In our efforts to make available as much music business information as possible for Alabama music artists, Alabama Music Office.com has asked music business professionals from all over the world to share their knowledge and experiences.
If you’re a songwriter, and you’ve not signed a deal with a music publishing company — you own your music publishing rights!
What are those rights exactly? Well, you get to determine how the musical copyright to a song you’ve written (meaning the composition itself, as a separate entity from any particular master recording of that song) is used or “exploited.”
And you earn money any time that song is sold, performed, or covered.
How do publishing royalties get divided up?
For all publishing royalties that are generated from the usage of your music, 50% is paid to the songwriter/s and 50% is paid to the publisher/s.
As I mentioned above, if you’ve not signed a deal with a publishing company, you are considered both the songwriter AND the publisher. You are owed both shares (50% for the songwriter, and 50% for the publisher) of any mechanical royalties, performance royalties, or licenses that your songs generate. However, it’s up to you to exploit the copyright to your compositions, and it’s up to you to collect the royalty payments.
Unless, of course, you work with an established music publisher who can (either for a fixed period of time or in perpetuity) help you find opportunities to earn money from your songs.
[With CD Baby's Sync Licensing Program, your music will be included in a catalog of songs available for use in film, TV, commercials, games, and more. Plus, you'll earn money for the usage of your music on YouTube.]
What does the publisher get out of the bargain? As mentioned above, a typical royalty split between the songwriter and the publisher is 50/50 — but 50% is a small price to pay if they’re using their publishing expertise to generate big income from the exploitation of your copyright.
How do you collect your publishing royalties?
When it comes to getting paid for the usage of your music, there’s a simple solution that will set you up to collect ALL the publishing royalties you’re owed. With CD Baby Pro, we’ll affiliate you as a songwriter with a performing rights organization (either ASCAP or BMI — your choice), we’ll register your songs directly with many collection societies around the world, and we’ll collect all those royalties on your behalf — paying you weekly!
For most songwriters in the early stages of their careers, the idea of being hired as a staff songwriter for a publishing company is close to the Holy Grail. It represents that most coveted prize of industry recognition and validation of your talent along with a gateway to cuts, movie placements and any one of a number of other exciting possibilities. However, keep in mind that wanting or entering into a relationship with a publisher in order to simply validate your talent is probably not the best approach. As with any business relationship, it’s essential that you, as the songwriter, understand what you’re giving up as well as what you stand to gain by signing over partial (or complete) ownership of your copyrights to a music publisher.
What is a Publishing Deal?
Let’s start at the top, in general terms, a typical publishing deal involves the assignment of some part of the ownership of your songs to a publishing company in exchange for a monthly payment known as a draw. The publisher can also provide co-writing opportunities based on their industry relationships and pitching opportunities by members of the publishing company’s staff called song pluggers. I’m aware that there are many variations on this arrangement such as no draw in exchange for giving up less ownership of your copyrights to the publisher but for the sake of this article, I’m going to paint in broad strokes.
Listing the advantages of a publishing deal is easy as most songwriters have heard (or dreamed) of these.
1. A Draw – For a songwriter getting started in the business, it’s extremely difficult to write full time without having money to live on. The monthly draw provided by a publisher can help ease that burden. While some draws are enough to allow the writer to write full time, most are enough to, at least, make it so the writer only has to have a part-time job leaving more time for songwriting.
2. Demo Budget – Making high quality recordings of your songs is not cheap and having a publisher to put up the money for these recordings can help out quite a bit.
3. Song Pluggers – These are employees of the publishing company who are specifically charged with finding opportunities for your songs. They pitch your songs relying on their relationships with record labels, producers and artists as well as a variety of other music business decision-makers.
4. Networking/Connections – The credibility that comes from signing with established music publisher is a powerful thing. It can open doors to meetings, co-writes and countless other relationships in the industry. Also, publishers have industry-wide relationships that can provide great opportunities for a songwriter who hasn’t had the opportunity to network much on their own.
5. Validation – The validation that comes from a publishing deal is what most beginning songwriters long for. In the early stages of most songwriters’ careers, they’ve most likely written songs in obscurity and with the exception of friends and family they’ve never received praise and recognition from anyone in the industry. It can even act as a motivator to improve a writer’s work ethic and even inspiration.
This is where I’d recommend paying close attention. I know the idea of being able to write songs and have your publisher take care of all the details is an appealing thought…but the reality is a bit less simple. Don’t kill the messenger here, but as a friend of mine once said, “They don’t call it the music ‘friend’ or the music ‘nice.’” This is a business and it helps to remember that a publisher is giving you something in order to get something.
1. Your draw & demo budget are essentially loans – The money that makes up your draw and your demo budget is money that the publisher will take back from your share as soon as your songs start generating income. More importantly, unlike a loan paid back to a bank, even after you’ve made back the money to pay the publisher for the money they’ve invested in you, they will continue to own the publishing on your song and make income from it. In most cases, this is an arrangement that lasts for the rest of your life and then some. Also, in most cases that recording that the publisher split with you or loaned you money to make is their property entirely. This translates into no master fee payment for you, the songwriter, if that recording ends up in a film or on TV.
2. You and your songs aren’t always the priority – Even though the idea of a song plugger getting your songs heard is comforting, the reality is that in most publishing companies, there are many more signed writers than there are pluggers. In other words, your songs, while the most important songs to you, are among the hundreds (actually thousands if you count the back catalogs of most publishing companies) that the overworked song pluggers have to consider for every pitch opportunity.
3. Validation is NOT enough – As a songwriter, I understand how good it feels when someone in the industry tells you they love your songs. In and of itself, this is not enough of a reason to give away your publishing. To me, the analogy would be of a guy going up to a girl in a bar and saying “You’re beautiful and you should sleep with me.” In other words, as a writer, you should work every day until you’re confident your songs are good. Use resources like song critiques, songwriting organizations and your songwriting peers to get good, constructive feedback on your material. Don’t just sign with a publisher because they tell you you’re good.
My intention is not to discourage but rather to empower you. By not looking at a publishing deal as the only answer to your songwriting prayers, you’ll put yourself in a position to do for yourself which, ultimately, will be the most consistent and rewarding way of having a sustainable career as a songwriter. In other words, you don’t have to have a publishing deal in order to act like you have a publishing deal every single day. Here’s what I mean…
1. Be your own publisher – You don’t need an established publisher to publish your songs. It’s a relatively simple proposition to start your own publishing company through one of the performing rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI and SESAC). A simple phone call to one of these three organizations can get you started.
2. Put yourself on a regular writing schedule – If you want to be a professional songwriter, act like one. Set aside regular times to write and treat it like a job. Folks in the working world don’t skip work because they “don’t feel like it” and neither should you.
3. Demo your songs – Develop a relationship with a professional recording studio and when you’re absolutely certain you’ve got a song that’s ready for prime time, spend the money to make a broadcast-quality version suitable for a variety of uses from pitching to artists to placement in film and TV. And speaking of pitching…
4. Pitch your songs – Actively look for opportunities for your songs. It’s one thing to write a good song and have a great demo but if no one hears it, then it can’t possibly generate any income for you. This isn’t the glamorous, romantic part of the business but I promise you, the overwhelming majority of successful songwriters – even those with publishing deals and song pluggers – spend a lot of time pitching their own material. It’s tough out there and you need to do everything in your power to get your songs heard. Also, as I mentioned above, no one will make your songs a priority more than you will.
5. Network – Another less-than-pleasant reality for the gifted, introverted songwriter is that there is no substitute for the relationships you make in the industry. Get out there and meet people. This doesn’t mean you have to be fake or stay up until 3am drinking every night (unless you like that kind of thing). It does mean, however, that you have to find opportunities to interact with the decision-makers in the music industry. A few suggestions of ways to do this might be attending music conferences, songwriter festivals and some of the events sponsored by organizations like the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) or the Songwriter’s Guild of America (SGA).
6. Sign an admin deal – If you’re starting to get some cuts and placements for your songs and the subtleties of copyright law, royalty statements and licensing feel like too much to keep track of or negotiate, then consider signing with a publisher to administer your copyrights. In other words, instead of giving away ownership of 50%-100% of your copyright, give a copyright administrator 15%-25% to “mind the store” while you’re taking care of the other stuff. I promise you, if you’re making money from your songs, you’ll have no trouble at all finding an experienced publisher to administer your copyrights.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ve kept this article and the terms of a publishing deal very general. There are all manner of publishing deals from copyright administration all the way to full ownership of your publishing and there are reasons for and against all of these. Music publishers provide a valuable service in our industry but I think it’s important to realize that signing a publishing deal isn’t always your best option. Be absolutely certain you understand what you stand to gain (beyond the simple validation of your talent) and what you’re giving up to get it. In the world of professional songwriting, there is no one way to achieve success and, no matter what, the more you understand and can do on your own, the better off you’ll be.
The melody’s main job is to sell the emotion of the song!
Lyrics sell the message (though melody can also help to sell the message). Music sells the attitude (though melody can also play an important role is delivering the attitude of the song). Melody sells the emotion! Since songs are an exchange of emotional energy, and emotion is what sells a song to the listener, melody is a very powerful and important part of the equation!
The key elements of melody are intervals and movement. An interval is the distance between two notes. Movement is the combination of intervals that make a melody interesting and memorable.
Don’t write melodies like a guitar player! Be careful not to use the same notes and melodic lines over and over because they are easy to sing over the groove you like to play. Too often, when we write with a guitar in hand, we confine our melody to the root notes of the chords we are playing and lock our melodic phrasing into the musical phrasing. This can lead to static, limited melodies.
Groove supports melody. Melody does not follow groove. They should be independent of each other.
The first time a listener hears a melodic phrase it is fresh and interesting. The second time, it is familiar and comfortable. The third time, it is redundant and boring. Keep your melodies interesting by limiting repetitive lines.
Marry each line of melody to a lyric so that the listener cannot hear one without thinking of the other. By making less predictable note choices and varying intervals and phrasing, you can create melodies that make your lyric stand out and your message more believable.
A melody should stand alone! It should be easy to hum, sing, whistle, and remember. It should make you feel something – a feeling that matches the emotion of the lyric.
Think about elevator music (music tracks of popular songs) that bring to mind the lyrics even when you aren’t hearing them. You may be humming it because the melody is interesting or fun, but you are hearing the lyric because the melody is tied to that lyric. It expresses the energy and emotion of the lyric and makes you feel it.
Try humming “Imagine”, “Last Train to Clarksville”, “You Had Me At Hello”, “I’m So In Love With You” or any of your favorite songs from any genre of music. They likely evoke some powerful emotional reaction even without hearing the lyric.
Listen to some great melody writers such as Elton John, Michael Jackson, Don Henley, Bruce Springsteen and see how they use intervals and movement to make their melodies stand out in your memory.
Shape your melody to build emotional energy. Imagine that the listener is boarding a ride at Disneyworld. Your first verse should introduce them to the ride; settle them into the scenery. The chorus should be the most energetic part of the ride. Climb them up to the chorus with a melody that build gradually in intensity and creates anticipation for the chorus. Then, take them back down to your second verse; not as subtle as the first because they have already seen the chorus, but enough to let them rest up for the next chorus. If you have a bridge, it should be a last highlight that gives us reason to want to hear the chorus again; A move that we have not yet seen or heard and that offers a new view of the subject. When you have said all you need to say, bring them back into the station with a satisfied smile.
Use melodic phrasing. Match the natural lyrical phrasing to the melodic phrasing. This will allow for an honest delivery of the message and emotion. Save the high, soaring notes for the most important words in the song. Use note choices and the length of notes to highlight specific lyrics. This will allow the singer to deliver them in a conversational flow that draws the listener in.
Explore before you settle on phrasing. Again, so not let the musical phrasing always dictate the melodic phrasing. Try singing each line of lyric to at least three different melodic phrasings. Then choose the one that makes you feel something! (Which word should you go up on? Which word should trail downward? How much more emotion does a word have when you hold it for four beats instead of two beats? Which choices make the melody more inviting? Does your melody alone generate an emotion?)
I was twelve years old when I got my first guitar. I wanted to learn a few chords so I would have a reason to sing. Singing was my first love. I quickly learned a few chords and promptly began singing only melodies that fit easily within the framework of what I could play on the guitar. It was only when I put the guitar down that I began to really use my voice (my main instrument) to create good melodies.
What is your main instrument? That is what you should rely on to create great melodies! If you use it to explore intervals and movement, it will likely lead you to some very interesting new places.
Melody is the most powerful emotional tool a songwriter has to work with. Learn to use it and your songs will take on a new life!
I am offering a new collection of articles called “Kim’s Toolbox”. Each article will discuss a songwriting tool that I think is essential to successful commercial songwriting. I hope that you will enjoy reading the articles and using the tools to help you turn your good songs into great songs.
If you have ideas for future “tools” to add to the “Kim’s Toolbox” series, please let me know. I want to talk about what you want to know about. My hope is to introduce you to some new tools and sharpen your skills with familiar ones to help you take your writing to the next level of success.