Tag Archives | business 101

SongBizness: Production Music Libraries

Production Music Libraries

By John Braheny

Production music libraries are a major source of songs and underscore for film and TV productions, multi-media projects, video games, commercials, music between TV and radio programs and commercials, station ID’s, station and show promo’s, direct to DVD/video productions and many other uses where producers need quick access to pre-cleared (the rights already granted), inexpensive music. There’s been an explosion of production music libraries in the past few years that parallels the growth of new digital cable channels, satellite and web radio broadcasts.

If you’re an unknown writer or band who doesn’t have the clout to get your songs into big budget productions and don’t have the time to constantly research all the new low-budget shows that may be in production and in need of underscore music or songs, music libraries represent a major opportunity for you. These companies secure the rights (more about that later) to broadcast quality songs and instrumental underscore compositions submitted to them that they feel they can place in audio-visual productions. They then assemble and reproduce “libraries” of these collections on CD’s (and/or online) and make them available to production companies.

They’re indexed by musical style, mood, instrumentation, length, tempo, male, female or group vocal and any other attributes that allow an audio-visual producer to quickly target the type of music they need. They find the piece, use it, and fill out a “cue sheet” for the music library and your PRO (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) that includes information on how the song is used, how long, name of the piece, composer(s) and owner of the copyright

Some of the bigger libraries hire their own in-house composers to create music for them but will also sign individual songs and complete new libraries from indie composers. That’s where you have your best opportunity.

What does “broadcast quality” really mean? Don’t feel you have to spend a bundle on studio masters. Any good digital audio work-station (DAW) setup or a good live recording can give you the quality you need if you know what you’re doing. Apple’s Garage Band continues to upgrade to take even more advantage of the new screamin’ Intel Core Duo processor. The trick is to study and experiment with it (or any other software or operating system you use) to maximize the quality of your recordings. Recording, The Magazine For The Recording Musician is a great resource. If you’re submitting instrumental pieces, they should be well arranged. Stay away from using stock sounds that come packaged with your keyboard or software. Use live musicians whenever possible, particularly for rock and country. They hate keyboard triggered samples that emulate steel or acoustic guitars, saxes, etc. Try to create fresh sounds. Generating a mood is important. They’ll use pieces with strong melodic themes but will also use underscoring that just enhances a mood. It’s also a good idea to produce mixes with and without lead instruments.

Songs are used in many different ways. Sometimes the lyric is important. Sometimes it’s irrelevant, and your song will be barely audible in a bar scene behind a conversation. It may be more important that the style is authentic and appropriate for the era in which the story is set.

Exercise: Tape TV shows (Try a drama and a comedy.) with just an audio recorder. Play them back and make lists of all the “cues” (pieces of music used) with info about mood, number of instruments, style, length, use of songs vs. underscore, and how many are under the dialog. Are they using different mixes of the same track for different cues? There are actually cases of entire shows being scored using a single five-minute piece of music that’s dissected and used in different configurations for each cue: only drums and bass in one, just the string pad of part of the piece in another, etc. Use this information as a guide to the cues you’ll submit as demos.

It’s a good idea to go to the online sites of the big music libraries, find the style of music you create and search for examples of that style on the site as someone looking to use that music would do. Note how it’s presented – how long – types of mixes – the way they describe the pieces. Here are some libraries to start with:


Killer Tracks

Opus 1 Music Library

Presenting Your songs to Music Supervisors and Song Placement Companies

The best resource I can give you is to go to a series of interviews with music supervisors and music editors along with other very valuable information by Skip Adams. Skip is a music publisher whose company, Global Graffiti specializes in custom placement for film and TV. I particularly liked his interview with Madonna Wade-Reed whose music supervision credits include Boston Public, Alias, and Smallville. I especially like her candor in describing what she does.

What’s the Deal?

Advances are rare. They know that you know you’ll make most of your income on the “back end” from your PROs after it’s broadcast. In most of the situations listed above you’d get an advance for synch and master use licenses when pitching directly to music supervisors for specific shows or a percentage of the advance when pitching via song placement companies. That’s not the case with music libraries.

Contracts vary from library to library so read them very carefully. Some are actually publishing agreements in which they own the copyright just like any other publishing contract. You get your 50% writers share. I’ve also seen exclusive publishing deals in which the library exempts a maximum amount of CD sales 5,000 or 10,000 for example (This is undoubtedly negotiable.) that the group is allowed to sell without the publisher taking publishing royalties.

Ideally you’d want a non-exclusive deal in which you’re free to use the song in your own CD and sell as many as you want – or place it in film TV on your own. A trade-out on that situation is that they’ll often want not only the publisher’s share of income but 50% of the writer’s share (This usually happens when the library is required to give the publishing rights to a film company to get the placement..) leaving you with 25%. Though splitting the writer’s share goes against everything holy to me, you have to decide how important it is to you to have a non-exclusive contract. You need to consider that carefully, especially if you have a co-writer, which means that you’d now be looking at 12.5 %.

Speaking of co-writers, it’s important that you have a written agreement that neither of you can make any kind of deal other than a compulsory license (See page___) without the other’s consent. That would certainly include the above situation.

Reversion clauses can sometimes be negotiated that give you back the rights to the song within two or three years if it hasn’t been placed.

The Legal Backup You’ll Need
For the master recording, a license must be granted to the audio-visual producer that states that you control all the rights to the performances on the recording. Each musician or singer who contributes a performance to your recording has a copyright interest in their performance and you must cover yourself with a “work for hire” release agreement with your musicians/singer(s), (See Work For Hire Agreement) Though you may not have to show these releases to the production music library or the audio-visual producer, you’ll have to “warrant” in the contract that you have done it so your singer doesn’t sue them when she hears herself on that TV show.

If you pay your musicians and singers for the sessions and get the releases, you have no obligation to pay them more later and it’s cleaner that way. However, a situation in which you might consider it would be if you have a band or a dedicated group of musicians/singers you work well with and can always count on to give you great performances. Sometimes it’s tough to find a crew like that and you want to keep them happy by sharing a percentage of the “master use” half of the income. As an indie self-published writer you – and co-writer(s) get the “synch” portion. A caution in making the decision to give your musicians a piece of the action is that it could compromise or preclude your ability to make a deal with the publisher or song placer later, with whom you would need to share all or part of the master-use fee.
Note: If you hire a demo service to produce your demos, do not forget to have them sign a work-for-hire agreement. Before you even commit to hiring them be sure to let them know that you require it. Most demo-services today do broadcast-quality work that will easily qualify for broadcast use and they don’t mind giving you a release agreement.

A common practice for music libraries is to limit their involvement only to audiovisual uses. The benefit for the writers is that they’re free to use the songs on their own CDs, for example, without having to pay royalties to the music library for a song they played no role in exploiting. The benefit to the library is that they’re able to offer a non-exclusive license to the writer and it gives them competitive access to better material from bands who wouldn’t go for an exclusive contract.

Actually, re-titling as been working pretty well so far despite the fact that, according to some attorneys and publishers, this is problematic because the rights given to the music library are actually for the same song since nothing is really changed but the title. Music business attorney Andrea Brauer has much experience with these deals and offers this advice about some things to watch for in the contracts.

“The practice these days with music libraries is to acquire the rights for a “derivative work” of the original song, thereby allowing the songwriter to retain ownership of the composition and at the same time allowing the music library to license and thereafter collect its proper income on placements of the composition. Of course to create this derivative work, the library simply takes the original work, as is, and re-names it. Unfortunately, this re-titling of songs clashes head on with copyright law which will not recognize the existence of a separate work unless the new work has been fundamentally changed in terms of its lyrics or melody. Nevertheless, music libraries are not likely to change their practice until confronted by the copyright office, so here’s some advice about what should be contained in those contracts.

First of all, the whole point from the songwriter’s perspective is to protect his/her rights in the original song. Therefore, the contract must specifically acknowledge the existence of the original song and its title; it must acknowledge that the rights being granted are for a derivative of the original song and it must state the proposed new title of the “derivative work”. There must be a clause reserving all rights in the original song to the songwriter and a clause stating that the music library has no rights to the original song. This may all seem self evident but you’d be surprised at how many poorly written contracts fail to mention any titles at all and, as a consequence, the library gets credited with the wrong title.

Two final points: If the library seeks the right to authorize a true derivative work (i.e., to bring in a new songwriter to alter the lyrics or melody) it must not be allowed to do so without the original writer’s permission. Otherwise the original writer will quickly lose control over who gets to use the song. And last but not least, make sure there is an audit clause in the contract so that if the accounting looks suspicious, it can be challenged.”

Caution: A practical problem with re-titling is that many music supervisors at audio/visual production companies do NOT like it. Here’s what happens: The music library pitches the song for a TV show, then the writer/artist/band happens be be heard by, or has a contact with, that same music supervisor at the show who hears the same song with two different titles, from two different sources. A big red LEGAL TROUBLE!!! sign flashes through her mind and she says no to both. And in series TV there’s no time to sort it out.

Music libraries offer a great opportunity for writers of both songs and instrumental tracks to potentially earn a substantial income from the use of their music in film, television, games and a variety of other audio-visual uses. It does take time, dedication and patience because you need to grow it song by song and placement by placement. Nothing happens overnight.

To find music libraries, get Music Business Registry‘s Film and Television Music Guide.

Websites with lists of production music libraries.

The Music Library Association

Production Hub – go to Post Production , then to Libraries/music

… or just search Google under “Production Music Libraries”.


A version of this article appears in The Craft and Business of Songwriting (3rd ed) by John Braheny.


SongBizness: Collaborations and Co-Writes

Let’s assume that you’ve found a lyricist and/or composer whose words or music feel like the magic ingredient you need to write great songs. You find that you can work well together and, first thing you know, you’ve got a fantastic song. You say, “Great, let’s find a publisher!” Your partner says, “Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you, I’ve got my own publishing company so I’d like to publish the song.” At that point the song may be in trouble. You may rightfully ask whether your partner’s company is capable of properly promoting the song. Does the company have the connections to get the song recorded? You’re better off not having a publisher at all than to have the song tied up with an inadequate one. At least you’d be free to place the song with a good publisher.

If you find yourself in this situation, you might request that if your partner’s company doesn’t get the song recorded in six months or a year, that he give up his publishing interest and the two of you look for a publisher together. You might also set up your own company and split the publishing, but jointly agree to the time limit. Or you may agree to bring in a third publisher at which point you both will give an equal share of the publishing (or all of it) to the new party.

You also need to agree on a division of the writer’s share of the royalties. Your collaborator may have supplied a title for a song but you wrote the rest of it. You might feel you did most of the work and should get 90 percent of the money. Your partner may feel that without the title, which supplied the premise, there wouldn’t be a song. You may both be right but that kind of bickering could destroy a very promising collaborative effort. It’s generally agreed that if you get together with the intention of writing a song or to establish an ongoing writing relationship, you split the writers’ royalties 50/50.

Without a written agreement to the contrary, all rights and percentages are split equally. Each writer owns an equal portion of the copyright and each of the writers is empowered to grant a license to anyone who wants to record it.

If one of you is a lyricist and the other writes music, it’s a pretty straightforward arrangement. It tends to get a little touchy if each of you write music and lyrics or if the contributions are more difficult to quantify. There’s more room for argument about who contributed the most. That’s why it’s always best to agree on equal shares ahead of time.

On some of the Lennon/McCartney tunes, one undoubtedly contributed more than the other on individual songs or wrote them himself, but they just didn’t want to fight over it every time so they divided the royalties equally.

Here are some other possible situations you may have to deal with:

1. You’ve written the song and you take it to someone else to “tighten it up” and that person contributes a new hook or changes the song’s direction. How much writer credit will he get? At the time you bring your song to the writer you should try to work it out based on what you want him to contribute.

2. You take your song to an artist who wants to “personalize” it and changes something. For this he wants writer’s credit. This is a very common and potentially volatile situation, with several factors to weigh:

1. Is this an important cut? With an established artist there’s no question about it. But even with a new artist the song could be a major hit or end up on a hit album. Any recording credit may therefore be important to you.

2. How extensive are the changes “Personalizing” the song by changing a “she” to a “he” does not warrant a writer’s credit. If the artist wants more extensive changes and you want to accommodate him, offer to make them yourself. Get as much information as you can about what the artist is looking for and present several rewrites. If the artist seems unreasonably resistant to your changes, you have to face the reality that you may lose the cut unless you allow him to rewrite or just give him the credit. You can swallow your pride and walk to the bank, walk away with your pride (and your empty pockets), or tell the artist you can’t change this song but suggest that you write something together from scratch. If it’s just a matter of financial incentive for the artist to record the song, you also have the publisher’s share of the royalties to offer if you publish the song yourself.

3. How badly does the artist want the song? If he thinks it’s good enough he’s torn between wanting the writing credit and money and possibly blowing a potential hit. You’re in the same position, too, except that you may also be motivated by anger that someone would have the huevos to demand credit for your work.

While many artists wouldn’t think of asking for undeserved credit (and royalties), others do it in a New York minute. You ultimately have to decide whether it’s worth it to your career to give up a portion of those royalties and credits.

3. A publisher suggests changes and wants a writer’s credit. Generally speaking, this is the publisher’s job, and she shouldn’t ask. It would depend, of course, on how substantial the contribution is and it can get a little touchy, but it should be your decision.

4. Maybe you decide later that for some reason you want a new lyric to a song you’ve already written with someone. Is it okay to change? Not without your co-writer’s written permission.

5. What if your melody writer or publisher wants a new foreign language lyric? Do you still get paid? A decision has to be made whether you’re going to say, ‘words and music by _______, or words by _____ and music by ______. In the former, if a foreign sub-publisher wants to commission a lyric translation, the percentage granted to the translator comes out of both your royalties equally. In the latter, it’s deducted from the lyricists half. In the former, if you’re sued for lyric infringement, you both get sued. In that latter, the lyricist gets sued. In the former, if there’s a successful instrumental version of the song, both writers get paid, in the latter, the lyricist doesn’t. In the former, if a lyric is reprinted, you both get paid, in the latter, only the lyricist. Note that all these are also vice-versa and know that these questions can be worked out contractually.

All these potential problems point to the need for collaborators to get all the business straight before they get into the music. There are few things more frustrating than knowing you’ve written a winner but can’t do anything with it.

K.A. Parker is a professional lyricist, a five-time American Song Festival winner, and former staff writer for Motown’s Stone Diamond Music who has taught lyric writing at UCLA, Musician’s Institute and throughout the US. Her suggestions for conducting a business meeting and list of considerations for collaborators (which she uses in her classes) is the best I’ve seen and, with her permission, I offer them to you minus the more extensive discussions of the ones I’ve already covered.

Setting up a business meeting is like buying fire insurance: you may not think you need it until it’s too late. The things that you’ll be discussing will only be necessary if and when the songs you write with your collaborator turn out to be good enough to be published, recorded, and released. Of course, there’s no way to know this until you actually start working together. But, assuming you believe in your own potential, and in that of your collaborator (and there’s no reason to work with another person unless you do), I am going to assume that you agree that a meeting of the minds on business matters is necessary before you begin work on music matters.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because your potential collaborator is “nice,” that ironing out the business will be a snap later on. Most of us are “nice” when we are trying to impress others. But greed does amazing things to people and business is about money, after all. Ego, dreams, and money make a powerful brew. Many successful songwriters have ended up giving their royalty income to the lawyers who were left to sort out the disagreements between two “nice,” talented people.

The business meeting has three basic rules:

1. Never conduct a business meeting at the same time as a creative meeting. You’ll need to be organized, closed, and tough to do business. You’ll need to be flexible, open, and childlike to be creative. Don’t try to be both at the same time — it won’t work. Conduct your business in a neutral place, like a coffee shop, on a day when you’re not planning to write together. Sharing a meal is a nice idea. It softens the whole affair, limits the time frame (usually not more than an hour), and makes it easy to exit if you see that it’s not going well. Of course, if things do go well, it helps to bond the relationship, too.

2. Come prepared. You may very well end up educating your new partner if she is less informed about the business than you are. Make copies of information you want her to read. Back up your opinion with resources. Take notes or tape the meeting for future reference. Make a checklist or agenda of the items you want to discuss. Be prepared to draw a letter of agreement for signature at a later date, based on the discussion. A business meeting is not a good time to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs of any kind. Have your drink when the meeting is over.

3. Go in with a positive attitude. Don’t enter the meeting with tales about how you got screwed before and you’re doing this to protect yourself. Assume good will and go from there. You’re building a team and every team needs goals, guidelines, regulations, and direction. Don’t be defensive. More than anything, the session should be an information-gathering interview. If you conduct it well, it should save you from any hostile confrontations in the future.

Now that you know the rules, what specifics do you discuss? Here’s a list. You may want to eliminate some of these points or include some of your own, but all the basics are here:

1. Is your information current – name, address, phone numbers, Social Security number, birth date and affiliation (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) on your partner? This will go in your files and be used when you fill out the copyright forms on your songs. The minute you create a copyright (i.e., a song) together, you must keep up to date on this information. I remember vividly how I felt when a publisher wanted a song of mine badly, but finally passed when my collaborator could not be found. Most publishers will not be interested in publishing half a song. Keep in touch! Note: I wait until I know I want to work with someone before I ask for his/her address and Social Security number. Some people may be touchy about giving this info to a new acquaintance.

2. How does your partner feel about publishing? Does he have his own publishing company? Is it active? Does he want your publishing as well? How does he feel about working with the major publishers if they offer a contract on the tune? Is he interested in working with a small, untried publishing company?

3. Does your partner have aspirations to be a recording artist? Do you? Will either of you want to keep all the best songs for yourself? This is a source of major conflict with many collaborators and should be thoroughly discussed before the work begins. There is nothing more frustrating than holding back a great song on the chance that your partner might get signed — or seeing all your best songs go to another person, if you’re the one with artistic aspirations. Be frank about this issue.

4. When is a song completed? Ideally, it’s when BOTH of you say so. That’s okay if one of you isn’t a perfectionist or a procrastinator. Clashes of temperament will be a sore spot here unless you come up with a set of rules about this. What if you disagree? How many times do you rewrite after a critique session? After the demo is complete, will you be willing to go back in and make major changes?

5. How prolific are you? How prolific is your partner? If one of you writes every day and one of you only writes when you’re inspired, that can be very frustrating for the more prolific of the two. Do you or your partner need deadlines? Pressure? How long will you give a lyric or melody to your partner before you expect to see some activity on his part? What do you do when one of you wants the song finished and the other one doesn’t want to finish it, or can’t?

6. When do you bring in a third party to work on the song? Who will you bring in? Ideally, it’s when you both agree you’ve reached a dead end. Again, in an ideal situation, it should be a mutually agreed-upon third party. But you need to discuss this thoroughly. Never bring in a third party to work on a song without telling your partner. You’d be surprised how often this is done and it usually means the end of the partnership.

7. What about splits? This is a major bone of contention in many relationships where one party writes both words and music and the other party only writes one or the other. Professional writers split everything right down the middle, no matter who does what. When a third party is called in, everything is divided into thirds.

8. What about demos? Where do you do them? Who decides which songs to do? Who pays for them and how? Who produces, engineers, plays, sings? Generally, the fees are split exactly like the song, 50/50. But what if one partner owns a studio and can play all the instruments, etc.? Does he charge the other partner for the demo costs? This is an individual matter and both parties should agree with whatever arrangement is made, regardless of how they work it out.

9. What connections do each of you have? Would either of you feel comfortable in using them? Is one of you more aggressive? Do either of you go to LA, New York, or Nashville on a regular basis? How will you get your songs heard by publishers, producers, or artists? Do either of you belong to professional organizations such as the Nashville Songwriters Association, The Songwriters Guild or Taxi? Would either of you be willing to join to get professional feedback, pitch songs to producers and publishers and so forth? Most partnerships without goals die quickly. Once you spend the time and money required to write and demo your songs – then what? Are either of you prepared to move to LA, Nashville, or New York to better promote your work?

10. How do each of you feel about songwriting competitions? Who pays the entry fee and how will the winnings be split?

Creating music successfully with your partner will depend on the flexibility and willingness to work things out that each of you brings to the relationship. If the songs you produce are great, the incentive to work out the snags will be greater. It might help if you adopt the belief that people are more important than songs. If you don’t believe that, then maybe you should write alone.

I highly recommend you download my Sample Collaboration Contract.


SongBizness: Music Supervisors

The following article by music supervisor Michael Rogers is the first in a regular column for Film Music Magazine, a must-read for anyone interested in writing music for film and TV. This is a great introduction to what music supervisors do.

Michael Rogers is owner of Rogers Entertainment, a full-service film & television music supervision and clearance company in Los Angeles.

by Michael Rogers

Adventures in Music Supervision 101

This is the first in a series of columns on the craft of music supervision. As a relatively new specialty in film production (and sometimes pre-production-more on this later), this monthly column will attempt to both educate and (with any luck) entertain you.

For the past 20 years, almost every feature film has had a music supervisor or coordinator. Their role is often misunderstood, and they are in all fairness not quite as powerful as frequently perceived. However, they are inherently essential to the contemporary filmmaking process.

LESS IS MORE (or, wouldn’t it be cheaper to just have the director hum a few bars?)
It might prove fruitful to begin with what music supervision is not. Apart from the superstar music supervisors (including among others, Budd Carr, Bonnie Greenberg, Peter Aftermath, Sharon Boyle, and Karyn Rachtman), most are not the initial decision-makers about which composer to hire for underscore and/or which source songs to license. In the affable words of composer John Ottman, “music supervisors are dead wood.” In theory, the director and producer(s) usually provide the suggestions from which to select film music.

A typical scenario involves the director/producer leaning toward a particular composer with whom they already have a previously successful working relationship or whose work has made an impression. Likewise, particular source songs may be dancing around their heads as they shower (hopefully not singing too loudly-as only their loved ones would appreciate). The music supervisor’s job tends to be as creative as his or her collaboration with the director/producer allows it to be. Contrary to some popular views, part of a music supervisor’s job is not to interfere with the freedom and creative process of the composer. If a supervisor’s background happens to include composition, arrangement, production/engineering, theory, or even tin-ear syndrome-so be it. But once a composer is hired it is always advisable to oversee at a distance to allow him or her to actualize the talent they are hired to utilize.

A SUPERVISOR’S RESPONSIBILITY (or what does that guy over there do, anyway?)
An initial determination must be made about whether there will be a need for pre-recorded music to be used in coordination with principle photography (i.e., a scene requires a character to write an original song because he/she plays the part of a musician in the film). In this case, the supervisor will usually be required to hire an original songwriter (details about songwriter deals will be covered in a future column) to create the original song, book studio time, hire any necessary vocalist(s) or musicians to record the song, and oversee the mixing and mastering processes to ensure that the song is ready prior to principle photography.

Depending on a music supervisor’s industry credentials and relationship with the producer and/or director, he or she may or may not be involved in the composer selection process. The final call is that of the director and producer. Once the composer has been selected, the supervisor may negotiate and structure the composer deal. The music supervisor may be present during spotting (watching the footage to determine where music will go) but it is usually advisable to leave this process to the director and composer. In fact, the supervisor undoubtedly works more closely with the music editor than with the composer. Music supervisor Gerry Gershman (Buffalo 66) confirms, “For the most part, supervisors oversee that the big-picture musical vision is being realized and that the composer is staying within budget. Usually the music supervisor’s creativity is in deciding what source songs will most seamlessly match the tone and theme of the composer’s underscore and vice versa.” Part of the job also becomes the fine art of ensuring fair compensation for the artists while at the same time staying within the studio/production company music budget.

Next, the supervisor must work with the director and producer to determine what, if any, source songs will best enhance particular scenes and sequences in a picture. This process can often be the most creative aspect of the job. However, going about the business of clearing and licensing songs is an art in and of itself. The supervisor must close a deal with both the song’s record company (who owns the Master rights) and the author’s publishing company (who owns the Sync or publishing rights) before permission is legally granted to sync the song (a sync license is a fee paid by the film company to wed (synchronize) a song to a visual image).

A music budget range for a major film is typically between $500,000 to $2,000,000. Attempting to get film executives to appreciate why composers and source songs are worth shelling out some cash for is often an arduous process (but one well worth the effort for truly talented supervisors who value how the right music can literally make or break a film). For student films or projects to be shown at festivals, publishers will often quote a significantly lower price to accommodate the budget (issuing a limited festival license). However, if a festival film is picked up by a commercial distribution company, the distributor will usually have to re-negotiate a commercial license.

Once the songs are decided upon, the race is on to get them licensed, cleared, and into post-production in order to meet the film’s release date.

Despite the challenging expectations and pressures under which music supervisors are expected to deliver, the good ones are invaluable and very well-compensated. The next time you watch a film or television program, ask yourself if you would be as engaged in it if a music supervisor hadn’t effectively overseen the strategic placement of music.


SongBizness: How Your Songs Earn Money

Though relatively few songwriters make a great living on royalties, the possibilities of income from a successful song can be mind-boggling. Remember that the following income streams are only from the songs. Don’t confuse them with the royalties you may receive from a record company as a recording artist.

The four major types of royalties for music are mechanical, performance, synchronization and print. Though there are many other sources including Grand Rights for musical theater and newly emerging sources arising from the Internet transmission of music, these are still the most basic.

Mechanical royalties
It’s easy to think of mechanicals as something you can hold in your hand, like CDs or tapes. This royalty is paid to the publisher by the record company after having signed a mechanical license agreement that describes how often the record company must report sales figures and send checks to the publisher. It also states the amount per unit sold of the composition to be paid. In the U.S. there is an amount set by the Copyright Royalty Tribunal called the statutory mechanical rate which is updated every two years. It is currently (2/03) 8 cents per composition per unit sold or 1.55 cents per minute, whichever is greater. Mechanical licenses can be obtained online from the Harry Fox Agency. This is also a good place to go for more detailed information about mechanical licenses.

A little arithmetic shows that one song on a million-seller CD or single will bring a total of $80,000. (Divided between publisher and writer(s) according to your writer/publisher contract.). When you have a song as a single, you can figure it will be on the CD too. Down the road there are also “Greatest Hits” recordings and TV packages like “The Top Hits of ‘the ’90s” etc. It all adds up.

Performance royalties
Performance royalties can be a major source of income for a writer. They’re not to be confused with the money a performer earns for public appearances. Performance royalties are royalties the copyright owner(s) and songwriter(s) receive when their song is performed publicly. According to the copyright law, nobody can publicly perform a copyrighted song without permission of the copyright owner or the owner’s representative.

The most common uses of music in public performance are radio, network and local TV, jukeboxes, Muzak and live performances (clubs and concert halls, whose owners and promoters pay annual license fees), restaurants, bars. When your songs are played in any of these venues, you, as the writer, and the publisher (whoever owns the copyright) are entitled to get paid for their use.

Performing rights organizations in the U.S., BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.), ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and SESAC (no longer using their original title, Society of European Stage Authors and Composers) are the organizations that issue licenses and collect money for public performances of your songs. A writer or publisher may collect from only one of these organizations for the same song. You may belong to only one organization at a time in the U.S. though you may simultaneously belong to PRS (U.K.) or another performing rights organization in Europe.

Each of these organizations has their own method of determining how much you’re paid based on the number of times your songs are played. Performance royalties for a song that gets considerable airplay (which can continue for many, many years on oldies stations) generally will amount to a great deal more than the money earned from mechanical royalties. Over $5 million (before writer/publisher split) for the life of a hit is not uncommon. For more in-depth information on each performing rights organization, go to: ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.

Synchronization royalties
Another important area of income for writers and publishers is the licensing of the right to record the music or song in synchronization or “timed relation” to the pictures in a film, TV movie or commercial.

The film or TV producer negotiates the synchronization (or “sync”) license with the copyright owner, which is usually the publisher. There are several companies including Copyright Management Inc. (CMI) in Nashville and the Clearing House in Los Angeles, that negotiate synchronization rights between film producers and publishers. The Harry Fox Agency issues licenses on behalf of publishers who have already negotiated the terms of those agreements.

Synchronization fees are totally negotiable (from nothing to over $50,000) and depend largely on the previous popularity of the song and the way it’s to be used. If the song has already been a hit and it’s a perfect selection for that particular film, it’s worth a lot. If it’s an unknown song and there’s a soundtrack album as well, a lower sync fee might be negotiated because the film’s exposure of the song may benefit record sales, print or other areas. You will, in addition, receive performance royalties when these films are shown on television, in theaters outside the U.S. or if the song is in a TV production.

Music in print
If you write mass appeal songs, particularly adult contemporary, pop, R&B or country, you’ll be able to take advantage of a potentially lucrative print market. With the possible exception of the education print market, though, the songs will have to have been very popular records to make all those piano bar singers, cover bands and other print buyers want them. There are several types of print music publishing: 1. Sheet Music: piano/vocal arrangements, often with chord designations for other instruments. 2. Personality Folio: in which the concept is based on a name artist or writer; “The…Songbook.” 3. Matched Folio: music from a particular album or musical theater show. 4. Mixed Folio: based on concepts like “Easy Piano Tunes,” “Hits of the ’90s” etc., which involve songs from several writers. 5. Educational: included in this category are how-to books (“How to Play Slide Guitar” etc.), arrangements for choruses, marching bands, (concert bands, jazz bands, and orchestras.) These are obviously sold to schools, drill teams, drum and bugle corps etc. It’s not unusual for popular choral writers to net $9,000-$10,000 a year for a composition.

How you get paid
Mechanical, synchronization and print royalties are collected by the publisher who takes his percentage and sends you your percentage, usually semi-annually, though some pay quarterly. The performance royalties are collected by the performing-rights organizations, BMI, ASCAP and SESAC (SESAC also collects mechanical royalties). They will send a quarterly check and statement directly to you and one to your publisher, the amounts divided according to the terms of your publishing contract (usually 50% to you, 50% to the publisher).

These explanations are simplified but at least you¹ll have a basic idea of how your songs can work for you beyond being good therapy. John’s book “The Craft and Business of Songwriting” gives a more in-depth look at these topics.