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Music Beat

February 15, 2014

Copyright royalties can make you smile

A few years ago, I wrote an article on the skill and dedication necessary to become a songwriter. Although we often read of famous songwriters who say, “The idea for the song just came to me one day, and I composed the entire song in 15 minutes,” the truth about songwriting is that like other creative processes, it can be an arduous endeavor requiring a great deal of time, patience, energy and often, luck.

The rewards of songwriting include a wonderful opportunity for self-expression and for telling the truth in ways that may be difficult to express in everyday conversation.

For successful songwriters, there may be more tangible rewards, as well.

Today, most popular musical artists are “self-contained.” This is a music business term that means the singer writes his or her own music. Many of these songwriters have learned that the song can generate income even when the singer is no longer earning money as a performer.

As an example, think about Whitney Houston’s amazing, wonderful performance of the song “I Will Always Love You,” probably the best part of the “The Bodyguard,” the movie in which she sang that song. She performed it often, long after the movie was no longer being shown. It became one of her best-loved signature songs. Of course, every time Whitney performed that song in concert or in a recorded version over the radio, television or Internet, the country singer Dolly Parton smiled.

Why? Because Dolly Parton wrote that song nearly two decades before Houston made the song famous again, and it is Dolly Parton, not Whitney Houston or her heirs, who receive royalties for Whitney’s performances of “I Will Always Love you.”

In the music business, the word, “exploit” is a good word. If your song is exploited, it has been used, and if it has been used, it should earn a license fee or other income. 

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