Hey! That’s My Song! Now How Do I Get Paid? The Basics of Collecting Your Money in the U.S.
By Tracey and Vance Marino
THE TWO MUSIC COPYRIGHTS THAT EARN INCOME: ♪ There are two copyrights in music that earn income: 1) the composition (also known as the "written" work, which includes the song’s melody and lyrics, even though it is not usually "written") and 2) the final mixed and (usually) mastered recording. ♪ The income for the composition is paid to the songwriter and publisher. If you have not signed your music with a publisher, then you are the publisher. ♪ The income for the recording is paid to the artist who performed on the recording and the recording owner (usually a record label, unless you recorded the song yourself or paid for it, etc.). ♪ For sync songwriters, you will need to verify who owns the recording and have signed agreements.
THE MAIN SOURCES OF INCOME FOR SONGWRITERS AND PUBLISHERS (See Figure 1 below): ♪ Most income earned by songwriters and publishers comes in the form of sync fees and royalties. ♪ The synchronization fee is a one-time payment to use your song in a TV show, movie, video, etc. ♪ There are two main types of royalties for the songwriter/publisher: mechanical royalties and performance royalties. ♪ Mechanical royalties are earned by songwriters/publishers when their music is streamed on interactive audio streaming platforms (Spotify, Amazon, Apple, etc.), where the listener selects specific songs to listen to, and for paid downloads of music. ♪ In the U.S., mechanical royalties are paid by the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC). Because the MLC does not make direct payments to songwriters, it’s important to sign up as a publisher. Mechanical royalties are also earned by songwriters/publishers when music is released on physical products (CDs, vinyl, cassette tapes) and are paid by the Harry Fox Agency (HFA). Also check out Music Reports, Inc. (MRI) which pays mechanical royalties for certain online platforms like TikTok (as of now). ♪ Performance royalties are earned by songwriters/publishers when music is aired, broadcast, streamed, or performed on TV (broadcast, cable, video streaming), radio (terrestrial, internet, audio streaming) and at live performance venues (concert venues, clubs, restaurants). (Performance royalties are not earned for music in movies that are shown in U.S. theaters.) Half of the royalty goes to the songwriter (writer’s share) and the other half to the publisher (publisher’s share). ♪ The Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) pay performance royalties. In the U.S., the big three are: ASCAP (non-profit), BMI (for profit), and SESAC (for profit and by invitation only at this time). Songwriters can be a member of only one PRO at a time. GMR is the fourth and relatively new main U.S. PRO, but it is the smallest and by invitation only. Only a few select artists, bands, and songwriters are members of GMR at this time. Note: A publisher may be a member of all PROs. ♪ You will need to affiliate with (join) one of the PROs as a songwriter to collect your writer’s share of the royalties. In order to collect your publisher’s share, you’ll need to join as a publisher, too. It’s not very complicated to set up your publishing company. You may use your real name (“Joe Jones Music”) or a fictitious name (“Blue Mountain Songs”). If it’s fictitious, you’ll need to set up a business bank account, file paperwork in your County, and pay some fees. Be aware that having a fictitious business name for your publishing company, instead of your actual name, is beneficial and helps with the collection of international royalties.
Figure 1: Royalties for Songwriters and Publishers
THE MAIN SOURCES OF INCOME FOR ARTISTS AND RECORDING OWNERS (See Figure 2 below): ♪ Performing artists and recording owners may also earn income from sync fees, royalties, as well as income from audio streaming platforms known as licensing fees. Licensing fees are usually paid by digital distributors (like CD Baby/SongTrust, Tunecore, DistroKid, etc.). The main royalty for the performing artist and the recording owner is neighboring rights royalties. ♪ Neighboring rights royalties are earned by performing artists/recording owners when music is streamed on non-interactive audio streaming platforms (like SiriusXM, Pandora, etc.) where the listener does not select specific songs to listen to. In the U.S., neighboring rights royalties are paid by SoundExchange.
Figure 2: Royalties for Artists and Recording Owners
ADDITIONAL KEY TAKEAWAYS... TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS: ♪ REGISTER YOUR SONGS ACCURATELY WITH YOUR PRO This is an extremely important step! If a co-writer's name is misspelled or the splits do not add up correctly, you will not get paid. ♪ BE CAREFUL WITH METADATA AND VERY SELECTIVE WITH KEYWORDS Before pitching your music, make sure to include metadata (information) such as: co-writers and percentages, contact information; and for sync: descriptive keywords, who owns the recording, etc. Include keywords like: genre, sub-genre, the mood and feel (happy or sad), and other descriptions that will show up in a search that separates your song from all the others. ♪ HAVE WRITTEN, SIGNED AGREEMENTS If you own the composition of the song AND the final recording, or have written and signed agreements (such as Writer's Split Agreements, Work-For-Hire Agreements, etc.) with all of your co-writers and collaborators, be sure to indicate that the song has "One-stop clearance" when pitching for sync projects. This will really help the person you're pitching your music to (like a music supervisor or music editor), especially if they're on a deadline. But do not say "One-stop" unless it is absolutely true! ♪ KNOW YOUR HIT SONG TARGETS If you’re writing hit songs, you’ll most likely be pitching to indie music publishers, major music publishers, directly to artists/bands, and/or song pluggers. Artists/bands/singer-songwriters may also be pitching to managers, agents, music attorneys, record labels. ♪ KNOW YOUR SYNC TARGETS If you’re writing music for sync (film, TV, commercials, video games, trailers, etc.), you’ll be pitching to production music libraries, sync licensing companies (or sync agencies), indie music publishers, major publishers, ad agencies, music editors, and/or music supervisors.
THE MUSIC BUSINESS IN NOT JUST ABOUT WRITING GREAT SONGS: ♪ It can sometimes take years before your songs earn any income. It’s not just about the music in the music business. It’s also about developing and maintaining trusted relationships. So, starting now… Keep improving on your songwriting craft. Network and meet people. Collaborate. Be humble, polite, persistent, but patient. Respect people’s time. Educate yourself about music publishing. Invest in your music career. Have a positive, hopeful attitude. Meet deadlines. Show up. Follow up. Never, ever give up. Write. Rewrite. Pitch. Repeat. And, always be professional.