should try to include a limitation on the types of works that their composition can be licensed to or included in. For instance, a “kid friendly” pop star may not want their composition featured in a commercial that contains drug, alcohol or tobacco use, features sexual content, or violence. In addition, an artist should have a right to approve any changes to their finished music. This includes ensuring that any song or lyric alterations conform to the artist’s “mood” or “style” of music. For example, a publisher should not be able to take a dance track created by a dance artist and edit it so that it is now a heavy metal record.

We will now examine a few standard clauses included in an exclusive songwriter publishing agreement.

SERVICES – During the Term, Writer shall furnish to Publisher, Writer’s exclusive services as a songwriter and composer and shall deliver to Publisher, for exclusive exploitation hereunder, all of Writer’s interest in and to all of the Compositions. 

(a) New Compositions – Musical works that are written, composed, created, owned and/or acquired, during the Term, by Writer, alone or in collaboration with another or others (hereinafter referred to individually and collectively as “New Compositions”) 

(b) Old Compositions – Musical works that are written, composed, created, conceived, owned, controlled and/or acquired, in whole or in part, prior to the Term, by Writer, alone or in collaboration with another or others (hereinafter referred to individually and collectively as “Old Compositions”). The New Compositions and the Old Compositions are individually and collectively referred to as the “Compositions.” 

As described above, the publishing agreement usually signs the writer to an exclusive agreement for their publishing rights in all of their Compositions. This means that the agreement applies to any existing compositions that the writer has created and owns as well as any new material they create or acquire during the term of this agreement. It may be advisable to attempt to exclude certain existing tracks from the agreement in an effort to prevent the publisher from receiving income from those compositions. This is especially true, if those tracks are already under a prior exclusive publishing deal. This is not the easiest goal to achieve as most of the time; the artist is only receiving the publishing deal due to an interest in all of their existing material as well as any new material they create going forward.

GRANT OF RIGHTS

(a) Writer hereby irrevocably assigns and grants to Publisher and its successors, all rights and interests of every kind and nature in and to the results of Writer’s songwriting and composing services, including, the Compositions, the copyrights therein and any and all renewals and/or extensions thereof throughout the Territory, all for the full term of copyright protection and all extensions and renewals thereof throughout the Territory. 

(b) Administration – Publisher shall have the sole and exclusive right to administer one hundred percent (100%) of Publisher’s and Writer’s respective interests in and to the Compositions, whether now in existence or hereafter created, including the following: 

(i) To perform the Compositions publicly, by means of public or private performance, radio broadcasting, television, or any and all other means, whether now known or which may hereafter come into existence. 

(ii) To substitute a new title or titles for the Compositions, and to make any adaptation or translation of the Compositions, in whole or in part, and to add new music or lyrics to the music of any Composition. 

(iii) To make and to license others to make, master records, tapes, compact discs, and any other mechanical or other reproductions of the Compositions, including the right to synchronize the same with sound motion pictures, radio broadcast, television, tapes, compact discs and any and all other means or devices, whether now known or which may hereafter come into existence. 

(iv) To print, publish and sell, and to license others to print, publish and sell, sheet music, orchestrations, arrangements, including, without limitation, the inclusion of any or all of the Compositions in song folios, song books or lyric magazines. 

(v) To collect all monies earned during the Term with respect to the Compositions. 

The above language explores the various rights granted to the publisher by the songwriter in the agreement. The clause affords the publisher with the exclusive right to administer one hundred (100%) percent of the song’s publishing. Under this provision, the publisher has the right to license the work for inclusions on CDs, as MP3 downloads and as sheet music. They also have the right to collect all the monies earned on the contracted for compositions.

Additionally, the publisher has the right to license the work on the radio, on television, in motion pictures and by “. . . all other means or devices, whether now known or which may hereafter come into existence.” This language permits the publisher to apply its current publishing deal to any new technology or means of distributing music that may come into existence at a later date. Furthermore, the publisher is granted the right to translate into another language as well as adding new lyrics to any composition created by the songwriter.

In our next installment, we will continue our discussion on a music publisher’s exclusive publishing agreement with a songwriter.

This article is not intended as legal advice, as an attorney specializing in the field should be consulted. Some of the clauses have been condensed and/or edited for content purposes, so none of these clauses should be used verbatim nor do they act as any form of legal advice or counseling. 

An Updated Look at Neighboring Rights

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq. Justin is an entertainment and media attorney for The Jacobson Firm, P.C. in New York City. In 2012, we published an article titled “Neighboring Rights: What They Are & Why They Matter”This newest installment includes a current exploration of today’s neighboring rights, including which countries currently provide them and which don’t. It also explores recent United States’ legislation that has been discussed in an effort to extend “neighboring rights” to U.S. Citizens; as well as a discussion on the current financial impact these royalties have on the world-wide music business. It expands on the existing material while reinforcing the information it provides.]

 

Featured artists, session musicians and master sound recording owners, typically record labels, are entitled to an additional royalty stream that artists and sound recording owners within the United States are currently not receiving. This additional revenue stream is referred to as “neighboring rights” royalties. In recent years, this revenue stream has become a valuable source of additional income for non-U.S. citizen performers. It is reported that neighboring rights generates over $2 billion per year. 

It is well established within the music industry that there are two copyrights in music, the underlying musical composition (“PA”) and the sound recording (“SR”). The underlying musical composition is usually exploited by a music publishing company and songwriters. They receive public performance royalties from a Performing Rights Organization, such as ASCAP, BMI or SESAC in the U.S. The sound recording is typically owned by a record label, which receives their rights from the featured vocalist on the track.

“Neighboring rights” are monies distributed to musicians and master sound recording owners when a work is publicly broadcast or streamed. The concept of “neighboring rights” is derived from Copyright law and has been applied to many countries through the signing of the 1961 Rome Convention. The Rome Convention treaty was enacted to provide featured performers and session musicians with an additional revenue stream when their works are publicly performed.

To receive “neighboring rights” royalties, the Rome Convention treaty mandates that a featured performer, studio musician and master sound recording owner must be a permanent resident of one of the signatory countries. Some signatory countries include Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Japan, Greece, France, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and Poland.

In Rome Convention signatory countries, neighboring rights collection societies, similar to United States’ ASCAP and BMI, collect and distribute “neighboring rights” royalties to their members. Since collection societies vary in different countries, a musician must register the individual master recordings with each collection society in all of the countries that their track is receiving airplay in to receive full payment.

For example, the performing rights organization that distributes neighboring rights royalties in the United Kingdom is PPL; in Germany, it is GVL; in Spain, it is AIE; and, in Canada, it is The Recording Artists’ Collecting Society (RACS), which is a division of The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA).

As discussed earlier, the United States is not a signatory to the Rome Convention treaty. Since the U.S. is a non-signatory country, U.S. citizen musicians do not receive any neighboring rights royalties. This is due to a concept called “reciprocity,” which means that because the United States does not pay neighboring rights royalties to non-U.S. citizens, those countries refuse to pay neighboring rights royalties to U.S. citizens.

This has put U.S. musicians, especially those who are solely featured vocalists and studio session players, such as many of today’s pop stars, in a bind by limiting most of their income to only record (which have steadily declined) and touring sales.

There are various reasons why the U.S. did not become an initial signatory to the Rome Convention treaty. One suggested justification is that radio station lobbyists fear that terrestrial radio stations would then have to pay additional license fees, essentially doubling its current fees. This additional expense may could result in a severe strain on their already dwindling business. The broadcasters are a significant lobby. Others counter this argument by saying that radio stations are predominantly kept in business by the music they play and without the master sound recording copyright owners, featured artists, and session musicians’ creations, the radio station would have nothing to air.

Although American law does not currently recognize neighboring rights for a terrestrial broadcast such as traditional radio stations, the “Digital Performance Rights in Sound Recordings Act of 1995” was established in an attempt to compensate featured vocalists for the digital public performance of their work. This Act allows U.S. musicians and master rights owners to collect royalties on digital performances of their work through satellite radio and Internet platforms.

This includes royalties paid by music streaming platforms such as Pandora and Spotify as well as satellite and Internet radio stations, such as Sirius XM. These royalties are collected and distributed through the licensing organization, SoundExchange. While American musicians can now collect digital performance royalties with the passage of this act, they still cannot collect royalties on terrestrial broadcast platforms. This means that U.S. musicians, who are only featured vocalists, still only receive half of the potential revenue streams available to them that other non-American vocalists do.

As recently as 2017, legislation called the “Fair Play, Fair Pay Act” has been discussed before the U.S. Congress with the intention of remedying the issue of neighboring rights. However, to date, no progress has occurred and it seems that no immediate movement is on the horizon. The lack of this income stream has widespread effects on U.S. musician’s earnings. In fact, according to Niels Teves, Co-CEO of Fintage House, the inclusion of neighboring rights could potentially “double the size of [the U.S.] annual market,” an industry severely in need of a monetary infusion.

Neighboring Rights are untapped revenue streams for many featured musicians and master sound recording owners. Unfortunately, most of this revenue is left unclaimed due to a lack of reciprocity between signatory and non-signatory countries. In order to help accelerate the music business’ recovery, copyright owners should attempt to apply additional pressure on the U.S. Congress to enact the “Fair Play, Fair Pay Act” or some variation of it. This would hopefully give musicians and sound recording owners their due royalties and compensation guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

This article is not intended as legal or business advice, as an attorney or other professional specializing in the field should be consulted.

July Songwriter News

By Stefanie Flamm

The music industry may seem like it’s settling into its predictable lull, but songwriters and publishers worldwide are fighting harder than ever for a fair marketplace:

  • The US Department of Justice rules in favor of licensing regulations that many songwriters and publishers see as “a clusterf—k of epic proportions.
  • YouTube announces $2 billion in gross earnings for rights owners using their Content ID system.
  • After a $750m buyout from the Michael Jackson Estate, Sony now owns the rights to 50% of Sony/ATV and its catalogue of over 2 million songs.

The Department of Justice passed new legislation that could mean smaller royalty payouts for songwriters across the United States.


When it comes to the world of publishing, the biggest news of the month, by far, has been the US Department of Justice’s recent ruling in favor “100 percent licensing,” meaning that for songs with multiple songwriters, a licensee only requires a license from one of the contributors (instead of each of them). The music industry as a whole is shocked and upset by this verdict, especially in the wake of petitions fighting for a total overhaul of the already-outdated legislation currently in place. Songwriters and publishers alike fear that this could mean lower royalty payout, more complicated work for PROs, and an increase in royalty disputes across the industry.

“Instead of making the necessary modifications, we have been saddled with a disruptive proposal that ignores songwriters’ concerns for our future livelihoods in a streaming world, serves absolutely no public interest and creates confusion and instability for all of us who depend on the efficiencies of collective licensing,” said ASCAP’s President Paul Williams released a statement on July 11th.

The DoJ’s decision was carefully thought-out based on the trajectory of the music industry in the digital age, stemming specifically from the idea that 100 percent licensing would make it easier for parties like Pandora to license music. However, even the US Copyright Office has put in a negative word about the verdict and urges the DoJ to rethink 100 percent licensing.

In a 33-page reaction to the new regulations, the US Copyright Office “believes that an interpretation of the consent decrees that would require these PROs to engage in 100-percent licensing presents a host of legal and policy concerns. Such an approach would seemingly vitiate important principles of copyright law, interfere with creative collaborations among songwriters, negate private contracts, and impermissibly expand the reach of the consent decrees.”

While music licensees see the DoJ decision as a smart move in the fact of the current prevalence of music streaming, they’re going to receive a lot of pushback from songwriters and publishers alike. It doesn’t look like BMI, ACSAP, or the US Copyright Office are looking to back down any time soon, so hopefully for the sake of publishers everywhere, the DoJ can go back to the drawing board and retool a system that benefits both the songwriters and the digital streaming services that are licensing music.

YouTube proudly announces $2 billion in gross earnings for rights owners through their Content ID technology, but the music industry needs more convincing.


YouTube announced in a July 14th blog post that they have collected over $2 billion in streaming revenue for rights owners using their rights management system Content ID, double what YouTube reported back in 2014.

For those unfamiliar with Content ID, the system uses audio files submitted to them by a partner (like TuneCore YouTube Sound Recording Revenue Service), and then detects those audio files on third-party videos uploaded to YouTube to monetize on behalf of the rights owner. In layman’s terms, if someone uses your song on a cat video that goes viral, you get paid for any money that the video makes as the rights owner of the music. It has been a lucrative service for many artists in the industry, with YouTube being one of the most popular methods with which to stream music.

“We take protecting creativity online seriously, and we’re doing more to help battle copyright-infringing activity than ever before,” Senior Policy Counsel for Google, Katie Oyama, said in the statement.

However, many songwriters and publishers on the other side of that $2 billion have a different perspective on YouTube’s news. Both labels and publishers alike have argued that Content ID fails to recognize as much as 40% of their music on third-party videos in YouTube. Additionally, while YouTube claims that 98% of the time rights owners prefer to monetize videos rather than take them down, representatives of the music industry believe that Content ID encourages YouTube piracy.

“Their pitch goes something like this: ‘Hey, advertising is good for you. Why not use Content ID to cash in on all the piracy by getting a share of revenue we can generate from ad placement?’ Well, they don’t call it piracy – but make no mistake, in the end, their whole scheme still depends on a culture of piracy,” said Maria Schneider in an op-ed for Music Technology Policy.

It’s hard to discern who’s really in the right with the Content ID debate, since rights owners are making a marginal streaming payout from each video play and, like any automated system, there will be hiccups based on similar sounding recordings, use of samples, etc. What’s clear is that YouTube is trying to make lemonade out of lemons for musicians who would otherwise be making nothing from these pirated videos. While it’s not an ideal situation for rights owners, one can hope it’s at least a step in the right direction as we learn to deal with the repercussions of the digital age in the music industry.

Despite protestations from competition, groups in the EU give Sony the greenlight for their $750m purchase of the Michael Jackson Estate’s 50% stake in Sony/ATV.


Since Michael Jackson’s death in 2009, his partial ownership of Sony/ATV and its massive catalogue of songs have been up in the air. Sony made moves to resolve this back in March of this year, agreeing to purchase Jackson’s 50% stake in the company for $750 million, giving Sony full ownership of the Sony/ATV catalogue. However, earlier this month, Sony competitors Warner and IMPALA unsuccessfully challenged the acquisition in Europe, slowing down the purchase but ultimately not grinding it to a halt.

Universal and IMPALA both came to the EU’s antitrust organizations in regards to the purchase, claiming that Sony’s acquisition of the over two million songs would create a market-distorting level of power in favor of Sony. The massive catalogue, which includes works from Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and the Beatles, alongside Sony’s administration of the EMI music publishing catalogue, gives the company a 28% global market share.

Upon the approval of the acquisition, the European Commission released a statement saying, “the transaction would have no negative impact on competition in any of the markets for recorded music and music publishing in the European Economic Area.” Representatives from IMPALA have called the verdict “clearly wrong,” but it looks like Sony still gets to walk away the winner of this fight.

SOUND BYTES

February Songwriter News

By Dwight Brown

The music industry is moving along and songwriters and artists are making it happen.  

Finally the “Happy Birthday” song controversy is over. A top songwriter, unhappy with a royalty streaming check, gets active. Spotify fights back against a class-action lawsuit. A who’s who of songwriter activists gather at the California Copyright Conference to get the word out.

There’s a lot going on for songwriters and music publishing. It’s a lot to digest.

‘Happy Birthday’ boldly takes steps into Public Domain Land

Indie filmmaker Jennifer Nelson has beaten Goliath. She filed a class action suit against Warner/Chappell for charging her a $1,500 license fee for using “Happy Birthday” in a documentary she was making about the song. According to Hollywood Reporter, “music publisher Warner will pay $14 million to end a lawsuit challenging its hold on the English language’s most popular song.” U.S. District Judge George H. King determined Warner and its predecessor didn’t hold any valid copyright to the song and never acquired the rights to the “Happy Birthday” lyrics.

Warner avoids fines for collecting licensing money for many decades. Around $4.62m of the $14m goes to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. The rest goes to those who licensed “Happy Birthday” and meet the definition of the proposed class. King stopped short of declaring the song was in the public domain. However, Warner will not stand in the way of a judge doing so. “How old are you now?  How old are you now?”

Indie songwriter shocked into action over tiny royalty check

Indie-rock singer-songwriter Michelle Lewis was elated when her song “Wings” had nearly three million streams on Spotify. Not so happy when she got her royalty check. Lewis: “It was for seventeen dollars and seventy-two cents.”

Lewis and writing partner Kay Hanely sought advice from L.A. music lawyer Dina LaPolt, who specializes in songwriter issues. Their voyage of discovery and songwriter rights are chronicled in a very detailed New Yorker article, “Will Streaming Music Kill Songwriting?”

The article points out historical milestones:

  1. The Copyright Act of 1909
  2. The 1920s/’30s when broadcast radio’ s performance royalties were significant.
  3. 1941 when the Justice Department’s Consent Decree allowed Performing-Rights Organizations (collecting societies) to process the licensing fees for songwriters,
  4. The now outdated Copyright Act of 1976.

LaPolt makes some key points:

  1. Unless music-licensing system is overhauled, the songwriting profession will die.
  2. Members of the profession need a bargaining leverage (e.g. a union).
  3. Songwriters have to become activists.

LaPolt, Lewis, and hundreds of songwriters joined Songwriters of North America (SONA).  

Spotify dukes it out with a class-action lawsuit

Spotify responded to a lawsuit filed in December by Camper Van Beethoven and Camper front man David Lowery, who seeks $150 million in damages from the streaming service over alleged willful copyright infringement. Lowery’s suit arrived on Spotify’s doorstep just days after the company announced plans for a new publishing database designed to alleviate royalty payment issues.

In the Billboard article, Spotify raises questions and states the difficulties they face:

Q: What do you do when multiple songs have the same name?

S: Just having the title “Hello” is not enough to determine if it is by Adele, Lionel Richie, Evanescence or Ice Cube.

Q: How do you define the members of the proposed class?

S: Not administratively feasible for a catalog of 30 million-plus songs.

While Spotify spars with the lawsuit, Billboard sources say another class action suit is in the planning stages. Stay tuned.

Grassroots Advocacy Panel speaks out at California Copyright Conference

According to Chris Castle at Music Tech Policy, the activists at the #irespectmusic Grassroots Advocacy Panel at the California Copyright Conference had one thing in common: “All of their stories are inspiring examples of individual action. Blake Morgan took on Pandora and Big Radio and founded the #irespectmusic campaign. Karoline Kramer Gould joined Blake in supporting the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act and became an inspiration to all of us. Adam Dorn started SONA out of spontaneous meetings with songwriters who were confounded by the state of the industry. And David Lowery [involved in Spotify class action suit] started writing the Trichordist blog as a cathartic blog that has inspired thousands and is widely read.”

The activists came together to tell their personal stories. Inspiration turned to advocacy as they actively recruited. Follow them on Twitter through the #irespectmusic‬‬‬‬ and @theblakemorgan, @radioclevekkg @davidclowery @moceanworker and @musictechpolicy. Each is involved in a campaign for the fair treatment of all creators.

Artists and songwriters prove you can’t stop progress. A filmmaker topples a corporate giant’s royalty reign. Advocates fight for fair pay. All are making a difference in 2016. It’s a good time to have TuneCore Music Publishing Administration in your corner.

SOUND BYTES

Team up with TuneCore Publishing Administration!

November Songwriter News

By Dwight Brown

It’s that time of year when you sit back and remember the reasons why you should be thankful.

For songwriters the top of the list is often the ability to write good songs, share them with appreciative fans and collect songwriting royalties from around the world.

This November, as you count your blessings, the world of songwriting and publishing continues to turn…

Ghostwriters haunt rap music

When Meek Mill accused TuneCore alumnus Drake of not writing his own lyrics, the “Hotline Bling” rapper shut him down. Their Twitter tussle led to Forbes.com investigating the hush-hush side of the hip-hop world where some of the biggest and wealthiest rappers in the game get a hand with their rhymes. Dr. Dre and Sean “Puffy Daddy” Combs have worked with talented invisible scribes. In fact, in the Combs classic rap “Bad Boy For Life,” Combs brags, “Don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write checks (Ha).” The D.O.C. and Eminem have left their words on others’ tracks—without a trace. And ghostwriters know full well which artists don’t want, need or use their services: Kendrick Lamar and Jay Z (another TuneCore veteran) are among those that are said to have shunned ghost writers entirely.

Forbes reports that ghostwriters are typically paid between $10,000 and $20,000 upfront for their anonymous contributions. Co-writers, on the other hand, average $50,000 and they have a very enviable fringe benefit: royalty payments that can last for years.

Ghostwriter Tracy Horton recognizes the importance of royalties. “For the first few major projects, I was so happy to be on them that I accepted it as paying my dues—I wasn’t looking for anything,” recalls Horton. After he officially wrote five songs for Supernova, the 2001 solo album of TLC’s Lisa ‘Left-Eye’ Lopez, he saw the light. “Now I know the value of publishing.”

Ghostwriting = one paycheck.
Writing with a credit = a larger check and a royalty stream.

The National Music Publishers Association speaks out

David Israelite, Pres/CEO of the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) and a tireless fighter for publishers and songwriters, has his work cut out for him. In a candid interview on allaccess.com he tackles the elephant in the room: monetization in the digital age. He breaks it down to the basics, stating that “10 years ago, everybody was afraid of theft and piracy. Now our focus has almost entirely shifted to ‘How do we monetize legal sites that are creating a tremendous amount of value?’ “

A quick roundup of the NMPA positions on three key issues outlined in the article:

  • “Fair Pay for Fair Play” Act – They support this initiative.
  • Labels and publishers teaming to maximize profits – They’re for it.
  • Freemium VS Premium streaming services – They prefer Premium,  but feel it should be up to the artist.

I feel we are making progress,” said Israelite, “There is a lot of value in music; we just want to be paid fairly. Let the free market decide, as in every other intellectual property sold on the Internet.”

Can co-writers get paid fairly without Fractional Licensing?

As initially reported by Billboard, a number of sources report that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has sent a letter to ASCAP and BMI telling them that on “split works” — songs written by multiple writers — any writer or rights holder can issue a license for 100% of the song. In other words, the long-established industry practice of each writer or publisher approving their particular share of a song in order to grant a license — also known as “fractional licensing” — may no longer be allowed.

This means that for songs written by more than one writer, if one writer has registered with BMI and the co-writer has registered with ASCAP, BMI would have the right to license on behalf of itself AND the ASCAP writer  

Executives from publishing companies have concerns: Licensees (e.g. streaming services) may pay lower royalty rates when paying one PRO versus several. Songwriters may collect less money if one PRO collects for everybody. Competition among PROs may be stifled. One PRO could take all the marbles. PROs are not set up to pay all rights holders, only their own songwriter members

Why should songwriters care?

93 of the top 100 songs last year had co-writers.

68 of those songs were registered with more than one PRO.  

The DoJ solicited feedback from interested parties and should make a decision in the near future. Here’s one artist’s Op-ed.

Unpaid Royalties. Whose money is it anyway?

Don’t mess with the royalties owed to musician and music industry critic David Lowery (founder of alternative rock band Camper Van Beethoven and co-founder of rock band Cracker). He’ll call you out.  And, as reported by Hypebot, that’s precisely what he did when he wrote a letter to the Attorney General of New York, The Honorable Eric T. Schneiderman, focusing on how “Spotify routinely fails to pay songwriter royalties for songwriters who Spotify has failed to locate – but whose songs they use anyway,. 

Lowery continues, “I personally have estimated that Spotify is using over 150 songs I wrote or co-wrote … [I] am demanding an explanation from Spotify.” There is a precedent for getting unclaimed royalties to the rightful artists: in 2004, State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced a deal with the nation’s top recording companies that returned nearly $50 million in unclaimed royalties to thousands of performers. As part of the agreement, those recording companies, among other concessions, listed the names of artists and writers who were owed royalty payments on company websites. Not a bad idea.

Related article at The Trichordist: Spotify Has Apparently Failed to License, Account and Pay on More than 150 Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven Songs.

Happy Birthday (To You). Now pay the royalty!

Did you ever wonder why people sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” instead of “Happy Birthday (To You)” in films and on television shows? It’s because you had to pay a sync fee for “Happy Birthday (To You)” to the publisher, while “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” is in the public domain where no license is necessary. This may no longer be the case thanks to documentary filmmaker Jennifer Nelson. She was making a film about the song “Happy Birthday” and Warner/Chappell insisted that she pay a $1,500 license fee to use the composition. Nelson did not agree; instead she filed a putative class action case against the publisher in 2013.  In October 2015, a federal judge ruled Warner/Chappell’s copyright claim was invalid, giving summary judgment to the plaintiffs.  However, that was only round one.

In a major twist, a US charity, Association for Childhood Education International, filed a motion to intervene in the case. ACEI’s lawyers claim that the organization had been receiving one-third of all revenues generated from “Happy Birthday (To You)” for over 20 years, a royalty stream it inherited from the song’s original co-writers, sisters Patty and Jessica Hill, who wrote the ditty in 1922. Patty Hill was both a founding member and ‘active participant’ in ACEI. The motion hasn’t been ruled on yet. But if you want to sing Happy Birthday on network TV, it could still cost you!

If you’re interested in claiming your royalties, TuneCore’s Music Publishing Administration is here to help.

SOUND BYTES

Get Paid With Apple Music!

As many independent artists likely know, Apple announced the launch of its upcoming streaming service, Apple Music, at this years WWDC Conference. We’ve made sure to offer our Artists and prospective Artists the chance to read up about Apple Music on our robust Knowledge Base in the meantime, but there were still lingering questions from all corners of the music world about Apple Music’s 3-month trial period.

We’re pleased to share with you, TuneCore Artists, that as of yesterday, Monday, June 22nd, Apple has announced that they will pay royalties to all artists during the initial 3-month trial of Apple Music! This is great news if you’ve already opted in to Apple’s new streaming service, and great news if you haven’t yet! (You’ll still have the opportunity to submit your releases to Apple Music when it has launched).

If you haven’t already, you can go ahead and claim your Apple Music Artist Profile now! This will help you get ready for the June 30 launch of Apple Music and its new Connect feature that lets you add an artist profile and share remixes, videos, demos, sound bytes and more with your fans.

In case you missed it, initially Apple announced that streaming royalties for the first three months of Apple Music (June 30-Oct 1) would not be paid, as no listeners would be paying for the service yet whatsoever. This generated chatter among international indie label groups all the way up to Taylor Swift, who penned an open letter to Apple on behalf of all the hardworking indies out there.

Our mission will always be to provide you with the best opportunities to get your music heard and to make money doing what you love. This newly announced decision by Apple will help you achieve your goals. Read more about getting your releases in Apple Music here.