Vol 2, Issue 12: Alternative Sources of Revenue Pt III: Licensing & Songwriting: An Overview

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 likes of 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.

*To view Feist's Apple Ipod commercial, please visit http://youtube.com/watch?v=tkpdJ_0ubXI

In fact, Steve Thomson of Backstage Productions, a Canadian independent music publisher, informed me that the licensing of a single song, if picked up by the right client, can set a songwriter for life! So why, then, aren’t more musicians taking advantage of this aspect of the industry? Well, it’s NOT as easy to navigate as one may anticipate.

In addition to the fact that one literally needs to apprise themselves of a dictionary’s worth of technical jargon, 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. To make matters worse, resources regarding this area of the industry are limited, and it would seem that, based on my own personal experiences trying to track down songwriters and music publishers alike for interviews, this is no coincidence. However, my persistence finally paid off! Based on my findings, I hope that I will be able to shine some light on this rather contentious employment avenue from both an indie and major perspective. But, before we get started, a review of some key definitions is required.

First and foremost, it’s important to establish the difference between licensing and songwriting:
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.

Songwriting, 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. Songwriting 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 the music publisher and its 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% of the gross royalties earned). For more information on the kinds of available publishing agreements, please visit:

One last area that we need to conquer prior to delving too deep into the realm of licensing and songwriting, concerns royalties (I promise I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible). In Canada, there are three basic forms of royalty payment that are issued: mechanical, synch, and performance fees:

1) Mechanical royalties have been set at the industry standard of 8 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.

2) Synchronization royalties (more commonly known as 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.

3) 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, and internet webcasts.

For the purposes of this article, I will not be discussing where the details of the monetary exchanges in each of case, but if you would like more information regarding royalty payment in Canada, please visit SOCAN’s official website located at http://www.socan.ca/

About the Author:

Rose Cora Perry is the frontwoman for Canadian hard rock band ANTI-HERO known as “The 21st Century Answer to Nirvana”, as well as the sole owner and operator of HER Records, a management company in which she offers marketing, promotion, publicity, tour booking, and artist development services.

Her band ANTI-HERO has toured extensively across North America playing notable festivals such as Warped Tour, Canadian Music Week, NorthbyNorthEast, Wakefest, and MEANYFest.

Voted “Best Rock Act of the Year” by numerous industry publications, their critically acclaimed debut album, "Unpretty" is available worldwide for purchase.

Rose Cora Perry is a dedicated promoter of D.I.Y. ethics, and an avid supporter of independent musicians.For more information on Rose Cora Perry and her band's accomplishments, please visit http://www.anti-hero.ca/ or http://www.rosecoraperry.com/