Freedom Rock

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Songwriters Get Paid (Can we say Micro-Pennies?)

Question: How do you get a songwriter off your front porch?  Answer: You pay him for the pizza.

That joke would be funny if it weren’t so true. More and more songwriting professionals in the music industry have to find creative ways to make money from their craft.

In my last quarterly BMI statement (BMI is Broadcast Music Incorporated, one of three Performing Rights Organizations in the U.S., and the one which collects my performance royalties), the payment on one particular song caught my eye.  Remember, the Performance Royalty is money made from all broadcast performances…terrestrial radio, satellite radio, internet, digital jukeboxes, digital audio services, aircraft, and background music services.

Under background music services, one of my songs was played 187,430 times on two different services, Muzak and CMS. I was thrilled! That meant, for that quarter, my song was being played over 7,809 times a day in different parts of the country . . . times two! My brain was at warp speed thinking of all the ways I could spend the money that those 374,860 plays represented. After tithes and offerings, I could pay off my daughter’s student loans, help my son with his writing career, update this old computer, modernize some 20 yr. old equipment for the studio, hire some musicians for upcoming projects and maybe even start a savings account. Dare I even say those words? Inspirations were blasting into my brain.

It took a matter of nanoseconds for those dreams to be shattered as my eye traveled from the “Count” column, past the “Period,” “Bonus Level,” and “Your %” columns to the “Royalty Amount” column. I sought the number of digits that would be to the left of the decimal point.

I was shocked to see that for all those 187,430 plays on CMS I made $3.63 (that’s not $3.63 a play, it’s $3.63 cents total, for all the plays).  For the same amount of performances on Muzak, I made $5.34, total...double the money. Awesome!

Two questions came to mind. Why are the two amounts so different if they’re both background music services; and, Why am I only getting $.00001 cent (one one-hundred thousandth of a cent) every time my song is broadcast?

Oh, “Bitter” . . . table for one!

I quickly checked the other Background Music Services for the same song.  Playnet played it 702 times and paid me $.57 (that’s $.0008 a play…I’m getting a raise!). The next was Sirius XM Communications. They played it 4 times, but I got $.06 (that’s 1½ cents per play). I’m in the money now.

You can see how hard it is to make a living as a non-performing songwriter. When you get paid every three months, it gives the word “Budget” a whole new meaning.

So, the next time you order a large Meat-Lovers or Super-Veggie pizza, remember to tip the delivery person well.  They just may have written your favorite song.