Goodnight Kiss Music
Sometimes writers are so busy just trying to
get listened to, they forget there are lots more issues for
concern "down the road" in their careers, like turning
a love (music) into a profession (paying the bills.) Writers earn
their living from two basic forms of royalties, mechanical and
performance. (Of course, there are usually up-front payments, but
it's those checks that come in every quarter that becomes the
When a writer has a work aired (broadcast) via a major network (now including many cable and satellite systems), major radio stations (monitored by performing rights organizations like ASCAP or BMI), performed live at a major venue (say the Hollywood Bowl), etc, they receive performance royalties. How much these are vary as to how the song is used. If your song is being sung by a character in the film as the focus of a scene, the royalty will be greater than if your song is used for background music playing on a jukebox under conversation. The royalty is also based on how long it plays, how many times it airs, when and where it is used. For these performances of your song, you are paid a performance royalty by a performing rights organization. Get it? Performance royalties.
By the way, just for a bit of historical perspective, writers in America are not paid for the performances of their songs in motion picture theaters, although they are paid for that elsewhere in the world. Since the movie studios and producers in the old days of Hollywood owned most of the movie houses, as well, they controlled this factor, and it never changed. I, personally think Italy and France lead the way on paying writers a fair price for their art... my royalty checks from there are 5-10 times higher than the same film airing in the U.S., and that is after all associated fees and taxes!
The latest trend you might see in the Film Industry is the Saban-type companies and Fox-type networks forging their way to the front by using a "work for hire" technique on writers, buying a song and all rights to it from the writer for an, at best, average price, then ON TOP of taking royalties that should go to the writer, one of their executives PUTS HIS NAME ON IT, and claims it for his own writing. The disgusting defense offered by some of them is that they only add themselves as co-writers, and leave the original writer's name on, which is still a total lie, and morally repulsive. These people are not satisfied with salaries and shares... they want it all. They are the rich bully kid on the block, who fatten themselves up by taking the little kids' lunch money. I'm sure they worked hard to develop their "empire", but at what cost? And now that it's an empire, why does it have to get worse instead of better?? Is it no wonder that television and records are at an all-time BORING low in content and creativity?
I know most of you would almost sell your soul for a cut somewhere. I know that many of you would PAY to have your song put on a record or in a film (and some of you have.) Normally, if you pay to have your song put on a "record" or in a film, it is not the real business. (I'm not talking about making a demo of a song, I mean product like CDs.) Like any business, music is supply and demand, and if your song is good enough to be in demand (as in even wanting to be listened to by someone in charge) you won't pay them, they will pay you. It might not be much at first, but I think you can see what I mean.
There are also mechanical royalties, paid when physical product is created... but more about that another time. Feel free to send any comments.
© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Janet Fisher Goodnight Kiss Music (BMI) Scene Stealer Music (ASCAP) NO reprints without written permission.