Dear Songwriters....

This is a state of the union message and it has nothing to do with Donald Trump. 


There’s a lot going on. And a lot not going on.


Sadly, it looks like the DOJ isn't going to amend those consent decrees…the laws that restrict the way we get paid and prevent us from navigating in a free market. Wahhhh. 


And there’s this:


I got an email from my esteemed colleague Michelle Lewis which said:


Did you receive the email from ASCAP last week? Ummm, I did. If you have any songs or compositions in a music library owned by Universal this email was sent to notify you that the performance royalties on those works will no longer be collected by ASCAP but rather by SESAC. For further info on it, check out this musicanswers video on the subject. 


I did not receive that email because I am not an ASCAP writer. But it could be a matter of time before I receive the same email from BMI. 


News like this makes me feel queazy…wtf is going on?  


What’s going on is if the DOJ will not amend the consent decrees, adversely affected parties (publishers and writers) are going to have to start taking steps to work around it. The current state of affaires can not last.


She continues: Since receiving the letter, I’ve been in contact with some folks pretty high up at Universal who are saying that this will be a very beneficial move for the songwriters and composers. 


Perhaps. If SESAC’s free-market rates are that much higher than ASCAP’s consent-decreed rates and that increase is going to flow through to the writers, then woohoo!  




Will that increase flow through? In other words if SESAC made a significant financial offer to Universal to make this move, shouldn’t the writers get a portion? And how will we know that we’ve received our rightful share? 


Things aren’t always so transparent. Case in point, recently I was made aware that my ex-publisher was withholding a substantial royalty deposit because of a missing tax ID number that I know they had to have had. If my hubby hadn’t randomly checked, we’d never have realized the money hadn’t flowed through. 


Pass the Alka-Seltzer. 


But the SESAC move doesn't involve my ex publisher. It involves Universal where Jody Gerson, Chairman and CEO, has been a loyal writer’s advocate since the 1980s—I tend to trust her intentions. 'We’ve got to do something if those consent decrees won’t budge.' 


But then there’s this question: Is it Ok to move a writer’s work without their approval? Many contracts stipulate that the publisher must liaise with whichever PRO the writer belongs. But if publisher owns 75% of a composition (the controlling share) can publisher choose to do otherwise? Furthermore, if this sets a new precedent, how long will it be before they make the same move with pop songs?  


Tummy not good. Tummy not good. 


Slowly but surely, moving all catalogues over to sea sick, I mean SESAC, will phase out BMI and ASCAP. We must think long and hard about how we value our existing PROs. Are we taking their experience for granted? There are those who feel that the collective power of ASCAP and BMI is the most important power we have and that "the center must hold."  If we let the two big PROs bleed out (in order to save our individual interests), one possible outcome is that the top 1% (the hits!) will be price gauged and the bottom 99% will be virtually value-less. 


Let’s face it. Our industry is a hot mess. Everyone’s looking out for their own vulnerable interests and trying to hold onto what’s slipping out of their control in this (still rather new) digital terrain.  


So what can we do? 


We can make noise. Express ourselves. Ask questions. Get answers. In other words—be accounted to not just in financial terms. Work around those consent decrees. 


Last year, an LA contingent of concerned songwriters started SONA (now proudly a 501c(6) non-profit organization), because we needed a place to vent, get educated, make a difference, eat bagels. Along with sister and brother organizations (The CMC, MusicAnswers, MCNA), we’re happy to announce that because songwriters are making noise there is some progress being made:


David Lowery has sued Spotify for using songs for which they did not execute a proper mechanical license.


NMPA filed a similar suit for infringed works and received a 30 million dollar settlement. There’s talk of a class action suit for all works Spotify streamed without a proper license. That could be a considerable payout for songwriters. 


SONA has gone to Washington and met with Congresspeople, the RIAA, the NMPA…we will continue to write letters, fight the fight against online piracy, represent at the DOJ and lobby for higher licensing rates at the Copyright Royalty Board.


This stuff is complicated. And not sexy. There are so many more fun things we could be doing. Like being in the studio and writing another song. But we have to make some noise so that we can continue writing another song.


In the meantime…let’s not lose the plot. Stay creative. And…if you’d like to be notified when there’s an important petition to sign, or be advised what to support, what campaigns to promote, feel free to sign up for SONA’s newlsetter. Even better, become a member. There’s strength in numbers. 


Add you voice to the noise. 


Here’s my noise: