Freedom Rock

Thursday, May 26, 2011

NSAI-Toronto Tin Pan North Music Festival

First time in Toronto. Headlining two shows for NSAI-Toronto Tin pan North Music Festival. Friday night Trane Studios 7:30 pm. Saturday night the Eton House 7:30 pm. Come see me, eh!
So excited to be here!

Monday, May 9, 2011


Did you know that songwriting is the only profession where the government tells you how much you can charge for your product? Even as the price of doing business goes up, demo singers charge more for their vocals, musicians charge more to play, and studios raise their rates on studio time, the songwriter’s pay is dictated by the Copyright Tribunal of the United States Government. So everytime a CD is sold for $14.99, by law, we can only earn 9.1 cents for one recorded song on a CD, split between all the writers and publishers on that song.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think demo singers, musicians and studios should be able to charge what they want. Lord knows that we in the music business are not paid enough as it is. But don’t tell us as songwriters how much we can charge and then make it a law that we can’t raise our rates.

Back in 1909, when the federal Copyright Law was written, it provided for the first compulsory mechanical license to allow anyone to make a mechanical reproduction of a song. The publishers and recording companies got together and decided to pay themselves a penny each for their music. It was sheet music and piano rolls at the time, but later became records, 8-tracks, cassette tapes, and finally CDs, both physical and digital. When someone raised the question “What about the songwriters?” we were given a penny for our works as well, split between all the writers on the song.

In 103 years, since 1909, songwriters have received an 8.1 cent raise. Sound like a profession you want to get into? When my husband started writing songs for a living the mechanical rate was 3 cents. When I started writing songs in 1980, the mechanical license rate was 5.3 cents. When I started lobbying in Washington D.C. for copyright protection, it was 5.75 cents. Through the lobbying efforts of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), it was raised to 6 cents, then 7.1, then to a whopping 9.1 cents where it stands now…an 8.1 cent raise in 103 years. Awesome!

Think of an upside down pyramid with the point being the songwriter. Above them are the publishers, the producers, the musicians, the studios, the artists, the agents and the managers, the record companies and the consumers, growing larger as you go up. When the money for the CD comes in (remember my last blog about mechanical royalties) the money starts at the top and trickles down to the bottom, until the songwriter is left with pennies. Talk about trickle down economics! As the NSAI motto states, “It All Begins With A Song.” No one above the songwriter would have any money in the music business without that song, but when the money comes in, we are the last ones to receive any. It can be as much as 9 months to a year before we start seeing any money for a recorded song after the CD is released.

Yet still we persist. Songwriters don’t write because we want to…we write because we have to. We walk around with our heads in the clouds because there is always a melody or lyrics in our brains, or at least the right side of our brains, that just has to come out. We didn’t get into this profession for the money, but it sure would be nice to get the pennies the government says we can have.

So when people who “file-share” or download songs for nothing…or as I call it downloot our songs, thinking they’re “sticking it to the record company” think again. You’re hurting all of us in the music industry…especially me, the songwriter at the bottom of that upside down pyramid.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Show of hands…anyone know how songwriters get paid? Anyone? I didn’t think so…and that’s our fault as songwriters. We sit in a room with no windows, and pour out our hearts to the world, and don’t communicate that we’re losing our profession. Most of us could care less about politics, or the "left brain" affairs of daily life. Less than 10% of all songwriters have their songs recorded at all, and less than 1% get their songs on the radio. So, how does anyone make money writing songs?

Songwriters get paid by the royalty system in two ways. They are paid with Performance Royalties, when your song gets played either on terrestrial radio, satellite radio, or in concert; and they are paid with Mechanical Royalties, when the CD, on which the song is recorded, gets sold.

Let’s start with Mechanical Royalties. Up until recently, a songwriter could make a somewhat decent living having his songs recorded on CDs, or LPs as they started out…even if the song was not a single (remember, less than 1% of songwriters reach that "single" status). When I go to Washington DC to lobby for copyright protection, I am constantly amazed to find out that most of our lawmakers think songwriters are all rich. “All you need to do is get one song cut and you’re a millionaire,” is what I hear constantly. Not true.

Show of hands again…who knows how much I make if I have one song cut on one CD that costs $14.99? Anyone? If you said a dollar, I’d like to write for you.  Actually, that is what the lawmakers in Washington answer when I pose that question to them. The conversation continues something like this: Me: “No, guess again.” Them: “50 cents?” Me: “No…lower.” Them: “25 cents?” Me: “No, lower still.” Them: “Surely not less than 10 cents?” Me: “Yes…less than 10 cents…prorated between all the writers and all the publishers on the song.” That means, if you co-wrote the song with two other people, and those writers each had one publisher (sometimes there are as many as 6 publishers on a song) then the 9.1 cents that we get for one recorded song on a CD gets divided 6 ways and turns into less than pennies each. Do they still make pennies? Yes, because I get paid in them. Still want to be a songwriter?

In my next blog, I will tell you about Performance Royalties…stay tuned if you’re a songwriter…or a wannabe. Remember, all paid songwriters started out as wannabes…me included. I just didn’t know how to make money at it. I’ll let you in on a little secret…it’s hard; but the feeling I get when I start out with a blank piece of paper and a few hours later come out with a song is unparalleled. Next time, I’ll explain about Performance Royalties. I realize it’s "left brain" kind of stuff, but if you want to make money in this biz, you better know how you get paid.

Donna Ulissse and the Poor Mountain Boys: Where the Cold Wind Blows