100% of Zero

Often as a musician (or in any field where fees are negotiated) there is a saying something to the effect of 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing. However, I recently realized that is not always the case. 

First, a brief overview of songwriting income and how it’s split. In the songwriting world much of the income from a song is split between the people who wrote it and publishers. In a nutshell version, half of the song’s income goes to the writer(s) and half to the publisher(s) so if you wrote a song with another person and neither of you had signed away the publishing you would both get half of the writer’s share and half of the publisher’s share, essentially 50/50. Now let’s say you both wrote the song yet your co-writer had signed a publishing deal then his publishing portion is split between him and his publisher. Breakdown = you get 50% (your writer share and your publisher share), he gets 25% (his writer share) and his publisher gets 25% (his publishing share. Get the idea? This is a very general example but should get the idea across. Obviously there are many ways this can be divvied up but this should give you an idea of how that works. The writer should ALWAYS retain his portion of the writer’s share. Since a publisher helps to get a song placed (among other many duties) it can be very beneficial to give up your publishing share to a publisher as it can mean much more revenue and other successes down the road. Hence, 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing. 

In the Film/TV music world a music library basically acts as the publisher so the same standard applies. If I sign a song that I wrote by myself to a music library they typically become the publisher and therefore get the publisher’s share and I get my writer’s share. Often when a song is placed there is also an upfront payment (sync fee) which is typically split 50/50 also. One thing about music libraries unlike conventional music publishers is that often the deals can be “non-exclusive” which means I can have the same song signed to multiple libraries. Some deals are “exclusive” which means I can only have it signed to that one library. There are goods/bads to both but that is all beyond the scope of this blog for now but just know both types of deals exist in the Film/TV music world. 

Now the meat of it all. Recently I was offered a deal from a library ( we won’t mention any names but they CouldB and Entertainment company you might Google …oops, did that slip? ;) ) that was an Exclusive deal (OK, I’ve done those before) they get the entire publisher share (again very standard) BUT also wanted HALF of MY writer’s share? Say what??? That’s 75% of the entire pie! I even had to email them to make sure that wasn’t a typo. Nope, that’s their “deal”. As Dr. Evil would say…”How about NOOOOOOO… you crazy Dutch bastard!”. OK, so I don’t know if he was Dutch (nothing wrong with that) but he definitely was the other. I literally had to wait 24 hours before responding to their offer to avoid telling them they could bleep bleep bleep themselves and just replied with a professional “No thank you”. 

I had mentioned this to other industry professionals and they also felt this company was out of their minds and I truly hope no song writers out there ever sign this kind of deal. No writer should EVER give up their writer’s share to someone who was NOT a writer of the song. This is a case where 100% of zero WAS better and here’s why. The exclusive deal meant I could not pursue other avenues with the song...now I can. I have also hung onto my integrity as well as my writer’s share and stuck up for my rights as a creator. Why would I give half of my writer’s share to a party that DID NOT write any of the song? Too often musicians give in to a bad deal out of desperation and fear of saying “No”. It’s OK to say no because sometimes 100% of Zero can be a better deal.

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