Saturday, January 28, 2012

Once Upon A Time There Were Songwriters.....

When our kid Lucas was little we, like parents have done for thousands of years, would make up stories at bedtime in order to help their little one drift off into dreamland so mom and dad could you Comedy Central. In our house Ray was by far the preferred storyteller as each night would be a new adventure full of details and drama fit for Disney. I on the other hand told the same old tired "Once upon time there were dinosaurs...” Since I tend to ponder irrelevant shit a lot I was wondering this morning what kind of stories the cavemen and cave women told their little cave babies when dinosaurs were not yet extinct. That eventually brought me around to the topic of this post.

I've noticed more and more, especially in the local Texas/Red Dirt Music Scene infringements on Copyright owners intellectual property. In other words, people ripping off songwriters. Now I'm not talking about blatant illegal downloading that's typically done by people, the majority of whom are blindly ignorant (or wouldn't care even if they knew) the songwriter in addition to the recording artist is due money. That's a whole different post someday in the future. I am talking about other songwriters, bands, small independent record labels, bloggers, some internet radio stations and anyone else calling themselves a music business professional. Those who are in the business and should know better. Who think, "Giving the artists exposure is helping them”, as one blogger who gives away free downloads of every TX/RD artist states. He doesn't write reviews, get permission and give away one song like the many reputable bloggers do, which in my opinion is a good thing. No, this guy takes old as well as brand new releases and puts up a link to download the entire record. When one artist requested his songs be removed Mr. Asshole Blogger publicly chastised him as if he, the artist were the bad guy.  My question to Mr. Asshole Blogger and others; what about the songwriters who wrote the songs you are giving away? Many are not the artists or band that recorded the song. Were you aware that for every CD sold, every digital download sold there is a royalty payment due to the songwriter and the publisher of each song? That's right, so let's just say for example a well-known Okie band records "Wanna Rock n Roll" which happens to have been written by Ray Wylie Hubbard. RWH also the owns the publishing on the song. Each time said Okie band sells a CD or digital album or single song of their recorded version of WRR Mr. Hubbard gets 9.1 cents. Well if you do the math and Okie band sells say 100,000 records (BTW they sold more than that!) then Mr. Hubbard gets a royalty check for $9,100. This allows him to finally pave his steep driveway and no longer incur flat tires every few months due to navigating a caliche hill, which gets washed out every time it rains. (I fondly refer to it as Ragweed Rd. We’ll talk about the fence that gangsta rapper 50 Cent built in a future post.)

But what if those mechanical royalties were never paid?  What if YOU were dependent on royalty income to provide a roof over your head and food on the table for your family? Did you know that many songwriters have no other source of income? Many are no longer working musicians and many never were; so the flippant excuse downloaders use of "they make a fortune off touring and merch" doesn’t fly with me. A large percentage of artists/bands who do find success (less than 5% reach national touring level) do not write their own material so somewhere out there a man or woman who wrote their hit song is depending on the mechanical royalty paid when you BUY that CD or digital download.

Much of what I do in my role as manager for RWH is song catalogue related. Though we have a publisher administrator (Bug Music) who collects and distributes the mechanicals from record labels and negotiates licenses for RWH songs there is a tremendous amount of additional business that has to be handled in our office. Wading through the various laws, terminology, royalty rates and general practices can be daunting. It requires education and a never-ending one at that. Just when you get to a point where you understand it all the laws and rates will change! Bring in the digital age and you have doubled the amount of information you now must keep current.

For every informed songwriter/artists/manager that I run across in this scene there 10 who don’t have a clue or have incorrect information about Copyright/Royalty Streams/Publishing etc. Many who make more money in a month than most of us will all year! I'm digging that the fans are willing to go out and support their TXRD Artists and that so many can afford shiny new buses and an entourage. It's all good.... until it's over. Because no matter what REK says the road does NOT go on forever and the party DOES end.

So, instead of bitching about the mistakes and/or intentional copyright infringements I run across I thought it best to write about it. My hope is that you won't just take my word as the law or gospel truth but will read something that gets you thinking about it all and propels you to be proactive in your own career or the artists you work with. Most of what I will be covering the next couple of weeks, months or until I get bored will be the basics.

Then in the future if you should find you no longer have that gig/merch $$ rolling in but because you have properly managed your catalogue your songs can still have a life of their own and provide you a nice income.

And most importantly your grandkids or their grandkids won't be handing down bedtime stories story which begin "Once upon a time there were songwriters..."


  1. It was nice meeting you yesterday! Thanks for providing info about the music industry to newcomers like me. Thanks again! I look forward to reading more Ask Mother Hubbard!

    1. It was nice meeting you yesterday! Thanks for providing info about the music industry to newcomers like me. Thanks again! I look forward to reading more Ask Mother Hubbard!

      Bonnie Lang

  2. As a music lover, I appreciate the insight you give into striking the delicate balance between finding the great music that never makes it through the Nashville filter and making sure that the talent and hard work that goes into making it happen is rewarded for the combination of sweat and natural ability. I make it a point to hit songwriter nights and and have gotten a lot freer with my money when I get to the table in the back of the bar that holds the box of CDs. I find online videos and artist websites, and hopefully my little bit of cash can keep some of these guys and gals writing the good stuff.

  3. I don't kno anything about copyrighting my music, can you elaborate or point me in the right direction of learning more about it?

  4. One of the best books to read on the subject is "The songwriters Guide to Publishing" by Randy Poe. in fact anything by Randy Poe is worth the read. It will give you the basics without getting all attorney lingo on you.

  5. Thanks for bringing this back up. I've been running my internet station for 5 years and enjoy dealing with folks willing to include my tiny outlet in promotional budgets.