Songwriting: Don’t Get Screwed
As you move more and more towards a professional environment, the reality is that it’s gonna happen. Your goal as a songwriting/producer is to limit the extent of that screwing. Repeat after me… “I (enter name) will always hire an attorney before signing any deal, and that said attorney will be versed within the music industry. Not my mom’s friend from church. Not my uncle who does ‘Slip & Falls.’” Ok—you get it—now we can talk. And, if you already know how this stuff works, it’s never a bad idea to get another perspective from someone who has lived it.
Music is split into three pizzas. You have the writing pizza, the publishing pizza, and the master pizza. Say there is 75 dollars on the table. $25 of that is writer, $25 of that is publishing, and the last $25 is master. It’s almost never that cut and dry but please see the above section on “I will hire an attorney.”
The writer pizza is sacred, pretty much the simplest pizza, and intrinsically yours—even if you have a publishing deal. You will still collect your writer royalties, so you’ll get that 25 dollars. Pretty much anyone who writes a song that ends up making money will be paid the “writer’s share.”
Now the publishing pizza. There are essentially 3 deal types and there are more ingredients. Full pub, co-pub and admin. The most common is co-pub. So, there is that $25 and now you split that piece with someone who now represents a part of your catalogue. If it’s co-pub you get $12.5 and they get $12.5. Usually you don’t see that 12.5 until you have recouped your deal.
After you’ve recouped, then you’ll start earning your royalty of 50% of your royalty. There are some other elements in there that reduce that royalty a bit more but see said attorney. If you do a 100% pub deal, well then the publisher owns all your publishing, but they most likely pay you a monthly stipend to live on. So, you trade your publishing for a longer-term security. It’s old school but people still do it.
Recoupment is a big word for paying back the money (with interest) someone gives you to live on. The concept is that they give you money for you to focus on creation, and that gets paid back when your work gets placed. That money is called an advance.
Last is admin, which is where you allow for a company to administer the rights to your publishing catalog, but they don’t own it. They are usually licensing it for a small percentage—say 10%, 15%, 20% of your publishing. These deals are great for collection on both domestic and international and have a lot of the elements of a traditional publisher, but tend to be less hands-on because of the scale these companies sign. Lots of people tend to have their catalogues in admin deals. We are talking tens of thousands in some cases, so it’s easy to be a spreadsheet number.
When you sign a pub deal, you are signing not just because you are sick of slinging tacos or working as a valet, but because you want a team to help build your writer/producer/artist career. I know many people who take less money for a better team—so keep that in mind.
Alright, so we have all that.. now there is the “master” pizza. The Master is the recorded embodiment of the song. All the others are just the IP but this is the physical medium and there are quite a few ingredients. When you sign a record deal, you are signing away your “Master.” They pay for everything and give you money to live and make music, but that all has to be paid back. You pay that back by them owning the master and then hopefully having a stupid-big hit that makes everyone go bat$#!+. Lots of times writers don’t see any master income. That goes to the artist, producer, and whoever else is involved and getting points on that production (record). Ask said attorney about points, it’s boring, it varies on how much the artist owns of their master, and there’s no need to talk about that in this article.
With these three pizzas there are a lot of ways to make money. Streaming, traditional mechanical royalties, performance royalties, SoundExchange, sync licensing, neighboring rights, and dozens of other very small revenue streams that start to add up to a decent chunk of money.
“All this is great… thank you for this info Gabe, but how do I get a song cut or placed so I can make money?” I’m getting there – and here is where it gets interesting:
OK, so you write a sick song. It’s 2:30-3:15 of pure hook driven pop. Well… this is where those publishing people become very helpful. They know who is looking and unless you happen to be friends with the artist (which is the best way to pitch a song,) or you wrote it with them (best way to get a cut period,) you are trusting your publishers instincts to get it in the right hands.
Well…Not solely though. It’s your career, so maybe what you need is for those publishers to intro you to some A&R folks at labels or artist managers, and YOU go in and pitch the song yourself. Nothing is better than personally telling the people who can make it happen why a song is great. I mean get creative! I had my manager send a song to an artist’s girlfriend because he knew her, and I couldn’t get it in front of that artist…go go go go–hustle!
Maybe you don’t want anyone to cut your song but that 2:30 gem you wrote might be perfect for an ad or tv show or movie. And on the plus side… you performed it! Which now means you are collecting on all 3 pizzas. There are a bunch of companies out there who purely do this. These Sync Licensing companies are sending tracks to supervisors all day when big request go out. They are usually looking for something specific, so these sync companies or your publisher can help facilitate getting your song into their hands. Also… there are writers and producers who just work on sync stuff all day every day. It’s immediate money compared to waiting for hits and royalties in the mail, but it’s very competitive and takes a certain knack.
So there you have a very brief breakdown of the 3 music pizzas. It’s way more technical then all this and I learn new things about my deals and other deals every day. But don’t be afraid to ask questions or for help. Reach out to people on socials who you respect. You never know…they might hit you back. And if you take anything from this thing repeat after me, “I (enter name) will always hire an attorney before signing any deal, and that attorney will be versed within the music industry. Not my mom’s friend from church. Not my uncle who does “Slip & Falls.’”
Survive and Thrive.