A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories

Sheet Music

Its February 1997, and the November 1996 issue of Guitar hits the newsstands in Australia. We were always 3 months behind.

On the cover is Rush  with the headline, “Returns To Rock With Their Heaviest and Best Album in 15 Years”. And that album is “Test For Echo”, a headline I totally agreed with.

And how things change from the previous decade. Back in 1986, guitar heroes like Malmsteen, Van Halen, Schenker took up the first few pages of ads. In 1996, it was the dudes from Bush advertising “Ernie Ball” strings and Kim Thayil from Soundgarden advertising Guild guitars.

Each issue of the magazine has a section at the beginning by the Editor In Chief. It’s written like how we would write a blog post today. On this occasion, the headline was “The Song Never Remains The Same”. The Editor In Chief HP Newquist wrote about “how songs get published in the magazine”, because the main reason why I and many others purchased the magazine was for the song transcriptions.

There are publishing companies that OWN the print rights to music. The publishing companies usually pay the artist a large upfront fee to license the songs for printing, which will cover a three to 5 year term (or longer in some cases) or they will pay a royalty (that lovely word) whenever the song is published.

To get a song transcribed for a magazine like Guitar, the magazine needs to first get the approval of the publisher.

Then the magazine will send the music to a transcriber.

When the song appears in the magazine, the magazine pays the publisher who in turn pays the artist and the transcriber is paid as well for their work. The magazine also pays to use the song in each of the countries the magazine is distributed, which means getting the rights from several international publishers for each song.

And all of this for a one time only use, hence the reason why the magazine at that point in time didn’t put any transcriptions up on their website, because that allowed unlimited use.

Sounds like a pretty simple business arrangement when everything is controlled by the labels and the publishers.

But there are also artists who are not interested in having their music appear in magazines and artists who want to give their final approval of the transcription as being true and correct. In this instance, the magazine sends off the transcribed work to the artist who goes over it to make sure the transcription represents what the artist played.

So the post goes on to say that when they feature an artist and don’t run a transcribed song, it is because the magazine doesn’t have permission to print a song from that artist or another magazine has first rights to songs from that artist or permission has been given to multiple magazines, who print the song all at the same time (which has happened as I was a Guitar World buyer and a Guitar buyer). In this magazine they had Rush on the cover and “Test For Echo” was also printed. So in typical fashion, Rush are the good guys once again.

Even after the magazine has secured the rights to print a transcribed song, it can be denied a reprint because a new songbook is coming out and the publishers don’t want to cannibalise the sales of that songbook.

And the web back in 1996, had a lot of text notepad transcriptions put up from users who either transcribed the song themselves or had access to a transcription and copied it to a text document and distributed. I found a lot of songs that way.

So of course the print publishers came out with lawyers and started to crack down on user posted online transcriptions, claiming that it infringers on their copyright and takes away from an artist’s royalties, which is the same spiel used for bootlegs. EMI had a very public battle with OLGA (On Line Guitar Archive) because it had user uploaded transcriptions which infringed on their rights and took money away from the artists. You know the usual PR spiel.

Suddenly the business relationship is a bit more complicated, because the publishers didn’t know how to operate in the world wide web.

These days, it is different and communities like Ultimate Guitar do have user uploaded transcriptions.

And the reason why the Editor In Chief felt the need to explain all of this, is because by 1996, the magazine was getting a lot of angry feedback for re-publishing songs they had already published. A problem that the internet had created for them.

And the big problem the internet created for the magazine was the user uploaded transcriptions to songs. Why buy a magazine to learn how to play a song when a 15 year old kid has learnt it and shared it with the world.

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