@musictechpolicy: How Songwriters Get Screwed by Cheese and Pies

For some reason, there’s a focus at the moment on songwriter royalties and in particular for streaming royalty rates.  Notice that I said “rates” not “share” or the one I find particularly irritating, “share of the pie.”  Let us be clear—there is no “pie” there are only “rates”.  Or should be.  Let’s investigate why.

To frame this idea (speaking for the U.S. market), let me take you back to a conversation I had with a Nashville session musician and hit songwriter many years ago back before physical mechanical royalty rates were frozen.  

He looked at me and said, “Why do I have to take this government cheese royalty rate?  I get double scale when I play a date, why can’t I get double stat?”  

What he was really saying was why can’t I set my own price as a songwriter for mechanical royalties?  And the answer is the same today as it was then:  Because songwriters allow the U.S. government to set the price and terms for mechanicals.  Or rather the “minimum statutory rate” which is a joke because the “minimum statutory rate” has never been a minimum, it has always been both a minimum and a maximum.

There has also long been an obsession with songwriters and publishers comparing their rates to what artists and record companies get.  This comparison was only compounded in the digital era particularly for interactive streaming.  If you combine song rates and recording rates, some people get a pie.  Other people (like me) get an error message.  I’ll explain why.

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