Results of My Survey: Who Deserves Most of the Credit for a Hit Song?
Guess what?—most of the money goes to the least deserving
Who should get the most money when a song becomes a hit?
That’s a simple question, but isn’t easy to answer. That’s why I did a survey.
Songwriters and publishers want their fair share. But the recording artist deserves a cut of the action too. And what about the backup musicians on the studio session—don’t they deserve some percent of the rewards? And, of course, the record label wants a big bite of the apple. Streaming platforms also demand a sizable chunk of change.
There are only so many pennies to go around. So it’s fair to ask whether everybody is getting the right amount.
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Most fans don’t know this, but performance royalties on broadcast radio only go to songwriters and publishers. Many are often shocked when they learn this. Why do they call them performance royalties if the money doesn’t got to performers?
Sometimes none of this money goes to the recording artist. That’s actually how the rules are written.
And those famous session musicians you hear so much about—the Wrecking Crew or the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section—often found that they only collected the cash paid for their participation at the original session. A song might sell ten copies or ten million copies, and they would earn the same amount.
I’ve always felt this is unfair, almost bizarrely so. Sometimes I even dare ask what a publisher actually does to justify such a huge cut of the action. But I’ve learned this is a sensitive subject.
Publishers really hate anyone questioning their legal or moral right to those billions of dollars. So they are quick to tell me all the ways they add value.
But if they are so confident of their importance, they should sell their services on the open market, and negotiate their cut of the action on a case-by-case basis.
After all, if they are so crucial to a song’s success, musicians will gladly give over half of their performance royalties in perpetuity. So why not make music publishing more like magazine article publishing, where each separate deal is discussed and negotiated by the artist?
Publishers find that question a little awkward.
So the next line of defense is the claim that I’m just blowing smoke because publishing revenues typically go to musicians, who all have their own publishing companies. But that surely isn’t true nowadays, if it ever was. Almost every famous songwriter has sold those publishing rights to investment groups, hedge funds, and corporate owners. And sometimes they never even controlled their publishing rights in the first place.
But maybe I’m missing something—so I decided to ask what other people think.
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