Freedom Rock

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.

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