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So you want to be in a rock band?: Making money off your material

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | March 3rd, 2008

It's wasn't until “1234" made its debut in Apple's 2007 advertising campaign for their latest iPod Nano that Leslie Feist, more commonly referred to solely by her surname, became a worldwide phenomenon.

Despite the fact that she had been performing in and out of many notable acts since the ‘70s, had previously toured with The Ramones, and had released two solo albums previous to her current effort, The Reminder, for Feist, it was a licensing agreement that finally sealed the deal.

This kind of a story, according to music industry experts, is not uncommon. In fact, Steve Thomson of Backstage Productions, a Canadian independent music publisher, said that the licensing of a single song, if picked up by the right client, could set a songwriter for life.

So why aren't more musicians taking advantage of this aspect of the industry? Well, it's not as easy to navigate as one may anticipate.

Success in music publishing is highly dependent upon connections, and therefore, tends to be restrictive in many ways. As unsolicited material is generally not accepted, making it as a new aspiring songwriter is anything but easy.

First and foremost, it's important to establish the difference between licensing and song writing. Licensing is the act of granting permission to a purchaser (which may include: a media/production company, ad agency, CD compilation manufacturer and/or film producer) to feature one of your originally written and recorded compositions in a creative project whereas there is a promise of remuneration for your contribution. Payment may take the form of an upfront flat rate per song or royalty payment depending upon the success of the project. In some situations, the licensing of a song is granted to a purchaser free of charge if there is promise of potential exposure, which may in turn lead to further commercial success for the artist.

Song writing, on the other hand, again involves the granting of a license of an original composition by an artist, but the purchaser is free to edit and re-record the work for the project. Song writing purchasers most often include: established recording artists, media/production companies, and ad agencies.

Either avenue can involve exclusive or non-exclusive agreements, and fees will vary depending upon whether or not you have representation. However, it's important to note that the practise of selling song ownership has long been out of use. Whether you license material off of your current band's album, or write songs for fellow artists, as the original songwriter, you will maintain the ownership of all of your song(s), will be credited for all of your contributions, and are able to both release your songs commercially through your own means concurrently with your licensing efforts and/or grant licenses to a variety of companies for a single track, unless specified otherwise by an exclusive agreement.

So then what exactly is a music publisher? According to the Canadian government, the primary role of a music publisher is to act on behalf of authors of musical works as an intermediary between the artist and the marketplace. Aside from finding advantageous placements for their songwriters' compositions, music publishers, whether independent or major, are additionally responsible for negotiating contracts on behalf of their songwriters, and fulfilling all of the necessary paperwork to ensure that their songwriters are receiving compensation in the form of royalties for their efforts.

Within Canada, there are four main types of contracts that outline royalty and ownership splits between music publishers and their songwriters, but the two most commonly in use are the standard music publishing agreement (50/50 split between the publisher and songwriter), and the co-publishing agreement (songwriter is entitled to 75 per cent of the gross royalties earned).

In Canada, there are three basic forms of royalty payment that are issued: mechanical, synch and performance fees.

Mechanical royalties have been set at the industry standard of eight cents per song, and are awarded based on commercial sales. This means that the more the project on which your song is featured sells, the more money you will be paid for your contribution, and if you have multiple songs featured on a project, you will collect profits for each track separately.

Synchronization royalties, or synch fees, follow more of a play-pay method in which payment is dependent upon how frequently your song is aired in conjunction with a video project. Synch royalties would be awarded to you if one of your songs is used as “theme” or “background” piece for a commercial, movie, news track, video game or DVD. Currently, synch fees are negotiated on an individual basis.

Finally, performance royalties are paid directly to original artists for the live performance of their works at various venues including clubs, radio and TV stations, as well as Internet webcasts. If you would like more information regarding royalty payment in Canada, please visit SOCAN's official website located at

More on licensing and songwriting next week!
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