If you've spent any time at all on Twitter or Instagram this weekend you probably noticed that the #SESACkillstheMMA situation we alerted you to last week has ignited our songwriter community to action with unprecedented focus, passion, and NUMBERS. Thank you for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with SONA (and our brother organization in Nashville, NSAI) in leading the charge to make SESAC withdraw their toxic amendment to the Music Modernization Act.
Major props to Ross Golan for creating the “I am a ….” graphic series that has been shared thousands of times in the last 48 hours. If you haven’t already shared one yourself, please grab a screen shot from below or go to @rossgolan or @andthewriteris on instagram or twitter and SHARE AWAY! And please, whenever you post about this issue, use #SESACkillstheMMA so we can keep our campaign jumping. SESAC, Harry Fox, and Blackstone are very worried right now, so we cannot ease up on the pressure!
Thanks to NMPA for boiling the issue down to one concise point. We tried a thousand times to come up with a bullet point and could not so seriously, THANKS!
Check out the other warriors who have jumped into the fight!
You guys, this is working. In the immortal words of Journey, don’t stop believin’! In this case, put the emphasis on DON’T STOP!!
Your SONA Steering Committee
We hate to interrupt what we hope is your lovely summer, but recent news about the Music Modernization Act’s prospects in the Senate is of critical importance to all songwriters. Even if you’ve never read our previous updates on the MMA, PLEASE read this one because the bill that SONA has worked so hard to help craft and shepherd through Congress is in trouble, and this is a call to arms.
At the bottom of the letter is a list of action items. If everyone reading this takes 3 minutes to execute just 1 action, we have a decent shot at derailing a predictably shitty outcome. Allow us to explain what’s going down and how we got here.
In short, the performance rights organization, SESAC, along with some other very recent players, is actively pushing an amendment in the US Senate that could effectively kill the Music Modernization Act.
As you already know, songwriters have been uniquely screwed in the new music streaming economy and the MMA is desperately-needed copyright reform legislation - the bottom line is that, if passed, songwriters will get a raise. Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but SONA has been in the room, weighing in on the architecture of this bill from its beginnings. It has undergone many revisions, changes and clarifications along the way. Yet, for the first time, all the stakeholders that make up our music industry - songwriters, publishers, streaming companies, artists, producers, record companies - have made serious compromises in the service of this painstakingly negotiated consensus bill that is as fragile as it is historic.
Out of the gate, in April 2018, the Music Modernization Act passed unanimously in the House 415 to 0, followed up in June with another unanimous yes vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee. We always knew that the full Senate vote would present challenges so we prepared for many adverse scenarios. But in final moments of the MMA’s journey, just as the bill approaches its final hurdle, SESAC, Harry Fox, and parent company, The Blackstone Group, have chosen to lob an amendment into this finely tuned compromise bill that, if we do not fight back, will surely blow up the entire thing.
What does SESAC have to do with this?
Quick primer: In 2015, SESAC bought the Harry Fox Agency, a longtime collector and distributor of mechanical licensing revenue. Last year, SESAC was purchased by a private investment firm called the Blackstone Group. So Blackstone now owns Harry Fox.
One of the primary tenets of the MMA is that it creates a Mechanical Licensing Collective - called the MLC - to issue blanket licenses to the Digital Service Providers, match the licensed works with their owners (rights-holders - like songwriters!), and collect and distribute payment from those DSP’s to the proper owners.
“But wait a second,” you may be thinking, “that’s what Harry Fox does!” Yes, exactly. EXCEPT THAT THE MLC WILL OPERATE AT NO COST TO SONGWRITERS, WITH GREATER TRANSPARENCY, WITH SONGWRITERS ON ITS GOVERNING BOARD, WITH LOWER OVERHEAD, AND, HOPEFULLY, WITH A HIGHER MATCHING SUCCESS RATE. And let’s be honest, if Harry Fox had been doing such a good job of licensing digital mechanicals, would we need a legislative solution in the first place?
Now, nothing in the MMA precludes Harry Fox from competing to become a vendor of the MLC. Vendors will be required under the new law to curate data, match claims, locate rights-holders, etc. And if they can convince the Board of songwriters and publishers that they can do the best job for us, then they will get the gig.
But Blackstone doesn’t want to do that. They want to kill the MLC and have the playing field all to themselves.
Lucky for them, they found a friend in one senator from Texas who loves the free market and hates government-created entities, particularly ones with the word “collective” in them. In their amendment proposal, they describe the MLC as “a single, European-style government regulated monopoly… antithetical to the free market.”
This makes all the prior squabbling between songwriters and publishers over board composition and the board seat selection process seem almost quaint. In the Blackstone amendment, an MLC governing board has little to govern. It practically mandates that the Harry Fox Agency take the place of the MLC, and without any of the oversight and accountability that we all fought so hard for. It is a Texas-sized land grab for Blackstone – an investment group for whom a music business holding in inconsequential in the scope of their other holdings. Squashing this bill is like killing a fly – a bit annoying, but really easy.
Our friends at SESAC can’t possibly feel good about this. Their parent company is trying to protect an investment to the detriment of the entire music business ecosystem. Just the timing of the amendment on its own is the definition of “bad faith.” Last week (week of July 16th), Blackstone went from Senate office to Senate office, handily turning Republican senators away from the bill one-by-one.
The good news is that ALL of the stakeholders are strongly united in their opposition to the Blackstone Amendment. The Digital Service Providers – like Amazon, Spotify, Apple, etc – hate the idea of paying twice for the same service of matching and administrating with zero oversight. For songwriters, this amendment tips the balance previously struck in the MMA from helpful to harmful. Why would we support a new blanket license (which historically suck for us) and grant indemnity with no oversight, audit rights and protection? It would mean doubling down on the current broken system, with less transparency and even less control. After all the time, energy, passion, and personal funds we’ve expended to get this far, we - songwriters ourselves - would have to walk away from a bill meant to help ALL songwriters.
NO F%#*G WAY.
So, we know its summer. This is a lot of inside-baseball weeds-y stuff about political machinations and you just want to read your juicy novel on the beach. Or write songs on ukulele. Us too. But the ONLY recourse we have is for songwriters to GET ENGAGED NOW! Here are our suggested action items:
- If you are a SESAC writer – please contact your favorite rep there and copy John Josephson (CEO) and anyone on the executive team (email template for SESAC is: first initial, last name @sesac.com) and ask them not to do this! Tell them how important the passage of the MMA would be to your day-to-day survival as a songwriter, how it will mean a raise and how there is FINALLY unprecedented consensus around legislation that would fix a deeply broken system. Ask them: Does SESAC really want to go down in history as being the outliers responsible for blocking passage of this desperately needed legislation?
- If you are a pro songwriter in ANY Performance Rights Organization (SESAC, ASCAP, BMI, GMR, PRS, etc), please help us bring what SESAC is doing out into the open by tweeting @sesac with the hashtag #SESACkillstheMMA
- Are you a Texas songwriter? Please call Senator Cruz’s office at 202-224-5922 and remind him that many of his Texas constituents are middle class songwriters whose small businesses will be hurt by his current proposal to amend the Music Modernization Act.
Thank you! Now back to your regularly scheduled summer reading!
Kay Hanley - Co-executive Director
and the SONA Executive Committee
Dear SONA Members, Donors & Friends,
We wanted to send along our most heartfelt thanks to all who came to the 4th Annual SONA Summit at The Village last month. For those of you who couldn’t make it, you missed our best Summit ever… and you were missed. We hope to see you again soon.
We kicked off the Summit by pre-gaming with our first ever political fundraiser for Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL 22nd District), who has been a tireless champion for songwriters and, as the Congressman representing the people of Parkland, a steadfast leader in the fight for sensible gun laws. Special thanks to our generous hosts Dina LaPolt, Jay Cooper, Larry Rudolph, Jody Gerson and Billy Steinberg (who also performed *swooooon*)!
The Summit, which immediately followed, was an overwhelming success on every conceivable level. The solo performance by Justin Tranter was just unreal. People were out of their seats, singing along to every word. Justin could not have been more humble, charming, generous, stylish, TALENTED. We all want to marry that guy. Sheesh.
The discussion following was hosted by Greg Behrendt, who was hilarious and thoughtful. Our panelists, Mozella, Justin Tranter, and Congressman Ted Deutch (pulling an overtime shift) dropped some serious knowledge about the state of the songwriting profession, our shared challenges and triumphs, and what the future looks like. All of this preceded by a concise and not too much in the weeds crash course in copyright reform by our own co-founder, the ever-inspiring Dina LaPolt.
The live and silent auction this year was bigger and better than ever. We had some very impressive auction items (ummm.. including signed sheet music by Barbra Streisand, John Williams and others)! But we really have to give major props to the “donor in chief” VIP rock(star) photographer Henry Diltz. He personally donated and signed some of his most iconic works, not the least of which was his 1971 Life magazine cover photo of Paul + Linda McCartney. Thank you to all who donated items to our auction and all those who bid and won, which helped generate much-needed funds for SONA to keep-a-goin!
Three years ago, when we set off on our journey to build SONA, many smart people told us that better-funded, more organized groups had tried and failed to organize songwriters in Los Angeles and that it was a fool’s errand. We knew better. Kind of. And here we are now, an army of middle class songwriters/volunteers, getting shout outs from the floor of Congress for our work on behalf of the Music Modernization Act.
2018 has been the kind of year that changes the game. Our membership is growing at a quick pace and we have seen a seismic change in the level of enthusiasm and activism among our songwriter ranks. Let’s keep it going! Spread the word as the MMA moves through the Senate. The battle is not over, and we may soon call upon you for help.
Again, thank you. Keep writing those kickass songs and making ours a profession worth fighting for.
Your SONA Steering Committee
Thank You to our sponsors and auction donors!
Alan & Marilyn Bergman
Susan Spiritus Gallery
Wesla Bay Weller
Susan Spiritus Gallery
Wesla Bay Weller
Where did your musical journey start?
I started out my music career as a singer and guitarist in London in a hotel band. I had left New Zealand at the age of 17 and emigrated to the UK as my father passed away and at the time my brother and sister lived in London. I freelanced in London for some years doing session work, back up singing and touring. I was fortunate to work with some amazing artists, among them; Daryl Hall, Cyndi Lauper, Elton John, Celine Dion, Tom Jones and Lulu. I had several day jobs in between when times were tough but all in all, I was a singer for just over 10 years with a little songwriting on the side. The Pet Shop Boys tour was the major turning point for me. It was an incredible experience being on a world tour with them in 1991 but I realised I wanted to settle down and get an artist publishing and record deal. The record deal didn’t happen as the trend was signing teenagers at the time and I wasn’t a teenager but I got my first publishing deal in 1992 and started writing full time. In fact, at the same time I was asked if I wanted to go on the road with Pink Floyd but I turned it down (the tour was more money than the publishing deal but it was time to make some sacrifices). After that first publishing deal, I signed to Hit & Run Music (Phil Collins/Genesis owned, publishing company) then Warner Chappell, which was when “Genie In A Bottle” was written. I’d had a few hits in the UK up until then but never a worldwide hit so it was a game changer in terms of progress and it opened some pretty big doors. We were really broke when I made that writing trip to write “Genie” with David Frank and Steve Kipner, but I’m sure glad I did. It was the first song we’d ever written together so the stars were aligned in our favour that day.
What made you jump from performing to writing?
I wanted to be an artist from the very beginning but realised somewhere down the track after having some success as a songwriter, that this was an even better fit for me and where I really belonged. I’m a bit of an introvert and like my privacy so I’m happiest in the studio creating. I’d been writing songs since the early 80’s but never considered that I could write for other people so when I started getting cuts I was hooked. Songwriting is my therapy and definitely my happy place. I think I’d be a basket case without it.
What would you say the difference is in industry between a publishing deal back then and now?
Publishers back in the 90’s were willing to sign and develop writers if they saw potential, they were mentors and career shapers. They took chances and invested on a hunch. Sadly, few publishers have the big bucks to take chances these days or time to develop new writers, it’s more about a guaranteed return on their investment. Also deals are tougher to fulfil for songwriters, they are stuck in publishing deals for longer periods of time and having to stretch their advance from what they thought would only be three years, to end up being more like 10. I know many writers that have to get other jobs to pay the bills just to survive, it’s way harder out there. The real biggie is that there is less money around for publishers and writers since streaming and the digital age blindsided us, none of us saw that train coming. We are all aware that there are huge profits being made today from music being used on so many more platforms but we are not seeing that reflected in our royalty checks. SONA is lobbying hard for the MMA bill to pass so that laws are put in place and songwriters and artists are able to earn their fair share of those profits too. (I’m so grateful I was part of that 90’s boom, you could earn a decent living just from album cuts, can’t live off album cuts anymore).
What would be your advice for a modern day songwriter just getting started?
Write with the artist where possible, pitching songs to outside artists is playing the lottery. Write up! Get in a room with a writer/producer who has more experience and a better strike rate than yourself, find a champion or mentor. Perfect your craft and learn everything you can about the creative and business side of music, knowledge is power, you have to be savvy to survive. Get your face out there, nurturing relationships with A&R people/managers/artists, real face time matters so don’t sit in your studio or home expecting the world to come to your door. Be reliable and pitch up to a session or a gig when you say you’re going to, your reputation is everything and this business is smaller than you think so respect everyone. You are your own best marketing machine so do as much as you can on social media but don’t be annoying! Join SONA, you won’t regret it and you’ll learn a lot!
What are you up to now?
I recently sold one of my song catalogues which gives me the freedom to get involved in the projects I’m passionate about. I’m working with Pen Music Group and have been writing a project to pitch for TV/film with UK writer/producer Robbie L’amond which has allowed me to get back to some singing. Also working with new management, Pendustry and involved in writing and developing a couple of artists over the next few months with some other producers. I’m also excited about my new venture, Song Writer Camps (www.songwritercamps.com) with my friend and collaborator Richard Harris. We are both really passionate about the craft of songwriting, mentoring and passing on our experience to a new generation of writers. Our first camp focuses towards aspiring artists and songwriters wanting to improve on their writing skills. It’s later in the year October 15th at The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, people are already signing up from around the world so we are looking forward to it.
Tell us what you’ve got going on w/SONA?
I got back from Washington DC with our steering committee a few weeks ago, as we went to lobby the halls of Congress together. We met with some Senators, congress men and women about supporting the proposed MMA bill and talked about what it means to us first hand. We also performed some of our songs in their offices which was a lot of fun, it was like SONA on tour. It was an amazing experience and an honour to do this trip, something I never expected to do, especially coming from New Zealand.
I love what SONA represents and stands for and the group has grown steadily in the three and a bit year’s we’ve been going. I personally, have learned a great deal, not only in terms of the politics of the business but about community spirit and what a change you can make if you band together. I’m so glad to be a part of this passionate and selfless community of creators who invest their time to the greater cause and more than proud to be in the trenches with them. We are doing all we can to support the MMA bill but we always need more members to sign up and get involved so we are that bigger voice. The MMA passed through the House last week but it’s the Senate next, that we need to lobby hard for. It’s crucial for songwriters and artists to be more engaged and unified than ever been before if we expect things to get better.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” - Mahatma Gandi
SONA took its first DC field trip in March! It was a long time coming. We had gotten good at poignantly-written emails and at waking up for conference calls set for 10AM Eastern/7AM Pacific (ouch). But 3000 miles away feels like, well, 3000 miles away and nuance, intent and connection can all get lost in the space in between when you’re shouting to be heard from that distance. We’ve known we needed to get face-to-face with legislators for a while. It took three-years-worth of membership fees and donations to save up enough to send 8 of us on the SONA Executive Committee across the country to the Capitol to “walk the halls” - which is literally what you do when you visit the offices of legislators. Congressional offices are spread out among several buildings and connected by underground hallways. Pods of 4 and 4 SONA-ites split up to visit with Republicans and Democrats, Senators and Congress members. And while some were extremely up-to speed on copyright issues and dove right into the weeds with us, others needed to be educated on the basics, you know, that there are “two copyrights associated with a song - the sound recording and the notes and lyrics.” We took about 25 meetings, between the 8 of us and came away with several co-sponsors and promises of yes votes on our pending legislation - the Music Modernization Act (or the MMA - gotta have an acronym!).
A few weeks later, on April 12th, a bunch of us Super-Nerds woke up early (7AM, ugh) to watch the live feed from the House floor as the Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the House version of the Music Modernization Act, as it was presented by Chairman Bob Goodlatte. That was step 1.
Then, on April 25, 2018, Step 2 happened – the full House vote! Again, Team Copyright Nerd (West Coast-style) linked to the live video feed from the House Floor to watch many of the same legislators we had met the month prior speak so movingly about music and its creators and about how our profession needs to be sustained and compensated more fairly. We (SONA) got specifically named by Congressman Doug Collins and Congresswoman Karen Bass, and many other legislators we met with mentioned the visits from songwriters as having an effect on their votes. Amazing. And then, a full House vote was called on the MMA and after a short debate on the floor, passed UNANIMOUSLY!!! You can watch it for yourself here: http://houselive.gov/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=12075 (Starts at 5:19:33)
As cynical as we can all get about politics, it has been inspiring to see the bipartisan efforts and support this bill has created. While many compromises were made to get to this point, we are excited about the progress we’ve achieved. That is all thanks to YOU, our SONA members and supporters - whether you’ve contributed through a membership fee or donation, signed a petition, shared on social media, or joined us in person at one of our meetings - the grass-roots, self-supporting, DIY-ness of our organization has been truly meaningful to legislators in their decisions to help us. Now… ONTO THE SENATE!!!
Meanwhile, SONA has prevailed in its fight against the Department of Justice on the matter of 100% licensing! After the Second Circuit ruled in favor of the BMI’s claim that fractional licenses are the industry standard supported in their consent decree in December 2017, we filed a voluntary dismissal without prejudice of our claim, meaning that we have withdrawn our claim but if there is a time in the future that this matter is once again up for argument we will be able to fully pursue and defend our position. The DOJ let its March 2018 deadline pass to file an appeal in the BMI matter, and we now feel confident that the issue is settled as a matter of law. Please read the SONA Lawsuit FAQ for more details.
From SONA’s Executive Committee
SONA Songwriters, Composers, Donors and Friends,
On December 20th, 2017 Congressman Doug Collins of GA (R) introduced the Music Modernization Act into the House of Representatives. This bill has been a long time coming. I probably don’t have to tell you that songwriters have been struggling under below-market, repressed royalty rates because of outdated regulations and loopholes in copyright law for way too long. Entire companies and business models have been built on these disadvantages to music creators, and in response, SONA was founded in 2015 to fight back.
Despite our newness, as the “little advocacy organization that could” - a grassroots, all-volunteer workforce with zero outside funding - SONA had a seat at the table to express our ideas and concerns for many of the negotiations leading up to the introduction of this bill. We observed first-hand that the most contentious points were hard fought for and compromised over. The MMA is the result of months of that back and forth between the DSPs (Digital Service Providers like Spotify and Amazon) , publishers, songwriters and the PROs, and we intend to stay in the conversation in order to exert influence over industry customs and specific details that arise as the bill gets implemented.
Meanwhile, we are going to support the bill as it has been introduced, because it eliminates the NOI (Notice of Intent) loophole and contains crucial performance rate-setting reforms, along with many other benefits. (Please see the attached chart for a more detailed breakdown of the changes the bill promises to make).
SONA believes that - on balance – the MMA will help songwriters! If you are interested, please take a look under the hood at what the bill accomplishes - the before and after - and decide for yourself if you'd like to personally support and share it with your fellow songwriters.
You may have already read social media posts advocating enthusiastic support of the MMA. We are also excited about the potential of this legislation, and we’ve worked hard to get to this point. But we have a much more nuanced, inside view of it than what we’ve seen on social media so far and wanted to clarify SONA’s position directly to you - our membership - in the hope that you will make a clear-eyed and informed decision for yourself.
And if, upon consideration, you agree with SONA’s executive committee, along with an historical number of PROs, publishers, labels, industry trade associations and creator organizations, that the bill moves the needle in the right direction towards fair compensation for music creators, please feel free to sign this petition of support and share it.
Let’s continue our mission to #gettherateright together!
Onward and upward!
Michelle Lewis and the Executive Committee
Songwriters Of North America
This newsletter's SONA member profile is on Steering Committee member Adam Dorn!
Q) What kinds of cool projects do you get to work on?
A) Originally I come from an artist and full songwriting background, so it's been weird to transition out of that into writing music to where it's about serving the picture.
These days I do all instrumental music and underscore. The projects range from music for a pixar amusement park ride to music for documentaries...TV/Film.
Q) Why did you end up moving into Instrumental music?
A) The lovely realities of our royalty-based music industry. After a successful run of licensing, royalties for my music (full songs) from my artist career began dipping and fees started going down.
I was always a guitar player as well and started to reached out to music supervisors to drum up work for instrumental music and it was a really slow process. People assume that if you do one thing, that’s all you are able to do. Slowly, through persistence and my skill set, I finally started getting them to stop thinking of me as Adam the artist or remixer and to give me a shot a other stuff.
Q) What would be some advice you would give to up and coming songwriters with regards to making a living doing music?
Being in the music biz has always been difficult. Always like rollerblading up vaseline mountains. The constants that I think are important to songwriters, producers and musicians are building a good community and constantly strive to learn more about the tools you can use and theory of music. Constantly write with other people, collaborate and immerse yourself. And don't forget to make some simple goals.
When you're first starting out, figure out a way to get yourself around people you admire in a non-stalker way. I'm a 2nd generation musician. My dad wrote a letter to head of capitol for Ray Charles saying he had some ideas. I wrote a letter too when I got old enough to people I admired. You'd be amazed how much access you can get by simply reaching out.
An don't forget - a good attitude, good work ethic — will get you a really long way. Work always has points in time when it slows down. Always keep exploring your creativity.
Q) Why is being part of SONA important to you?
It's all about community, educating, supporting eachother and hopefully effecting change legislatively. It's a also a great community that’s there for one another to offer support and advice.
It's truly been an incredible experience to be surrounded by people who I would never have crossed paths with. I'm happy that I'm not too sheltered in my own studio to not have met such a soulful community.
SONA is as much about the community as the people who are trying to make changes against the evil people — this is who I choose to be in a fox hole with.
Our first Summit in April 2015 was basically organized on a dare. After an initial meeting with (our now legal advisor) Dina LaPolt, where she gave us a skeptical side-eye when we told her we could gather 100 songwriters in a room to talk about challenges facing our profession, we were on A MISSION. And we pulled it off!
We learned a lot that first year. We learned even more last year. We’re not event planners. We are songwriters. Luckily for SONA, our steering committee and passionate crew of show-er uppers are quick studies and not surprisingly, world champion collaborators. This year’s Songwriter Summit, held at legendary Los Angeles recording studio, The Village, was beyond anything any of us ever thought we could accomplish.
Food! Drinks! Silent Auction! Intimate live performances of massive hit songs! Standing room only! Mind-blowing powerpoint on royalty extrapolation and analysis!! Take our word for it on that last one, people.
Chris Horvath’s powerpoint presentation had people both on the edge of their seats and then on their feet. “I never thought a casual comment I made during an interview would be a headline in Variety,” said Chris after Variety printed a summary of our event the next day with the all-important pull quote from his comments:
“God love the superstars, but this isn’t about them.”
And therein, you have the true and heartfelt mission of SONA: To save the middle class of songwriters from extinction.
Thanks to our corporate sponsors, BMI, ASCAP and PRS and many cheers for the generous donors to our silent auction:
Sound Revolver Studios
Don’t sleep through the revolution. Come with us as we work to change the world!