There is a great article over at the WSJ on all of these catalogue sales of copyright.
It’s asking the question as to how does the music industry decide who the writer of a song is?
This is more relevant now than ever before, especially since artists are selling percentage points in their catalogues to investment houses and publishing companies.
It’s a double edged sword.
While the artists and songwriters would like to get a lot more in streaming payments, it is because of streaming that their catalogues have become valuable. The Beach Boys even took it a step further by selling their masters and their actual brand.
For the fans its worthwhile knowing that what is on album liner notes could be misleading. “1984” from Van Halen had the original release crediting all songs to Edward Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony, and David Lee Roth.
In the UK release, “Michael McDonald” was listed as a co-writer for “I’ll Wait” but not the original U.S release. Eventually by the start of the 2000’s, Van Halen re-negotiated the publishing deal for the “1984” album and Michael Anthony was removed from the credits.
Each album will have a band/production agreement in which the actual writers (which could be the artists or a songwriter or a producer) would give a percentage split of their copyrights to other people (like other songwriters, producers, other band members, lawyers or management) in exchange for more work later on.
Bob Rock has a percentage split on the Metallica “Black” album and I’m pretty sure he would have a similar split on the “Load” and “Reload” albums. But the difference is that he’s not listed as a writer of the tracks.
Not sure if anyone remembers Stock-Aitken-Waterman. They had a string of number 1 hits in the 80’s. Judas Priest even worked with them on a batch of songs, which Rob Halford hopes would get released one day.
Well, if you saw any of the writing credits, it was always listed as “Stock-Aitken-Waterman” as the writers. All three would get the equal split but Stock and Aitken did all the song writing and producing, while Waterman did not write music or lyrics instead he acted as a publicist instead.
And while these kind of writers will still get paid in some way (by selling a stake in their songs, royalties, etc.) what about the $435M in unmatched royalties sitting in the bank account of a new government granted organisation/monopoly called The Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC).
And this new Collective will start the process of reviewing and analysing the data in order to find and pay the proper copyright owners. And once they do find the proper copyright owners (provided they are still alive, still not sure on what happens if they are deceased), there will be an administration fee to be paid and whatever is left gets paid.
There’s always someone getting paid who didn’t contribute anything to the creative process.
P.S. The title of this blog is based on the “And Justice For All” title from Metallica. Because everyone is taking a piece of copyright royalties and the last ones to be paid are the independent artists. All because the labels and the publishing companies didn’t really track or keep a database of who wrote what song.