How and For How Much to Sell a Song

Intro

It Started with an Email – How Much for Your Song

Playing Solitaire by Katie ScottWhat follows is a thread and an account of a woman who asked my wife about buying/licensing her song Playing Solitare and the dozen or so responses I received from other music professionals from whom I sought feedback from.

I’ve fielded similar requests over the past couple of years and have spent way too much time on the phone and emails with tire-kickers, so this time around I decided to reach out to a dozen plus songwriters, producers, and performers I respect.

Some of them have Grammys. Others have Emmys. Others have platinum album credits and famous clients in their dossiers. All have love for the music trade, exceeding talents, and great respect for the Divine Muse(s) that whisper inspiration in their musical souls and leads them to rounds of winning applause from fans.

And all were kind enough to consider my appeal for feedback. So at a minimum I owe them, and their contributions, some air-time with this post in the spirit that it might help others who are looking to sell or buy songs.

This is a bit of a long post as I will include the various comments but edit out names to protect the innocent. I should also mention that these kinds of shared dialogues are something I’m building into the upcoming CoolTea Online site, but I digress.

Scene 1 - the Prospect

Scene One – Enter the Prospect

Subject: a song purchase
Hi Katie,

Could you explain how I can license or purchase one of your songs? I have no clue. I love “Playing Solitaire”….it fits my voice…..if it’s not available I’m sure I can find something else.

I usually record old classic country songs, but was advised to look into purchasing originals by a well respected musician in my area.

Thanks, [name removed]

This scene generates great excitement with us, as we never know if we are dealing with somebody who is connected (as many in the past have claimed to be) – connected to music industry pros that is – or if we are dealing with another tire-kicker. Either way, it is exciting to have people think highly enough to consider Katie’s body of work, and we always respond with respect.

Since I have spent too much time in the past fielding funky phone calls and emails only to get to the money part and never hear back, I’ve developed a one-pager that kind of outlines what’s involved, including the fees.

But maybe something is wrong with my one-pager, so before I respond back to this prospect, let me do what most good marketing pros do – is get some real feedback from seasoned pros.

I say this because last Fall I had an agreement with a Nashville artist for three songs but we left off with him having to get his manager’s approval to cut the check, and that is when I never heard back despite numerous follow-up calls and emails.

So I took a critical eye on my previous one-pager and said to Katie that based on what I know now, I can see how a manager might have balked at some of the language, so let’s clean it up, and upgrade it, so to speak.

Scene 2 - Asking Pros

Scene Two – Soliciting Feedback from Pros

After I had buttoned up the next version of my one-pager, Katie and I made a list of some of the people we know and respect.

Then I constructed personalized emails and sent one at a time to each on my list but essentially said something like this:

Hi … [personalization followed by ...]

on other fronts, i was wondering if you could provide some feedback / reaction on the SongWriting license that Katie and i are working on … Katie has gotten some nice feedback over the past couple years on her songs and has had several people inquire about licensing them … to date, we have not sold a songwriting license (although we have licensed her Sound Recording to a Guide Dog school) …

we re-hashed the license below in anticipation of responding to the current inquiry [see Scene 01 email] …thus thought we’d run it by you in case you had some high-level feedback / reaction you might be able to share ..??..

accordingly, thanks in advance for your consideration and to be continued … cordially, chuck scott

=======================
Typical SongWriting Request from Web Prospect [refer to Scene 01] … and here is licensing info i was going to send ->
==============================
SongWriting Services by Katie Scott
- at http://www.KissPrint.com
- Management by Chuck Scott
- email chuck@avantigroup.com
- voice 203.438.8801
==============================

[=] Songs for Sale … Technically, Katie’s songs are not sold but are licensed … Thus Katie owns and retains her copyrights to the lyrics and melodies, but you have the option to create your own sound recording copyright thus produce, sell, and distribute per the following licensing parameters …

[=] Licensing Fee … $350 per song plus revenue share …

[=] Revenue Share … Together we share in your success with two splits … 50-50 gross income when you license your sound recording (e.g., sync rights to film, TV) … and 80-20 gross income (i.e., 80% your share, 20% Katie share) with respect to product sales (e.g., CDs, digital downloads) …

[=] Gross Income … Defined as the money you receive … Your marketing, production, promotion, distribution, legal, agency, administrative, and/or other fees, are your business and are not factored into the revenue share calculation …

For example, if you sell your produced version on iTunes as a digital download for $1 and Apple’s fee is 75 cents per download, then your gross income is 25 cents per download and Katie earns* 20% of your 25 cents …

Similarly, if you create a CD with 10 songs and sell it for $10 per CD, then the gross income per song is $1 ($10 per CD / 10 songs = $1 per song) thus Katie earns* 20 Cents (20%) for each song of hers on your CD …

And if you license your sound recording to Film or TV, the payment(s) and/or royalties you receive from ASCAP, BMI, or other, constitute gross income thus are shared 50-50 …

*Or Katie earns the statutory mechanical right minimum set by Congress, whichever is greater …

[=] Term … The license is non-exclusive and is valid for two years, after which it is subject to renewal …

[=] Sound Recording Copyright … You own the copyright for the licensed sound recording you produce …

[=] Production Window … Upon payment of the license fee, you have up to six (6) months to produce and submit your finished sound recording for Katie’s final approval … Additional extensions for production granted per written request …

[=] Final Approval … Sound recordings are approved or rejected within 10-days of final submission … Failure to submit finalized sound recording within designated time frame invalidates license and the license fee is forfeited … If reasonable industry standards of production quality are not met, or obscene or offensive tracks, then license is subject to termination at Katie’s sole discretion in which event a full refund of the license fee will be issued and all license options promptly terminated …

[=] Moving Forward … Send your check for $350 license fee per song payable to The Avanti Group, Inc., Attn: Chuck Scott, POB 319, Ridgefield, CT 06877 … Submission of your final sound recording can be forwarded via Audio CD sent to the same mailing address or digitally delivered via FTP or Web per separate arrangement …

- fin -

Scene Two ended with hope that our inbox would get some replies, brutal honesty welcomed and anticipated.

Scene 3 - Pros Speak

Scene Three – The Various Feedback Replies

Within ten minutes of sending out my first email, replies started to stream in, so I will list them here in order received:

Response 01

Chuck, I know next to nothing about licensing individual songs. Best of luck.

Response 02

Hi
it all depends
no rules
i just bought for $100 the rights to record [song title removed], by [famous artist] — for a 1000 CDs through the Harry Fox Agency for an artist I’m recording.

if it ends up in a film, there’s a whole different set of parameters…

if Celine Dion wanted to record your song, you’d almost give it away for the exposure — so you have to weight these things –how bad do you want this person to record the song?

also there’s the publishing and writers share –

you’re giving them a license to record the song — you’re retaining pubishing and writers share (assuming you have it).

remember you’ll never know how many cds they’re going to sell –

good luck

Response 03

First of all, it is great to hear from you! I think of you and Katie often. I have to make sure that you are on my Fan Blast Gig Alert emails. I just played on …

As to the contract ideas, all of them sound very good, right in what I would expect as a licensing deal. However, you are leaving it all up to him to honestly report all sales and to cut Katie her share. I am not sure that there is any other way of doing this at this point. Perhaps reports from iTunes, Amazon, etc. to track digital sales, but there is nothing to track cash for CD sales. I am sure that you realize this and it is pretty much the state of affairs. It is wonderful that she is getting this kind of interest. I am curious to see how it all turns out.

Take care and I hope that all is well with you. Things are very interesting on our homefront…

Response 04

Hi..Chuck..hope u guys are well..

In regards to your questions: it is whatever you want to accomplish in todays music biz .. There is a lot here to wrap my head around right now … But I can suggest the following..

Normally if someone want to cut your song you keep all your shares(If written alone) then the artist who is interested in your song would license the song from Harry Fox Agency (if you are a member)they collect mechanical licenses then BMI or ASCAP would collect on air royalties..You may work out a deal with this artist and ask for a up front fee for future sales..So she is paying you for possible future sales on day one.. I am going through this now with [song title removed] from a few years ago..I am getting $1000 as an advance of 10,000 sales.. I still own my writers and publishing shares..Do the math.. This deal is not thru Harry Fox because they would get me a lesser rate.. This was offered by the producer and artist.

In regard to all other subjects you’ll have research and read up..I am not that verse in all this.. sorry ..

Please refer me to any artist that need professional productions…As you know I can write and produce in all genres…thanks..

See u

ps – also do not give any of your song % away.. this is your property.. unless someone is taking a piece of the publishing for a nice advance..

Response 05

Man, I have no idea about this stuff. If someone just wants to record a tune for a “vanity” CD to give to friends and family, I’m sure they will not pay $350. But for a major established artist you probably can’t ask for too much. :->)

All else is fine here….

Response 06

Howdy, Chuck.

Congrats on getting licensing interest! It’s a serious step forward.

As to the proposed licensing, I’m curious about the up front charge. I’m wondering if that might discourage the use of Katie’s song.

Perhaps it would be better to just ask for a bigger songwrighter’s share? You know the local market and the licensee better than I.

*smiles*

I rarely do covers, but, recently I was mulling over a couple of them and found this company that helps get covers licensed. Maybe they have some relevant persepctives for you.

http://www.songclearance.com/

Cheers,

Response 07

Hi Guys, your license is very good. :)..

I would attempt to get more than 350 upfront so maybe 500.

Also, $1 per CD sold for one song is amazing for you to get, however, it is FAR from industry standard.

So, if you can get it, than do so but industry standard according to HARRY FOX Co. for mechanical sales is 9.1 cents per CD sold per song(s) on a CD.

I hope this helps and best of luck!

Response 08

hey chuck,
good to hear from you and glad things are working well with katie’s songwriting.

really, you can set things up any way you like – or is mutually agreeable. looks like you’ve got a good set-up here. i think the main theme should be everyone is comfortable with the immediate arrangements as well as the long-term specs.

when it comes to licensing – like most things – win/win is where you want to be.

best of luck and hope you are well.

Response 09

Chuck,

I assume you submitted Form Pa to the
US Copyright office, with words and a recording of the work.

If so, seems like you covered everything.

Good luck to Katie…may this song be a big hit!

Response 10

chuck,
i find that any time you can streamline things and qualify things…that’s a good thing. sounds like you’re heading down that road.
peace,

Scene 4 - Back to Prospect

Scene Four – Email to Prospect with New License

So after all the feedback received, here is the email I sent to prospect:

Hi [full name] … thanks for touching base and glad to hear you love Playing Solitaire … that is one of Katie’s favorites :>)

licensing songs can get a bit complicated and typically depends on what you are trying to do … for instance, if you want to produce 1000 CDs and include a cover tune, you can go to Harry Fox Agency and for $100 or so get the mechanical rights license to do so … but that license does not typically cover digital downloads or if you sell your version to Film or TV etc …

thus below is a license that Katie provides that for $350 allows you the flexibility to produce both product (e.g., digital downloads and CDs) as well as sell to TV or Film (see license info below) …

the music business is in a stage of flux with all the new digital options these days and this license is not a take it or leave but has been one that has received enthusiastic response from other performing artist …

feel free to contact me at your convenience … cordially, chuck scott

==============================
SongWriting Services by Katie Scott
- at http://www.KissPrint.com
- Management by Chuck Scott
- email chuck@avantigroup.com
- voice 203.438.8801
==============================

[=] Songs for Sale … Technically, Katie’s songs are not sold but are licensed … Thus Katie owns and retains her copyrights to the lyrics and melodies (i.e., publishing and writing shares), but you have the option to create your own sound recording copyright thus produce, sell, and distribute per the following licensing parameters …

[=] Licensing Fee … $350 per song plus revenue share …

[=] Revenue Share … Together we share in your success with two splits … 50-50 gross income when you license your sound recording (e.g., sync rights to film, TV) … and 80-20 gross income (i.e., 80% your share, 20% Katie share) with respect to product sales (e.g., CDs, digital downloads) …

[=] Gross Income … Defined as the money you receive … Your marketing, production, promotion, distribution, legal, agency, administrative, and/or other fees, are your business and are not factored into the revenue share calculation …

For example, if you sell your produced version on iTunes as a digital download for $1 and Apple’s fee is 75 cents per download, then your gross income is 25 cents per download and Katie earns* 20% of your 25 cents …

Similarly, if you create a CD with 10 songs and sell it for $10 per CD, then the gross income per song is $1 ($10 per CD / 10 songs = $1 per song) thus Katie earns* 20 Cents (20%) for each song of hers on your CD …

And if you license your sound recording to Film or TV, the payment(s) and/or royalties you receive from ASCAP, BMI, or other, constitute gross income thus are shared 50-50 …

*Or Katie earns the statutory mechanical right minimum set by Congress, whichever is greater …

[=] Term … The license is non-exclusive and is valid for two years, after which it is subject to renewal …

[=] Sound Recording Copyright … You own the copyright for the licensed sound recording you produce …

[=] Production Window … Upon payment of the license fee, you have up to six (6) months to produce and submit your finished sound recording for Katie’s final approval … Additional extensions for production granted per written request …

[=] Final Approval … Sound recordings are approved or rejected within 10-days of final submission … Failure to submit finalized sound recording within designated time frame invalidates license and the license fee is forfeited … If reasonable industry standards of production quality are not met, or obscene or offensive tracks, then license is subject to termination at Katie’s sole discretion in which event a full refund of the license fee will be issued and all license options promptly terminated …

[=] Accounting and Reconciliation … Successful license requires that every six (6) months, a statement of gross income must be submitted with check for outstanding revenue share within 30 days of six month intervals … Failure to do so invalidates the license unless other arrangements are agreed to in writing …

[=] Termination … Upon license expiration or termination, any additional product sales from unsold inventory (e.g., from previously manufactured CDs during license period), and/or royalty payments (e.g., from sound recordings contracted during license period), still inure Katie’s revenue share to be accounted for and settled during six month integrals … Failure to do so, unless previously agreed to in writing, means that you (or your heir or estate) are responsible for all legal and collection expenses, if applicable …

[=] Moving Forward … Send your check for the license fee per song payable to The Avanti Group, Inc., Attn: Chuck Scott, POB 319, Ridgefield, CT 06877 … Submission of your final sound recording can be forwarded via Audio CD sent to the same mailing address or digitally delivered via FTP or Web per separate arrangement …

- fin -

Scene 5 - Drum Roll

Scene Five- The Climax and Response from Prospect

Drum roll please …

Thanks for getting back to me. It seems pretty complicated…lol. I’m just a 43 year old hometown wife who wants to record a CD locally – and hopefully sell them to family, friends, and people who compliment me when I’m singing out somewhere in town. I get asked a lot if I have a CD. I’m not into being a recording artist, being on tv or the radio…etc…lol…just some local fun. I’m too old, too fat, and too family oriented to do anything other than be around town. But I will reread the info you sent and share it with the hubby. You probably don’t hear from a lot of people like me….I’m not into being a “star”…..

Scene 6 - Back to Friends

Scene Six – Follow Up with Feedback Friends

Along the way, I enjoyed several additional emails bouncing back and forth discussing various points about licenses and fees, but perhaps this clip sums it up best:

… i reached out to a number of other producers and performers i know and received similar feedback … some said ask for more upfront, other ask for less upfront and more of a cut … and others said the mechanical fee was too high but in the end all said similar in that today there is so much flux that almost anything goes …

i’m with you on win-win and what i was trying to do is get a simple one page to bounce back to inbound prospects as i’ve gotten a fair amount of tire-kickers over the years … some have been phone calls from nashville circa midnight wanting to yap about projects – i even remember this one guy [name removed], telling me about his recording studio and client and how he likes to drive big rigs – to which i responded that when it comes to driving rigs, i’m more of golf cart guy … he laughed and that deal never happened thus the search for one-page that helps explain a bit of how songs are licensed not sold and there are a bunch of issues ..

with respect to this most recent inquiry, i had sent a modified license one pager to her based on some of the other feedback received and got the following reply [refer to Scene 05] …

anyhow, thanks again for honest feedback … cordially, chuck scott

Scene 7 - Curtains

Scene Seven – Conclusion and Closing Curtain

Okay, so I walked away from all this without a sale. But I also have a tighter one-pager and confirmation from a diverse group of pros that I’m not off base and that it is a fair basis to build upon.

More importantly, I am reminded how lucky Katie and I are to know so many wonderfully talented creative people who are so willing to share.

While I know many other professionals that are Intellectual Property experts, they just don’t share the same way musically centric folks seem to do.

Yes I know. Lawyers get paid for their time and expertise and often don’t have product extensions like CDs that they can sell in exchange for exposure.

But years ago when I was in my first band as a 30-something late-to-the-band-gigging game, one of my bandmates told me something I’ve never forgotten.

“Chuck you need to respect all musicians regardless of the type of music they play. Music is a gift that comes from Source – Him – Divine – call It what you want – but all musicians will confess that they know there is a Muse that touches them. And it is for this reason that each one of them, regardless of their genre, style, lyrics, should always have your respect even if you don’t agree with them or appreciate them since all of them, all of us, share that gift of the Muse’s touch from somewhere else.”

Lastly, I am reminded of another friend who told me their definition of an artist “is somebody who makes the unseen see-able for everybody else.”

Accordingly, thanks to friends who shared, thanks to all the prospects who have considered Katie’s songs, and more importantly, thanks to all those artists who listen to the Muse and bring forth sound currents for the rest of us to enjoy!

ps – I now am toying with the idea of creating a new license, one for people like the prospect mentioned here, a win-win amateur license I’m calling “NonCommercial Just for Fun” … so what do you think, $75 bucks sound right? The stipulation would be gotta give the CDs away but can charge shipping and handling – I jest!

 

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One Response

  1. Sean Nick
    Sean Nick at | |

    Nice blog entry! Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

    I’ll mention also that, for folks that remember Baskerville’s Music Business Career Guide, it appears it’s been updated in 2010. There is a section in there that clearly describes the difference in royalties paid between broadcast and mechanical.

    There is also a new service called Limelight (http://www.songclearance.com) , which appears to be an (another?) online clearing house for rights to cover songs on recordings (mechanicals), both HFA and non-HFA. I have not used this site yet, but plan on checking it out for an upcoming project.

    Obtaining rights for the online (streaming and or download) remains cloudy.

    Two more points:

    Keep in mind, also, that if your music is licensed by ASCAP or BMI or other para-governmental agency, your rights become “compulsory”, and though it is customary to get the songwriter’s approval before releasing a recording, technically, it is not (or wasn’t at least) required.

    Also regarding ASCAP and BMI, there are 2 royalties paid – a publisher and a songwriter royalty, and together they each are considered 100%. If you are your own publishing company, you get paid twice, in theory.

    As far as an alternate licensing scheme, I would imagine that would only be worth pursuing if you had demand to match the time in crafting it – otherwise you might be re-inventing the wheel here.

    Rock on,

    Sean

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