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Money and How To Make It in an Industry that can Suck You Dry (even your dreams!)
Let me preface this by saying that I have the utmost respect and admiration for songwriters who can write song after song. Those very talented individuals who, while they are sitting on the plane, in the bathroom, or at a dining table, grab a napkin, the roll of toilet paper, the safety guide on the airplane, or whatever may be handy and start frantically writing. While I have had this inspiration once in a while, it’s not a fluent talent. So my hats are off to you!
The statistics were very interesting and I hope not conclusive of what is going on in the music industry right now, although I suspect they are indicative of it. I have never looked at charts or believed in numbers. When I was growing up, I was always told about the statistics and had them thrown in my face with statements like the following: “Don’t bother, only 2% get the jobs and out of those 2% only a very limited few make a paycheck. Get a real job.” Well of course I would get a real job to support me, but who came up with that stupid figure anyway!
QUESTION #1: What is your gender, male or female?
So lets get down to what the survey said. The results of the first question showed that 70% of the writers who took the survey were males. This was an eye opener for me. I have many female friends who are writers. Why was the ratio so off balance? I thought maybe it was just this particular survey. But then I looked at my first demo album and then my “real” freshman album, and found that the majority of the writers were male. In fact, more then 70%! I couldn’t believe it! I hadn’t planned it that way or picked the songs based on who wrote them. I picked the songs purely on my likes and dislikes. I had always heard that the entertainment industry was male dominated in every field, but it’s 2001! It just couldn’t be.
I went back to take a look at the demo tapes, which I still had, to see how many of the writers were male and how many were female. Some very well known publishers had submitted the songs to me, so there should have been a variety. To my surprise, 92% were males and only 8% were female. Why was that? Are we still in a society that does not encourage women to excel at anything and everything they want? Or are men simply more prolific in writing music then women? That might be an interesting study in and of itself.
QUESTION # 5: What are the categories that best describe the music that you write?
One of the other statistics that I found interesting was the category that best describes your music. At first I didn’t think much about it, with Pop, Rock, and Country being the highest rated. But then I started thinking about the Hip Hop/Rap genres. Don’t Hip Hop and Rap writers/artists make the most money? Don’t they really smash up the charts and aren’t they everywhere? Even Jennifer Lopez changed her name to J. Lo, seemingly to me to fit more into the Hip Hop/Rap world. Yet only 2% of those surveyed were writers of Hip Hop music. Does only 2% of the writing population for this survey write most of the popular Hip Hop music, and are they cornering the market of profit for their genre of music?
It would be interesting to find out what percentage of the writing population is making money writing which types of music. This might give the writers and the artists an exact pulse on the “pop” music of today. Pop music of course was #1 on this question, with the highest percentage of people writing for it. But then I thought about that statement. Pop music is whatever is popular at that time. So maybe the Hip Hop writers really voted under the Pop category. Another interesting question might be how many women write for each category of music, and how many of them make money at it.
QUESTION #6: How would you describe your current status as a songwriter?
The saddest statistic of all to me, and one I can relate too, was #6, describe your current status as a songwriter. The results were not unexpected: 58% of the writers did not make any money at all from their work. The purists will say that they don’t write to make money and they don’t care if they do or don’t make any money off their work. But the practical side, which may never be known to the public, is “Why can’t I make money when my stuff is so good and that song I just heard on the radio is so…. well…bleck?!” What is the answer to this problem? How can a writer or any of us in the entertainment industry make money?
I believe the key is education (now there’s a new one, and how many times have you heard that before?!) and diversity. I am not only talking about a college education, although I believe that is so very important and should never be given up at any cost!
I grew up very poor; no one talked to me about college. I didn’t have the money and my grades weren’t good enough to begin with. But once I found out about grants and scholarships, I went to someone in my school (I won’t name names, lets just say that my normal high school counselor was not around.) I was told that college was not for someone like me and that I didn’t have a chance for a grant or a scholarship. They also told me that my hopes should not stray beyond a regular job and maybe someday I would be able to marry someone who could support me. No joke! What’s really bad is that I believed them for two years! Finally, I got off my duff and went to Junior College and surprise, surprise!!!! I was on the Dean’s list and Honor Roll! I haven’t been able to finish, but I have plans too. The lesson I learned from that experience and that I have pretty much held onto, sometimes much to my detriment, is that the word ‘no’ means, “Oh YEAH!!!! Just watch me!” (People usually think of me as very tenacious.) Okay, enough about me for now and back to the subject of education.
Education is very important as I have stated many times, and I am not just talking to the 15 year olds! I am speaking to those people who think they are too old to go to College, 24 – 129! I just read about a homecoming queen/head cheerleader who graduated with honors. She was 41 when all these things took place. She had two children and a husband! You’re never too old! If you can’t go to college right now and get your degree or finish it, educating yourself in the business aspect of your chosen profession by reading, watching, and asking questions is really important and obtainable.
Get your finger on the pulse of what’s happening through education and knowledge, just like you do when you are writing a song. A staggering 40% of the people taking the survey are relying on record labels and publishers to sell their music instead of themselves. I hope everyone will rethink his or her position on this. Instead, rely on your ability and talent to get you to the place where you don’t need the labels and the publishers. The key is to not need those people in high places. Once you don’t need them, they will come running.
The people who make the real money are the people in charge. The head of Sony Records is the one who makes the money. The managers and booking agents make the real money. The publishers make money. The heads of studios and the producers of TV shows, records, films, etc., they are the ones that will make the money. They are in charge. You need to be in charge, too.
Network with people and diversify. Some of you may be thinking, what do you mean diversify? I can only write Country/Pop or Rock or Jazz. I can’t write them all! That’s not what I am speaking of. What I am talking about is finding other parts of the industry that interest you and go for them! That will not only get you into the right places, but it will also help you to meet the right people. Maybe Whitney Houston or Faith Hill will be at one of the places you are and you will be able to strike up a conversation. You find out they are looking for new material, they find out you’re a writer and boom! You’ve got your music in their hands! Or maybe representatives of a famous publisher that you have always wanted to submit your material to is also at the same place as you. You strike up a conversation with them and they ask if they can listen to some of your music. Viola – “Right place at the right time.” A lot of those ‘right places at the right time’ came from careful and strategic planning, so start planning your moment, too!
Back to the original point. Find something else to do IN the industry; not a waitperson, an executive assistant in some unrelated field, or the head of a company that you hate getting up in the morning for. (But, don’t give up your current job until you find another one in the industry that you love and will support you.) Start your own publishing company that not only handles your songs, but also the songs of other writers.
I always believe it is best to help others when you are helping yourself. How can you do this? Ask the advice of those already in the game. Give them a call and ask them how they started and where you should go to network with them. The people at the top, when they have the time, are usually more then willing to talk to you and point you in the right direction.
Start managing a group or an artist, then you will really have an “in” for someone to record your music. Look at Shania Twain and her husband! You may want to use a publishing house or publisher to get you in the door initially, get connections, and the chance to prove yourself. But in the end, you may want to become the publisher so you can garner more of the profits in your pocket.
If those jobs don’t suit your taste, get a job as an assistant at Warner Brothers Records or a job in the film industry as someone who listens to the music for film scoring. Become an editor for music in films and TV. Become a writer of a daily column! You are already a writer after all! There are literally thousands of jobs for the taking in the industry you love. All you have to do is start applying. Those jobs will eventually get you to whom you need to see to get your music noticed!
I am a singer…do I make all of my money singing? NO! Sure, I tour around the world, I have a web site, and my CDs are in selected stores. But most of my money, believe it or not, comes from my book sales or sales of my articles. I went from waiting for someone to give me a break throughout my teens, to taking charge of my own career to make it happen! I am not in the same league as acts like Dream or N’ Sync yet (and I stress that YET part), but I am holding my own. I am not saying that I haven’t had help and that I don’t accept help. Of course I have and will! But in the same respect, I have not waited for that help to find me. The odds of that are like throwing up a tiny single piece of sand on a beach in Honolulu and expecting to find that very same piece again. RIGHT! You have to make your own waves if you want to hit the crest of that wave! So diversify and educate yourself.
Where do you go for the job leads? You can find that information in my article, “A Helping Hand” on http://www.MusicDish.com, and in my book, Indie’s Guide To Music Success and Contact Info, which is available for sale through http://www.MusicDish.com. Here are some examples that will get you started:
Show Biz Jobs: http://www.showbizjobs.com/jobserch.cfm
Electronic Library: wwws.elibrary.com/id/238/222/search.cgi?query=country+music+news&src-mags=1&src-news=1&src-tvrad=1&src-pics=1&src-books=1
Film Biz: http://www.filmbiz.com/
The Globe: globelists.theglobe.com/arts/acting/acting_uk-L/list.taf
Gebbie Press: http://www.gebbieinc.com/radintro.htm.
QUESTION #8: Do you feel that you have been adequately compensated for the use of your work?
My next and my last point on the survey is this. On survey question #8, only 15% of the people responding to the survey believed that they were being adequately compensated for their work. I am not sure where the writers believe they aren’t being fairly compensated for their work.
QUESTION #12: Has Napster had an impact on your songwriting career?
However, on question #12, only 5% said that Napster has had a negative impact on their career. I think Napster has its pros and cons, and I am not necessarily against Napster or those who use its services. But here are the pros and cons for me, in simple form: Pro being that people who can’t afford and can’t find the music they want on CD are able to get it. Freedom of Information act and all that. The Cons are that writers and performers aren’t getting their cut and as a performer, I can tell you from an artist’s standpoint, that that cut is very slim to begin with.
So, the statistical conflict between #8 and #12 confuses me. Don’t get me wrong. I pay all of my writers up front, in cash, as soon as I press my CDs, even if they don’t ask me too. I want the writers to get their money! But let’s look at numbers.
A writer gets 7.55 cents in royalties per song under 5 minutes and an additional 1.45 cents for every minute or fraction of a minute thereafter. The typical Indie artist presses 1000 CDs. The standard procedure is submission of the packing slip from the pressing plant to the Harry Fox Agency or a similar agency that collects mechanical royalties. The artist is then charged by Harry Fox Agency for writer royalties according to how many CDs were pressed (this is of course after you have applied for a mechanical license). So for 1000 CDs, the writer will be paid $75.50 in mechanical royalties by the Harry Fox Agency or its equivalent. In addition to that, the writers will also get royalties from radio airplay and karaoke sales, which are performance royalties. These royalties are collected by the Performing Rights Organizations, such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.
In most cases, the writer did not pay for the production, marketing, distribution, and advertising costs of the CD their songs are on, so eventually this will be money in the bank, after the writer recoups the costs of the initial demo he or she created to pitch to the artist or label. That’s the writer’s side. Now lets look at the artist’s side.
Artists, except in the United Kingdom, do not get paid for the performance of a song on the radio as the writers do. We artists must pay to get your songs and ourselves promoted. A typical CD recorded in a master recording studio, with pressing, royalties and promotion costs, will be around $14,000.00. How does an artist recoup that amount? By touring and CD sales, right? Sure they do.
If an artists gets booked into a venue and makes $500 in CD sales and $500 for the venue, that gives the artist a $1000 right? I won’t do the math for you here, there is a lot more detail in my book, Indie’s Guide To Music Success and Contact Info, but out of the $1000, the booking agent gets 10%, the manager gets 10%, the IRS gets 33 1/3 %, the venue gets a percentage, and the artist still must pay for the promotion and marketing costs as well as staff. All of those people take it off the top, meaning out of the $1000. Their percentages are based on the gross amount from the CD sales and the performance.
After the artist pays everyone their share, the artist is then left with the negative amount of $53.33. At this point, the artist hasn’t even paid for the band members, the travel expenses or food costs, let alone paid a salary to himself or herself, and the artist is already in the hole for the amount of $53.33. Meanwhile, the songwriter has $75.50 in the bank for each song on my CD!
So what am I trying to say? That the writers should be happy they aren’t the artists, LOL (unless of course they are artists also)! No really, what I am trying to show the writers is that artists don’t make as much money as the writers do, even at the low rate the writers get per song. And that of course, the grass is always greener on the other side.
I wish that I had the talent to write prolifically as everyone in the writing community does. Then I would get some of the royalties off of my album sales and I would be less in the hole financially. But this again proves my point that you must diversify. Sure I get to do what I love most and that is awesome, but it’s not what supports me. I have chosen other paths in the music industry to support me and I have worked hard at them.
The majority of beginning artists aren’t in charge of their own lives musically, and they owe a lot of money to their label. Sure I would love a major recording deal, because there are so many advantages to it. But, I would want it with good terms, meaning a lot of points and a great distribution & marketing deal.
Now you can see both sides of the coin, for those who hadn’t seen or known it yet. So when 85% of the writers think they are not being fairly compensated, I would hope they are not talking about the royalties they receive off of a record pressing from an artist, although 48% of you said that’s where the majority of your royalties/income came from.
The lesson to be learned is that you will do much better in this business or any business if you are in charge of your own career, and you have the knowledge to make wise choices and keep track of the bottom line.
A little side note to writers: please make sure that you get the mechanical license to the artists. Don’t just assume the artist will take care of the business side or you may end up without a royalty payment. And artists: make sure you obtain mechanical licenses BEFORE you record a song. If you do not do this, there are some very stiff fines and penalties and the publisher has the right to have your product pulled off the market. So make sure you do the business side first before the music side. Again, the point made is to educate yourself about the business side, too.
In the end, it really is all about music and our love of music, which is the universal language of Humans and animals. I believe if we work together, educate ourselves, and diversify what we can do, we will be much better off and a much stronger unit, whether you’re a songwriter or an artist, a publisher or a record label. The key to all of our success is education, business savvy, being in the right place at the right time on purpose, and diversity. These should be all of our goals.
A point a very famous publisher made to writers as a quote in my book, “The Indie Guide To Music, Marketing and Money” ISBN 978-0-9746229-4-1 was (in paraphrase): “Write and re-write and then write again every song. And when you think you’ve got it perfect and it’s a hit, write it over again.”
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