International Songwriters Association (ISA) Songs And Songwriting Money And Royalties
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ISA  International Songwriters Association  Founded 1967  Representing Songwriters In More Than 60 Countries Worldwide
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ISA When Somebody Asks You For Money



Introduction
This is one of a series of short and very simplified articles, designed to improve your understanding of the songwriting business. If you know little or nothing about the industry, might we suggest that you first click on the Songwriting The Basics button at the top of this page, and continue on from there?

And remember, if having read this or any other article, you have a query, simply email us HERE and we will be more than happy to respond.

ISA When They Ask For Money

You started songwriting hoping to make some money. But no sooner are you up and running but people are looking for money from you!

When somebody asks for money. it is. as Jim Liddane says, time to ask a few questions of your own!

A Question Of Money
For some reason, many songwriters seem to think that only the music business is full of scams. Really? Ever buy a penny share? Or purchase a used car?

The music biz is no different than any other, and those who at the top are usually honest. After all, It is not the guy whose company's shares have ended in the gutter  who is trying to scam you. It is the shyster - who knowing their real value, wants you to buy them anyway. And it is is not the Detroit car manufacturer who is trying to sell you that piece of junk with the clock rolled back - it is your back street car dealer.

In other words - people on the fringes of the real business.

And that's the way it often is too, in the music business.

So let us look the the REAL music business, from a songwriter's point of view.

(1) In the REAL music business, songwriters write songs - words and music.

(2) The songwriters prepare their song for presentation to a music publisher.

(3) The songwriters present their song to a music publisher, who then seeks out a record label, one of whose acts might record the songs.

(4) If they do, the label pays the publisher a percentage. The publisher pays the writer a percentage. And the writer is happy. (Well that's how it is in the movies anyway).

But that is also how it is in the REAL music business too. Let us look at it in detail.

(1)  Songwriters write songs (words and music).

If the writer cannot write the words, or cannot write the music, then he seeks out a collaborator who can - for a percentage of income. Music Publishing Companies never offer to perform one of these tasks for a fee, or to put you in touch with a company or person who will do this for a fee. That is not the way collaboration works.

2) The songwriters prepare their song for presentation to a music publisher.

The writer(s) prepare a demo (or demonstration recording) of the song, so that they can present it to a publisher or label.

In most cases, writers make this themselves. If they cannot, they may use one of the many demo companies. who will charge them studio and musician's fees for the service.

(In recent times, a small number of unscrupulous demo producers have started attempting to charge a fee for each demo, and having been paid for the work done, then demand a percentage of the song from the writer - in some cases, threatening not to hand over the recording until the writer agrees. Remember, what you have paid for, you are entitled to receive - so demand your recording, and do not use that service again, Then tell us all about it).

(3) The songwriters present their song to a music publisher.

The publisher accepts or rejects the song.

If he accepts it - he will offer a contract and may also pay a small advance to the writers.

A genuine publisher will not for one moment, suggest that the songwriter should gibe him money for any reason - whether it be making a better demo, employing songpluggers, copyrighting the song etc. These are the normal costs borne by the music publisher.

(4) The publisher places the song with a record label or performer.

They record  it and the money starts coming in. Money from record sales goes directly to the publisher, who pays this on to the songwriter. Money from radio and television plays are collected by the royalty organisations who pay the songwriter directly.

And that is an over-simplified version of the entire procedure.

To sum up:

The music business is based on percentages of potential earnings. Not fees.

A songwriter is responsible for his own costs in getting the song to the publisher.

The publisher is responsible for his own costs in getting the song to the label.

The label is responsible for its own costs in getting the record to the public.

Thereafter, all income is based on a percentage of earnings - not fees.

Which would be nice and dandy, except for one little flaw.

New writers often find it hard to get beyond step one. They write the song, and do not know how to get to second base. Which is where the problem starts.

Over the years, several mini-industries have sprung up, some of which seem designed to do little except take money from writers, and deliver nothing in return.

Here are just some examples........

(1) If you can write the words but not the music, companies exist who will offer to perform the task for you.

For a fee.  So ask them one question.......

If my song is all that good, why are you not offering to do it free -  for a percentage of my earnings? That's the way the top songwriters collaborate.

(2) If you have a song, but do not know how to get a publisher interested, companies exist who will offer to perform this task for you.

For a fee.  So ask them one question.......

If my song is all that good, why are you not offering to do it free -  for a percentage of my earnings? That's the way the top music publishers work.

(3) If you have a recording but do not know how to get a label interested, companies exist (some of whom choose names very close in spelling to legitimate record labels. or use the name of a dedunct but once famous record label), who will offer to record your song, and "release" it for you.

For a fee.  So ask them one question.......

If my song is all that good, why are you not offering to do it free -  for a percentage of my earnings? That's the way the top record labels work.

(4) If you cannot place your song, there companies exist  who will offer to promote your song - if you agree to pay them to make a new demo, or perform some other service.

For a fee.  So ask them one question.......

If my song is all that good, why are you not offering to do it free -  for a percentage of my earnings? That's the way the top agents work.

So to repeat.

The music industry is based on a percentage of potential earnings - not fees. and that is that.

And a warning - if you are still tempted...........

The International Songwriters Association has been operating since 1967.

Since 1967, we have never known of one case where a songwriter - who paid to have a melody written to his lyrics - ever ended up with a hit record.

Not one.

You can take it from me that if one of these firms had been able to achieve even a minor hit in that last forty years - they would be very quick to tell us all about it.

They haven't.

Now, we are not saying that you should be quick to hand over percentages in your songs - in fact you should keep as much of that 100% as you can.

But when somebody tells you that you have a great song which is going to make money, you should wonder why they are willing to settle for a flat fee - and not a percentage of the millions they assure you that you are going to make.

In other words, when somebody tells you your song is great - but wants a fee to do something to help you on your way - ask them one question.

"If my song is all that good, why are you not offering to do it free -  for a percentage of my earnings?"

And finally. think about this.

If I told you tomorrow that I had written a hit song, and I was willing to either

(a) pay you a fee to finish it off for me

or

(b) offer you a percentage to finish it off for me

what would you do?

Well, if you really thought I had written a potential hit - you would happily take that percentage.

But if you thought my song hadn't a chance - you'd take the fee, and run!

So why are these people always looking for fees and never percentages?

Anyway - how did the greats do it?

When Oscar Hammerstein wrote his wonderful lyrics, do you think he paid Richard Rodgers a fee to put them to music?

Of course not. Mutual talents recognised each other and split the percentages.

When Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas", do you think he paid his music publisher to publish it?

Of course not. Mutual talents recognised each other and split the percentages.

When Frank Sinatra started out, do you think he paid record labels to release his records?

Of course not. Mutual talents recognised each other and split the percentages.

Why should it be any different in your case?

However, in your eagerness not to get sucked into some deal where you pay them instead of they paying you, do remember one thing - nothing comes for free.

If you were taking up golf for the first time, you would not get upset if somebody explained that you might have to purchase a set of golf clubs, or even perhaps pay for some lessons.

But you would see the benefit - so you would (grudgingly) pay up.

And so it is with songwriting.

You will have to make demos, and even if you are talented enough to be able to record your own at virtually no cost, you may still have to post them out.

But at least, you can (hopefully) see the point of that expenditure too.

But it is the guy promising you the earth in return for fifty bucks you have to worry about! As ye olde cliche goes - if it sounds to good to be true, then chances are....

The Knowledge

ISA International Songwriters Association (1967) Ltd
PO Box 46 Limerick City Ireland Tel 061-228837 Fax 061-2288379
ISA Website  http://www.songwriter.co.uk Editorial E-Mail  jliddane@songwriter.iol.ie

International Songwriters Association Limited
Registered In Dublin, Ireland Company Number 38917
Registered Address
High Chaperal, Raheen Heights, Limerick City, Ireland
Postal Address
PO Box 46, Limerick City, Ireland