Here’s a switch— instead of an interview with another industry player like we did last summer, this week I thought I’d turn it around, and share some excerpts from an interview that I did for Songtrust.com. For those who don’t yet know, Songtrust is a fantastic new service that I believe could be a vital tool for many songwriters who are accepting my challenge to become their own music publisher.
As those who have taken my Music Publishing 101 class at Berkleemusic can attest– the business of music publishing is a challenging one, and the challenges always seem to increase the closer you get to the actual money. Exploitation, the business of getting your songs into situations where they can earn money, whether it’s a movie, a video game, a record, or a plastic singing fish, is hard enough. But getting paid from those opportunities is even more difficult, and seemingly getting tougher all the time. That’s where Songtrust comes in– helping independent music publishers and songwriters collect their money around the world. It’s one of the most innovative business models in music publishing, and one perfectly suited to the DIY ethos of today’s music world.
Many thanks to James Aviaz for his work on the interview– for the full text, check out the blog at songtrust.com.
What motivated your move into publishing from songwriting?
My entry into music publishing was really a case of an opportunity simply landing in my lap. Steve Lunt, who was an A&R person at Jive Records at the time (later moving on to Atlantic), had been an old songwriting partner of mine and he called me one day to suggest I might want to consider a job that had just opened up at Zomba on the publishing side. It was completely out of the blue—I was sitting at my desk working on a lyric. But I knew the company because I had been signed to Zomba back in the Eighties, and I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to do something different. It just seemed like one of those rare chances to see the other side of the industry. As it turned out, those were remarkable years at the company—I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of it. Steve and Richard Blackstone took a big chance bringing me into something for which I had minimal experience. It was one of those crazy, lucky breaks.
What are some of the key ways emerging songwriters and artists can best manage their song copyrights?
This is a challenging time for songwriters to find music publishing deals—most of the time, songwriters have to get something going on their own, to show that their songs can generate income, before they can expect offers from a larger publisher. Many publishers are in transitional periods where they’re being bought or sold, and attention to administering and protecting their copyrights may be missing. I think many songwriters can benefit from either trying to operate their own publishing entity, or perhaps partnering with another larger company to administer their copyrights—which is to say that the administering publisher handles a lot of the registrations and collects the money from around the world.
I do think that Songtrust is one of the most innovative models along these lines, as it allows songwriters to continue to control and own their own material, but at the same time, gives them the support they need in order to administer their copyrights. It is not easy to register songs around the world and collect the money—especially these days. Realistically, I think most songwriters will need a partner in that area. Songtrust is a very good option in that respect.
What inspired you to start teaching at Berklee? Who should sign up for the class, and what can they expect to learn?
Music Publishing 101, the class I designed for Berkleemusic, grew out of my book,Making Music Make Money, which was published by Hal Leonard and Berklee Press. After completing the book, Berklee asked me if I’d be interested in designing a course for the online school, and it seemed a logical extension of what I’d started doing with the book. One of the core principles of the class is that anyone in the music industry who is a songwriter, or who regularly comes into contact with songwriters and artists, from studio owners to record producers to managers, should have a music publishing component to their business. The course really is designed to take students through the step-by-step process of creating their own music publishing company, and helping them understand the issues and challenges that they’ll face.
Why would a student want to start her own music publishing company today?
What most songwriters don’t realize is that if they’ve written a song, they already are a music publisher. They automatically control their own publishing on that song as soon as it’s created. The question then becomes how to be an effective music publisher. As I always say, songwriting is not actually a business. There’s no financial element to songwriting—it’s just something you do. It’s the job of the music publisher to turn songs into something that can generate income. That’s why my book was called Making Music Make Money. For people who want to write songs for a living, it’s also a reason that songwriters need to learn to be effective music publishers.
What advice would you have for a young songwriter afraid that a business-oriented mindset could obscure a clear creative vision?
Songwriters need to learn to wear more than one “hat”. Of course you need a certain amount of isolation to create, but you also need some reality checks to look at your own music objectively and to figure out where the music fits in the market. In the end, that alternative perspective will actually help the creative vision, at least on a commercial level, by raising the quality of the writing and focusing it in a way that makes it easier for audiences to grasp. For myself, and I think for most professional songwriters or music publishers, it’s always a battle to balance the time demands of running a business with those of creating music— they’re both full-time jobs, and the more you do of one, the more work there is to do on the other. It’s never a completely comfortable fit, but the tension between the two is a big part of what pushes us to do our best work.
The book also places a heavy emphasis on the “exploitation process” of music. Can you explain this term?
Exploitation is one of those things that sounds bad—but in fact, it’s the essential component that makes all of music publishing and songwriting work. Without it, nothing happens. Exploitation just means getting your music into places where people can hear it, and where someone can pay you for it—whether it’s on television, on radio, in an advertisement or from “Billy Bass” the plastic singing fish. Most songwriters want their song exploited as much as possible.
What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned about the music industry since starting out?
In general, it’s very important that songwriters not put themselves in a position of always relying on others—they need to understand the business of music and be able to take a pro-active role in their own career.
That sense of independence, of taking control of your own career is really the fundamental principle behind all that I try to do with this blog, with Music Publishing 101 at Berkleemusic, and with my books, Making Music Make Money and The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs that Sell. It’s always what I’m hoping to talk about at Guitar Center this week– if you’re in NYC, drop by and see me at 7pm on November 9, 25 West 14th Street. Look forward to seeing you there!