By Shelly Peiken
In the 1990s there was a superstar (who-shall-not-be-named) whose gatekeeper demanded she get “income participation” on any song she recorded. Income participation (as opposed to publishing), meant that she’d receive a payment equal to half the publishing but no writers credit or copyright ownership. She wouldn’t be compensated if another artist went on to cover said song in the future or if song was placed in a film. Seems pretty fair, right? Wrong. At the time, it was a whole new money grab concept in the songwriting ecosystem and my community was up in arms. We never asked for a share of her tour revenue if the song we wrote for her became a big fat hit. But with all the gross inequities songwriters face currently, looking back it almost seems reasonable.
One of the songs this artist wanted to “participate” in was mine. I didn’t capitulate. And thus, she didn’t record it. 😳That album went on to sell 25 million records and I was left standing with my self respect and my principles. Everyone else bought themselves a house.
Still, with physical copies paying a mechanical royalty and because I had tons of album cuts I was able to sustain a livelihood.
There are many archaic practices and financial injustices that have plagued songwriters. We were always underpaid. It’s just there was enough flowing down from the top of the waterfall to make ends meet so our time was better spent trying to write another song that would catapult us to fame.
But when the invisible stream came along and hijacked our mechanical (physical) royalty we weren’t able to sustain ourselves any longer and the silent rumble of discontent grew into a deafening roar.
“We’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it any more.”
I’m happy to report there are quite a few initiatives circling the zeitgeist.
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