By Hans Ebert
Whoever are in these offices have worked in this lazy, meandering way for decades. They’re like hamsters going around and around that little treadmill before its time to retire, and leave with a nice golden handshake for having survived by keeping their heads down and not rocking the boat.
This breed of worker bees will never ever change, yet, despite their total ineptitude, and what borders on scamming their artists, music publishing houses are allowed to continue as business as usual with an arrogance that’s seldom questioned by artists.
If only more artists today realise how they need to be businessmen and women, because at the end of the day, the buck- and bucks- stops and starts with them, and there’s no need to keep turning the other cheek to have it bitchslapped again.
Dare to ask a music publishing house for a Royalty Statement to show what usually are earnings that won’t even buy you a rancid dim sum, and you’d be lucky if you see this any sooner than six months. You wait and wait and wait for a cheque that’s less than twenty bucks. And what proof is there that the numbers given are even true? Nothing really. Can you question these figures? Question all you want, and all you’ll get is the corporate runaround. Hire one of those “entertainment lawyers” to fight the good fight on your behalf, and be prepared for a huge legal bill for services rendered, but which have not brought any closure. Often, these “entertainment lawyers” are lost in who gets what and how it all works, especially in all this streaming of music that’s created a tidal wave of confusion. They are clueless where anyone stands- legally.
They’re not the only ones lost and confused as this world of streaming music caught many napping, and online laws almost became jam sessions with no one in charge, and so everyone making it up as they went along. And they’re still doing it, but few are calling their bluff. Artists continue to get screwed over and over and over again.
Seriously now, how many out there REALLY understand how the royalty payments for the streaming of music are worked out? Millions of streams of a video has nothing to do with sales- only that nebulous word called “awareness” or “promotion”- so, who gains the most out of this? And do you seriously believe that if you’re a songwriter, the music publishing house is looking after the Rights to your song if it’s not a hit?
Music companies and music publishing houses bundle and sell content to streaming companies for a massive one-size-fits-all price, which is then divided and sub-divided, where the unknown artist at the end of the food chain might get some chump change.
Does anyone seriously believe everything is above board- and fair? Why does an artist sign their work to a music publishing house, especially a major music publishing house, anyway? The dream of having your little song, let’s say, covered by a name artist on the roster of the company’s recording side, and something that will be presented with great persistence and persuasive skills by the A&R person or people with the music publishing house to whom you have sold all Rights. Dream on. Most music publishing houses are run and populated by accountants and glorified sales people whose main job is to approve or reject tracks for sync deals, and, without doing any homework, try and sell their latest hits to a major advertiser for their latest campaign. This modus operandi has gone on for decades and continues today. It’s like pounding the chorus of a song into submission.
There’s another thing: When it comes to most of the majors, the recording and publishing divisions rarely work together. Gawd, knows how and when it started, but there’s always been a power struggle between the two sides to be the most profitable every Quarter when the numbers game is played out to the Board Of Management. During this fandango, the artist is completely ignored. They have no say. It’s only about the numbers and the survival of the most political. It’s no different to any other industry. Respecting Art? What art? It’s everything to do with the bottom line.
What’s baffling is why music companies and, especially, music publishing houses, sign up writers and their songs, only to lock them into 5-10 year contracts, and sit on their work. What type of warped business model is this? You don’t want the work, but yet you don’t want anyone else having it. It’s almost like being a jealous boyfriend/girlfriend, or else simply building a catalogue like many today build data bases with the end game being to sell it to the highest bidder. And the bigger the catalogue, the bigger the asking price. It’s either that, or ensuring you don’t look like the tone dead dweeb at Decca Records who turned down the Beatles, and instead signed up Brian Poole and the Tremeloes.
So, why not own your publishing and control everything? Sure you can. But what do you do with your songs? Send them off to as many people as possible and hope to hell it reaches the ears of someone like Simon Cowell, who’ll yell out, “This one- this is perfect for OneDirection. They must record it.”
Of course, this could happen and one must always live in hope despite perhaps drinking the Kool-Aid a wee too much and talking to the voices in one’s head. But apart from living on the hopes of a wing and a prayer, what else can be done if your roller deck, and that of those around you, are rather limited? Where are these songs going other than being uploaded onto YouTube- and where it can be so easily ripped off?
There’s the old crowd funding shtick, but isn’t this also something of a con? Fans pay for a struggling act to make a record because they love the music, but are then obligated to purchase the music that they have invested in. Duh.
Who else and how is this captive fan base to grow? And if this isn’t the first time an act has taken this only route open to them, how’s this journey going to be any different? A better product? Okay, but, again, who’s to know? More to the point, how will this new product not only reach a new audience, but entice them to purchase it? As a friend of mine would ask, “And then what?” Become part of all the clutter out there while trying desperately to be heard above the din? Appear on that giant wasteland called “The Voice”? Make it to the finals of “The X Factor” and enjoy those 15 minutes of fame? Open for Blue or Atomic Kitten? Or sign a music publishing deal or recording contract with either a major or that cute term known as an indie? Isn’t this where we came in?
In all seriousness, if there’s no guardian angel with decision making clout in either a recording company or music publishing house, and who truly believes in your talent and is prepared to go to bat for you, pass. It’s too depressing to be signed to a “worldwide” deal where your product gathers dust on a shelf and is not marketed anywhere. Too many very good acts who should have made it with even great sync deals to their names just dropped by the wayside.
So, what’s the answer? There is none. Music is free and it belongs to the fans, and apart from constant gigging and touring, there are not a helluva lot of options. Where, however, there might be a glimmer of hope is if this streaming versus downloads model is changed. Surely, there’s something of the tail wagging the dog when music is streamed for free for weeks and months, and music fans are then expected to purchase this same tired product as downloads?
Am I missing something, but isn’t the free streaming of music cannibalising the sale of downloads? Do the music companies care? Are they thinking of new ways to help promote new artists with their various partners instead of it always being about the usual suspects?
Or are these music companies- recording and publishing- waiting to jump on the bandwagon and roll out the red carpet for an unknown artist only after all the hard work has been done, and they definitely know they have a hit on their hands? Isn’t there something of the pimp in doing that?