A John Braheny column from the archives…
(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)
Songmine: Music in Print by John Braheny
If you’re a writer destined for success because you write mass appeal songs, particularly adult contemporary, MOR, pop, or country, you’re looking at a lucrative print market. With the possi-ble exception of the education print market, though, the songs will have to have been very popular records to make all those piano bar singers, Top 40 bands and other print buyers want them. I’ve found, though, that most writers know little about print music. To explore it I interviewed Ronny Schiff, an independent agent for print projects, at the L.A. Songwriters Showcase. She’s worked for three of the biggest print companies–Hansen, Warner Bros. Music and Almo Publications (no longer in the print business). About 90 percent of this article is taken from that talk. There are several types of print music publishing: 1. Sheet Music: piano/vocal arrangements, often with chord designations for other instruments. Personality Folio: in which the concept is based on a name ar-tist or writer; “The Songs Of…,” “The…Songbook.” These in-volve an additional contract called a “name and likeness” contract which allows the print publisher to use the writer or artist’s name or picture. For example, Barry Manilow could negotiate a “name and likeness” contract if someone wanted to do a personality folio that included not only songs he wrote but songs by other writers that he’d popularized. The philosophy is that his picture on the cover will sell that sheet music or folio whereas the writer’s name won’t always attract that attention. 3. Matched Folio- music from a: particular album or musical theater show. These also involve a “name and likeness” contract. 4. Mixed Folio: based on concepts like “Easy Piano Tunes,” “Hits of ’78,” etc. which involve music from a mixture of writers. Schiff says that “Peaceful Easy Feeling” was one of the most popular mixed folios. 5. Educational: included in this category are arrangements for choruses, marching bands, concert bands, jazz bands, -and or-chestras, and these are obviously sold to schools. drill teams, etc. This market gives music great exposure beyond actual sales. How many times in school have you heard the same songs being prac-ticed by the chorus or band? Multiply yourself by the people in schools and/or attending sports events and you get an idea how much exposure is available there. Writers also receive royalties if their songs are used in a televised event or parade. Another area of the educational market is “How to” books–“How To Play Bass Kazoo” or “Easy Gong Method” etc. You needn’t be concerned with it as a songwriter unless you also have teaching skills you’d like to use. There’s some demand for jazz “how-to”s, drum methods and country guitar techniques. What does your publisher get? Retail prices for print music, like everything else, continue to rise. If you’re interested at a later date, do your own survey. As of now, here’s how it looks: Sheet music: Print publishers will pay your publisher about 40 to 50 cents per sheet, which retail now for about $2.50. Folio: These will pay about 121/a to 15 percent of the Retail Selling Price (RSP) to your publishers. in the case where there are songs by various writers, this income is pro-rated according to the total number of songs in the folio. What does the writer get? Usually the short end of the stick. There has long been a practice in standard” publishing con-tracts to offer the writer a “penny” value on sheet music sales which currently stands at about six to ten cents per copy. It means that if your publisher can renegotiate his deal with the print com-pany after a new version of your hit becomes popular, you may still be getting a nickel a sheet from your old deal while his share goes up. What you should try to negotiate is 50 percent of all royalties received by your publisher from all your print sales. That way you remain equal partners in all royalties received. The 50 per-cent is based on a standard writer/publisher split but should you be able to negotiate a split more favorable to you, the print deal should reflect the same split. Publisher’s have no justification for givirig you less than a 50/50 split on your print deal.-There are situations where a publisher may have to lay out some legal fees to negotiate a difficult deal with a print publisher, but that’s part of the expense of running a publishing company, just like produc-ing demos and mailing tapes.