Royalty Whores

It looks like songwriting/publishing royalties on digital downloads are being disputed, and as a songwriter who isn't even making money from songwriting (yet), it makes me angry.

The current rate is 9.1 cents per track, which is the same for digital downloads, CDs, cassette tapes, vinyl, and anything else that might come around. Right now, the royalty is exactly the same, no matter which medium the song is sold through. And that makes sense, doesn't it? The songwriter is being paid for writing a song, and that song remains the same, no matter how it's sold.

But the Digital Media Association, which represents digital music stores, is proposing a decrease in royalties to 4.8 cents per track. That's almost a 50% decrease! I don't know the last time royalties were so low, but I can confidently say we could measure the time in decades. I'm not sure what the specific argument here is, but the mere notion that royalties should be cut so drastically if at all is insulting to the entire art and profession.

But then there's the National Publisher's Association, which represents publishers and songwriters (who generally split the royalties 50/50). They're proposing an increase to 15 cents a track. Their argument is that distribution and manufacturing have become much cheaper with the digital age, so there should be more profit to be shared. Theoretically, they're right. But in reality, the whole music industry is suffering and we can all see it. And sure, songwriting seems like it should be one of those glamorous music industry jobs that leaves you with more money than you can shake a stick at (that job really doesn't exist), but unless you're Diane Warren or Craig Wiseman, you're not going to be rich. However, if you're truly pursuing the art and profession of songwriting and you have a talent for it, you can earn a comfortable living at 9.1 cents per song--especially if one of those songs ends up on Carrie Underwood's next album.

So let's cut the greed, all of us, and let the industry stabilize a bit before we start demanding more and more for ourselves. We're in the music industry because we love it. Sure, getting paid to do it so we don't have to work elsewhere is nice, but as long as you can pay your mortgage and put food on your table, I'd say you're doing pretty good.


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