happy new year! just thought i would check in. i had a wonderful holiday and i hope you did too.
i even got a few christmas gifts, including vodka in a glass skull, a sweater, some photography books, a basquiat puzzle, a book about how to cope with life as a werewolf, and a book about dust. i would recommend dan aykroyd’s crystal head vodka to anyone, mostly for the container. i’m not really much of a vodka drinker but i like almost anything shaped like a skull, except crackers, which should always be shaped like circus animals. unless you have a high tolerance for science like me, you may find a book about the journeys of dust particles slightly dull. and i maybe the werewolf book wouldn’t be as relevant to your life. but go for the skull shaped vodka. your house-guests will love it.
my resolutions for the new year include finishing another solo album, learning to draw and doing solo acoustic shows in europe, eating more mike sells chips, cooking more, and at least one other thing that i’ve completely forgotten already. so far, i am kicking 2010’s ass. but i really am going to finish this album, and maybe with some help i will go to europe.
recently a couple people asked if i could blog about how copyright law works for music, and my affiliation with performance rights organizations. so this blog is about my personal experience as a songwriter and my recent goal to more actively seek out licensing opportunities. i almost never talk candidly about music or “the music industry” anymore, as i’ve been kind of wrapped up in academia and visual arts. but you could indulge me right here and now–and what could be more exciting than reading about performance rights organizations? i know, you’re salivating.
my music has never been properly exploited. that probably seems obvious, especially to friends who have asserted for years that “you guys should be huge!”. but setting aside the prospect of super-stardom, the music i have created solo or with July For Kings has not been heard outside a relatively small, albeit international, network of extremely supportive fans. one way to solve this problem would be to tour endlessly, which is what a lot of people do, and sometimes it works. but a more practical way of getting music out there for me at the moment while i’m in school is through licensing opportunities on the internet, TV, and film. so in the last week i’ve been looking at several different licensing agreements with companies who could potentially help me do this. oddly, everything happens at once.
there are two types of copyrights for a song. there is a copyright for a recording of a song, and a copyright for the song itself. a copyright for a recording is easy enough to understand. MCA owns the copyrights for the sound recordings of my swim album. they paid for the recordings to be made and contractually, they own the masters. but a song is a curious thing. it is not like a painting. it exists in the air, between the air even, in the mind and blood of the songwriter and can be transferred to others through their ears. it cannot be caged up or destroyed, only forgotten. even a song that has been recorded has not been imprisoned on the tape. someone else can record it or reinterpret it as their own. a song is magic. and to protect the rights of magicians and collect money on their behalf, two groups of performance rights organizations exist: ascap and bmi. i am currently with bmi. i was originally with ascap as it is the larger group, but i switched to BMI for two reasons. first, they have a more interesting history (they originally collected performance royalties for the black artists that ascap refused to collect for), and secondly samantha cox talked us into it by being incredibly sweet and frequently buying me lunch in new york city. she still works there and has worked her way up the ladder since those days. and maybe i just have a thing for three letter acronyms.
it is very difficult legally to take the songwriting performance royalties from a songwriter. you have to be rather conniving, or, have a very unusual situation where a party feels that they are entitled to it because they were screwed over in some other way. but ideally, a songwriter writes a song and retains the songwriting share of the publishing no matter what. the publishers share, on the other hand, generally goes to a publisher or licensor.
since being dropped from MCA, i have made more as a songwriter through BMI than i did as a major label artist. in any one period. it’s never enough to sustain me but it helps. the weird irony about this is that while we were signed to MCA records (who owns the recordings of the songs on one album), we were also signed to Time Warner Chappell music publishing (who owns a portion of the songs themselves). Warner Chappell is (or was) one of the largest music publishing companies in the world. for the rights to exploit my songs by shopping them to TV shows and movies (and the right to collect and keep half of the publishing royalties), warner chappell coughed up a large advance, which was promptly disbursed among a group of handlers including two managers, a business manager, and a producer, before it was finally filtered down to me and the band guys. despite being the primary songwriter, in the end i received a modest fraction of the total sum, and the lions share went to the producer. that kind of thing i guess makes sense when i look back on it. so many interests to balance, and it’s basically all about money for everyone except the artist. but what is really odd, is that warner chappell never did anything, as far as i know, to exploit this catalog of material, which most likely will never be as valuable as it was at that brief period of time in 2002 when we had some songs on the radio (and when people under 30 still listened to the radio).
maybe it was my job to call warner chappell all the time and say “hey i’m that guy with the songs that they’re playing in las vegas, memphis, cleveland, et cetera. do you know of any movies these songs would be good for? one of them is called normal life. do you know of any movies where, maybe things are dramatic and suspenseful and crazy but all the characters want is to live a normal life? man, if only someone in hollywood would make a movie like that.” but then again, warner chappell had already paid us the advance, so it should have become their job to work toward seeing a return on their investment. it would be as if you purchased a really nice car even though you knew its value would depreciate incredibly quickly. and you didn’t drive it at all. really, we (or rather, my managers and producer) were the big winners financially here, but the songs were never properly exploited. and that is more important than money.
that is what happened to the music industry all over the place. there was so much money that it was treated like monopoly money for such a long time. then we were signed at a time when the money wasn’t really there but the advances were going out and no one was working to make them valuable…well that’s a problem. so we were dropped from MCA when MCA folded and merged with Geffen, and eventually i got Warner Chappell to let me out of my contract when i realized it would be better to have all the rights to my songs than have a big company who owned them but didn’t do anything.
and as a songwriter it’s about the same or better now than it was with a major label. in a sense i always have 100 nice cars in the garage. i don’t really need anyone to craft a song. okay, maybe i need a kick ass band to make them sound good, but i don’t need two multinational corporations. and songs are valuable! i know they are. not just in a magical way but in a financial way as well. and only now am i really realizing the truth of that. this is a good time to come to that realization, since as an independent artist and a songwriter, i stand to make more and i have much greater freedom to make choices about what to do with an ever growing catalog.
so on the off chance that you know of any placement opportunities, i’m your man. as long as it’s not a viagra ad, i’m probably gonna be cool with it.
tonight we have a show in cincinnati at a place called play by play. i love the snow but not when we have a show. really kills the turnout. please come out! i hope you are well and warm