Sometimes the issues surrounding getting paid in a digital world seem unsurmountable for songwriters, who would much rather be writing another song than thinking about this stuff. But #SONA is determined to be part of the solution. Here we are last night at the latest SONA Salon at the lovely Shelly Peiken's home where we wined, dined and talked with independent music publishers.
This month's SONA member profile is on Jack Kugell! Check out an exclusive Q&A with him below:
Q - Jack, you've had a highly successful and long career in the music industry as a writer and producer - what are some things that you’ve seen change over the years?
A - You used to be able to support yourself with album cuts, even if you didn’t have the lead single. Sometimes an album cut alone could support you for about a whole year while you continued to write on records, hoping for that single. Now you need to get a single to make any money and even then it's nothing close to what it used to be. In addition to that, now you are also seeing many more writers listed on songs which continues to split up the pie.
Q - You've had a ton of music featured on TV and in Films, but you mentioned to me that a lot of money tends to get lost if you aren't watchful. What’s the best way to stay on top of getting paid for your music appearing on TV and in Films?
A - No one is going to care more about your money or creative property than you will. If you know something is airing, jot down the date/time and 9 months later when your statement comes in make sure you got paid for it and if not call somebody. You are reliant upon someone turning in a cue sheet for you to get paid and mistakes happen all the time. Reach out to the production company, reach out to your PRO to see if they got cue sheets. But you have to stay on top of it. It's your money and your creative copyright. You can't assume people are taking care of it for you.
Q - Given the current musical climate, if you were starting your career now what would you have done differently?
A - Probably gone to law school (kidding) - although having that degree now might make me a better viable executive. I would say that you have to be a lot more well rounded these days. Don’t just program beats, learn instruments. Maybe learn to produce in addition to writing songs so that you can support yourself doing music instead of having to get a ton of side jobs.
Q - Any other thoughts Jack?
A - In relation to SONA, I'd just like to say that I'm really proud to be on board with Shelly, Michelle and Kay and to have come on early since the beginning. Hopefully we can make a difference so that this career that we all love — future generations of writers can continue to do what they love without a side job.
Jack's official bio:
Jack Kugell has been one of Sony Music Publishing's most versatile songwriter/producers for the last 23 years: his work spans the Pop, R&B and Country arenas - to name a few. Jack’s work has sold a combined total of 19 million units, and counting. He has worked with artists from all over the world, reaching number one more than a dozen times in many different countries.
Jack was first signed to EMI Music Publishing in 1993 but as the son of producer Marty Kugell ("In The Still of The Nite"), his first musical experiences took place as he watched his dad write and record in the classic studios of New York and Los Angeles. By age eleven, Jack knew that he wanted to be a songwriter, and what started as a hobby soon became a full time career.
Kugell's first success as a songwriter came after he penned the perennial Christmas song "Hey Santa!" for The Wilsons and the theme song for "The Carnie Wilson Show." Jack is perhaps most recognized for his #1 chart-topper "Valentine" recorded by Martina McBride, co-written with Jim Brickman. "Valentine" became a #1 AC hit as well as reaching Top 5 on the Billboard Country Singles chart and earned multi-platinum status for both Martina McBride and Jim Brickman's albums. Artists Jack has worked with include: Christina Aguilera, Kesha, J.Lo, Fergie, The Pussycat Dolls, Jim Brickman, Martina McBride, Jessica Simpson, Sean Kingston, Mary J. Blige, Wayne Brady, Taio Cruz, 98 Degrees, All-4-One, Anastacia & Michelle Williams to name a few.
Jack along with his partners Jamie Jones and Matt Wong, are songwriters/ producers collectively known as The Heavyweights. As a production team, The Heavyweights have delivered hit songs to amass collective record sales of over 35 million units. They most recently enjoyed being a part of the Disney "Descendants 2" soundtrack which debuted at #1 on the iTunes Album charts worldwide. Their cover of “Love Is A Battlefield” for Grammy-nominated Shanachie recording Artist Maysa, was just released to radio as the lead single from her current album.
The Heavyweights other endeavors include writing and producing Shontelle’s "Battle Cry", which received the historic honor of being an official theme song for the Obama campaign, as well as being included on the official Obama Campaign CD. The Heavyweights also wrote and produced Wayne Brady’s critically acclaimed debut album “A LONG TIME COMING”, which resulted in a 2009 Grammy nomination for Brady’s vocal performance on the Sam Cooke classic “A Change Is Gonna Come”. In 2015 the Heavyweights work resulted in their second GRAMMY nominated vocal for Hidden Beach Recordings Artist, Angie Fisher, for the song "I.R.S."
Jack, along with The Heavyweights, is currently developing talent, having recently signed artist Tay Beckham, to their new Imprint HEAVYWEIGHTS Entertainment in partnership with Empire Distribution. Jack continues to consistently write great songs and put his stamp on great talent.
If you were a pre digital songwriter you’ve been navigating a whole new terrain. If you’re still operating under Old Rules (as I catch myself doing on many occasion), you may be wondering why the plumbing isn’t working the way it used to. Read more ->
“there is only one question for the Court to resolve: whether the Consent Decree contains an express prohibition on fractional licensing. The answer to that is plainly no. The District Court’s decision should be affirmed.”
Q: How long have you been a full time songwriter for?
A: I've been a full time songwriter for 6yrs. I started off as an artist in Miami and noticed that a lot of my songs were getting cut for other artists and I decided to go in that direction instead of continuing to be a recording artist.
Q: How would you say you've approached the industry a bit differently that's contributed to your success as a songwriter?
A: I've learned to use publishers as allies. I'm not looking for the traditional publishing deal where you sign and they own everything you do, it doesn't really make sense anymore. Sometimes I'll sign single songs to a publisher, but I've found that not having an overall publishing deal allows me to be more flexible and independent.
Q: In terms of making a living as a songwriter - I know the question of how to ask for (or if you should ask for) songwriting fees comes up a lot. How do you feel about songwriting fees?
A: I think you should always assess the situation, but always make sure that you know your own worth. There's no one answer, each situation is different. If there's a project budget, then its fair to ask to get a songwriting fee. Everyone is getting paid. The studio, engineer, producer. Other times, if you really like or believe in a project and think that it might open more doors for you, then maybe you decide to just do the session. But you should never feel bad about asking for a fee if people are getting paid.
Q: Do you have any advice for a new writer who has been invited to a writing camp for the first time?
A: Be very open to collaborating but don't be afraid to express your ideas. Go all out - write like you are writing by yourself. Have fun and enjoy the moment. It's also important to network and continue to make connections. Knowing how to work with other people is essential to being successful as a songwriter.
A FEW GOOD MEN (AND WOMEN)
By Adam Gorgoni (Composer, Founding member of SONA)
Professional music writers write better music. There…I said it.
OK, I’m aware of more than a hint of snobbishness in that statement and that I am making a value judgment that others may not share. But I believe it is true, and I want to argue here for the social value of the professional middle-class music writer. That we will all be worse off, individually and as a culture, if the profession is allowed to go the way of the horse and buggy, if the soundtracks to all of our lives are created only by the mega-writers, the robots, and the amateurs.
A few caveats: I do not mean to disrespect the super-successful who got to the top of the food chain and stayed there. Max Martin. Diane Warren. Hans Zimmer. There will always be a small elite group at the top. And more power to them. But they can’t write all the songs and score all the films.
Similarly, I don’t mean to denigrate the hobbyists…. In fact, all of us who write music professionally were once amateurs, kids who loved music and dreamed of a career as a songwriter or a composer. The human race only produces a Mozart or a Stevie Wonder a few times a century. The rest of us have to start from scratch.
And let’s be honest, back then, when we first started out, most of us weren’t very good. We had to spend years honing our abilities, studying, practicing, studying, practicing, and then studying and practicing some more. We wrote HUNDREDS of mediocre songs that never saw the light of day. We tried and failed. Most of us didn’t make it. We weren’t talented enough, or lucky enough, or persistent enough.
But in the pre-digital age, if you were able to beat the odds and build a career, you could support yourself while you got good. Every once in a while you got lucky and somebody recorded your song, or you placed something in a TV show, or you got hired to score an independent film. You were able to eke out a living while you improved your skills.
And you did improve. You learned how to set up a great hook, or how to deftly weave a melody around a character’s dialogue. You developed what talent you did have over time and soon you had grown expertise: an enigmatic combination of perseverance, instinct, and inspiration that produces excellent, memorable work.
Let’s get real: we’re talking about music, that wonderful magical alchemy that has moved human beings since we were chanting and banging drums around fires thousands of years ago. It’s vital. It’s in our blood and bones. The physics of the cosmos vibrate according to its mathematical relationships. We literally couldn’t live without it. As a society, we need it to be the best it can possibly be.
And I would argue that most of the music that really moves you, that stamps itself indelibly onto your life, was written by professionals who paid their dues. When ET and Elliot took off on that bicycle ride, your heart would have stayed on the ground without John Williams’ score. Would that moment have had the same impact if it had been accompanied by a computer program, or a music library, or someone experimenting with software in their spare time? The same is true of the other movies and TV shows that have had lasting impact on your soul. The composer, spent years learning how to create music and marry it to film in just such a way as to make you laugh or scream or cry.
And the songs you love, the ones you remember from your high school prom, or danced to at your wedding…yes, some were written by the artist who performed them. But how many of them were written by someone fooling around in their bedroom and then posting them to YouTube? Not many. Rather, most were written by professional writers whose names you will never know and whose voices you will never hear, but who poured much blood and sweat and many tears into those exceptional songs, made them possible, gave you that elevated experience.
Think of it this way: would you want to receive open heart surgery from someone who learned how to do it on the internet, or have an attorney who didn’t go to law school and was trying their first case defend you at your murder trial? No…you would want the best you could get. The John Williams of heart surgeons. And if he or she was booked, you would want someone perhaps less famous, but who was similarly skilled and experienced (albeit not as touched by God.)
That’s who we are…the thousands of nameless and faceless hard-working small businesspeople. As Jack Nicholson said in A Few Good Men, and I paraphrase: “You want us on that wall, you need us on that wall,” writing the music that turns your black and white life to color, pen the songs you sing with your kids in the car, the melodies that resonate within your most precious memories.
We writers are not looking for sympathy. We choose the artistic life and we embrace it. And we know we’re not alone in facing job dislocation caused by technological change.
But here’s the last crucial point: we don’t make typewriters or cassette players. There is still massive demand for our product. More people are consuming more music in more ways than ever before. Record companies are having their best quarters EVER. The tech companies that profit from our labor are at the top of the Fortune 500. But our slice of the pie has shrunk to the point where even young writers, even if they are successful, will not be able to buy a house, send their kids to college, save a little for retirement. Sadly, that means there will be way less meaningful music in the world.
And as the saying goes…you get what you pay for.
The latest on SONA's lawsuit against the DOJ.
I’m happy here on planet digital where I get all the songs I want whenever I want them, wherever I go. I simply want my community to have as healthy an earning trajectory as the CEOs and label heads who are running their companies on the backs of the creators who write the songs that make their business possible.
SONA member Jud Friedman is a songwriter advocate and a multiple Oscar/GRAMMY/Golden Globe nominated writer of songs such as “Run to You” for Whitney Houston (from “The Bodyguard”), “I Don’t Have The Heart” for James Ingram and many other hits.
Recently Jud has been hard at work building a new streaming app called qWaqq which is dedicated to the “hidden gem” songs of great songwriters and which we here at SONA think is very cool: qWaqq.com.
Here is a quick video on the “The Story Of qWaqq”: https://youtu.be/Kxb4pHCmsCY
Or for those of you who prefer words to images, here’s how Jud explains the app:
“As you know, the current music streaming world and outdated legal and music business framework make it challenging for all creators. But the royalty model used by current streaming services is particularly unfair to songwriters. We only get paid a tiny percentage of streaming royalties, while almost every penny goes to record companies and artists. We songwriters need a new strategy.
That’s why I came up with the idea for qWaqq. I had just signed a worldwide publishing deal and was going through a bunch of my old songs so I could give my new publisher some guidelines. I had expected to hate all the old stuff and the stupid reverb on the vocals, wack drum sounds, etc. But actually I found a lot of great songs that had somehow slipped through the cracks, songs that I thought needed to be heard.
Then it hit me – we ALL have tons of hidden gem/shoulda-been-a-hit demos sitting in boxes in our garages and gathering dust. I decided I wanted to put out as many of them as possible - and I knew I had to do it by creating a streaming app, the most popular way we all listen to music.
Hence the core ideas of qWaqq:
1. Create a new and badly needed income stream for songwriters (and writer/artists) by streaming our old (and new!) demos directly to consumers. These demos are already existing assets which no one has to lift a finger or spend a penny to create. And they are not making any money for anyone.
2. Unlike other streaming services which award virtually every penny in royalties to record companies and artists, qWaqq will pay 100% of royalties to songwriters and publishers as the owners of the “hidden gem” song copyrights and sound recordings.
3. I love songwriters and qWaqq is a songwriter advocacy app! In a world in which songwriters aren't given enough credit, qWaqq will provide some much needed recognition, a little wizards-behind-the-curtain/mini-rock-star panache. :)
We recommend that you visit www.qWaqq.com for more info and to sign up.
A few weeks ago, a curious situation came to our attention. Sony’s record label, Sony Music Entertainment has taken a seat in the negotiations of Copyright Royalty Board, continuing to push for more favorable conditions while every other major has already settled. SONA Executive Director, Michelle Lewis wrote a letter to SME’s Doug Morris, asking for answers to our many important questions.
On July 5 and 7, 2016, SONA members participated in conference calls with the US Department of Justice to hear a statement regarding the Antitrust Division’s ruling on their 100% licensing scheme. During subsequent Q&A sessions, songwriter organizations were invited to register questions or concerns by submitting comments to the DOJ. We appreciate the opportunity to do so and because the DOJ has taken the unusual step of keeping the comment process private, we are releasing our statement to ensure that SONA’s opinion is a matter of public record.
Here at SONA, we are all songwriters. What this means is that we are a community of individual small business owners who rely on income derived from the compositions we write and then license to a patchwork of outlets from radio stations to department stores who play our songs.
You may be surprised to learn that the value of a songwriter’s work is regulated by the US government and has been for over 75 years. As part of an antitrust settlement in 1941, the US Department Of Justice enacted rules of engagement between songwriters and licensors called “consent decrees”, ostensibly to protect the fledging broadcast industry from price gouging by the dudes who licensed all the music, the performing rights organizations ASCAP + BMI. The consent decrees made a lot of sense at the time seeing as the PRO’s were behaving in a way that was, shall we say, monopoly-ish, but they were certainly not meant as a forever remedy to a temporary market problem. Yet here we are. To this very day, Congress, through the consent decrees sets the rate at which I am compelled to license my songs, which is predictably below market rate because, duh, government.
My use of the word “compelled” just then was not decorative. Under ASCAP’s consent decree, I cannot negotiate and I cannot say no. I am literally legally compelled to grant licenses to anyone who asks. One time, I discovered that conservative crybaby, Glen Beck was using a song on his radio show by my band Letters To Cleo and I was all, “Hell, no!” But hey, guess what, SURPRISE! Ain’t my call.
Over the years, ASCAP + BMI songwriters have made a fragile peace with the consent decrees, somehow adapting quite well despite obvious price fixing and rate suppression. The licensing structure has worked because there’s been an understanding between songwriters and licensors that a song copyright has value and that use of songs requires a transaction.
In 1998, the first fissures in the music licensing compact began to form with the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which began chipping away at the “property” part of intellectual property with the legal codification of utopian sounding concepts such as “Fair Use” & “Safe Harbor”. Again, it seemed reasonable, if wildly abstract at the time. I mean, Napster wasn’t even a thing yet and the iPod wouldn’t be introduced to the public for another 3 years.
Today, in real-world practice, the DMCA among other negative outcomes, gives cover to online music platforms that engage in infringing behavior, whether by streaming or offering downloads of improperly licensed music or outright pirating. Songwriters on the other hand, are constrained by artificially low digital rates determined by overwhelmed rate courts (thanks, consent decrees!) and a gossamer legal framework that hasn’t remotely kept up with technology and does little to protect the property of copyright owners (thanks, Congress!).
We, the songwriters, went to the Department of Justice to ask for relief and protection through the modification of the consent decrees. We didn’t even ask that these antiquated relics to be shredded into the compost heap of the 20th century where they belong. We asked for help. We explained our position. We implored them to make common sense modifications to the consent decrees that might help make our industry just a bit more nimble in a fast moving digital marketplace.
Apparently, the Department Of Justice did not feel moved. Because you want to know what they did instead? Instead, the DOJ's Antitrust Division has inexplicably just made our plight significantly worse by ignoring the specific issues we raised, distorting the language of the consent decrees to solve a problem that did not exist, bypassing decades-long industry practice by compelling ASCAP + BMI to issue licenses for fractions of songs they that they do not represent. This is known as 100% licensing and it is a nightmare for us, while paving a smoother, more carefree road for digital platforms to exploit our copyrights. They have done this despite our pleas, despite no monopolistic behavior on our side and thus, for seemingly for no good reason. No reason, that is, unless one considers that the head of Antitrust is Renata Hesse, former counsel for Google. And who is the primary beneficiary of this massive "F#*% YOU" to the songwriting profession? You guessed it: Google.
SONA members join a growing chorus of songwriters, legislators, publishers, PRO’s, and journalists in condemning the DOJ’s outrageous and arrogant decision. We will use whatevermeans we have at our disposal, whether through legal channels or the press, to inform the public of the truth as we see it: That the DOJ’s Antitrust Division under the leadership of Renata Hesse is not interested in fostering healthy competition or curtailing monopolistic behavior. It took them 2 years of engaging in legal hopscotch to effectively protect Google, the most powerful monopoly in history, from middle-class songwriters, the individual small business owners who started out in this “negotiation” with practically no power and walk away with even less. The destruction that has been callously inflicted on the songwriting profession will not be received quietly. The overreach by the Antitrust Division’s lawyers will not go unanswered. Stay tuned..
Songwriters Of North America
Same s**t different day!
Does this story sound familiar? When the printing press was invented they told Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe that the horse had bolted, you'll never get anyone to pay you royalties abroad on your books any more, you'll have to go on tour and sign books that people have printed themselves because you can't stop them printing your work across America (the world), it is too vast to police it properly!!!!
Then when Performing Rights Organizations, like ASCAP, first suggested collecting royalties in USA some thought 'It's impossible to do. Shop owners, and broadcasters have never paid for music so they won't pay for it now. It's impossible to police and enforce copyright laws! It's a HUGE undertaking that will never succeed"
These PRO's, armed with only shoe leather, paper and pens (not a computer in sight) achieved what some thought was impossible and it was undoubtedly worth it.
Charles Dickens campaigned in 1842 for international copyright laws to be upheld; he called for better education and enforcement to protect IP, 40 years after the death his efforts proved not to be in vain.
The technology exists NOW to do everything we need it to do - track, trace, transparently account and pay the right people without infringing our civil liberties. FACT! And all from the comfort of an armchair!
We face the same challenges. Our forefathers did not buckle; they refused to accept the unacceptable! They (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, PRS, GAMA etc., etc.) took on the enormous task of creating the licensing system that we benefit from today. As MLK says, "the time is always right to do what is right". It's up to us to not resign ourselves to accept the scraps from the Internet table, but instead to put in place a system of micro licensing and accounting so that these massive "Tech Titans" have to pay/share - not just by advertising or by taking your 'data' for free in exchange for giving you someone else's 'data' for free! Or paying below market value set by a rate court. We must let the copyright owner decide what they want their copyright to be priced at.
Remember every algorithm relies on human input of data, whether it be Google translate or Google play. When the Tech Titians don't pay the humans fairly for that data jobs are lost and the Tech Titans get richer and richer.
The digital economy is not an economy if there is no proper exchange of money, it becomes a "Feudal System" where the GAFAs (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) RULE and get rich on the backs of everyone else working on their digital real estate.
I'm not a luddite raging against the machines and wanting to destroy them, insisting people buy cd's, photos and books etc. - NO! Far from it! I am asking us to stand up and insist that these machines (and ALL future technologies) be programmed to work fairly for everyone.
In each technological revolution most people are asleep, then when they wake up people either 1) shaft each other for as long as they can, or 2) they work to make it fair for everyone or 3) they hope (but doubt) someone else will sort it out, ideally before they die!
Which one are you?
"The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men (and Women) Do Nothing" Edmund Burke
Join the Monday Breakfast Club or the Tuesday dinner, (email us and get added to the list.)
Join every organization that represents you.
SHOW UP! Sit at the DOJ or Copyright round tables (the next one is May 13th in California) to discuss safe Harbor or consent decrees etc., etc.! You either have a seat at the table or you're on the menu. Write to your congress representative. We are all very busy and none of us want to do any of this work! If not me and you, then who? If not now, then when?
Block chain may be a technology that helps create the system, but belief in the NEED for humanity and fairness will fuel the creation of this new system and every system in the future, just as it did in the past!
Believe it, then build it and they will come!
The next big tech development event is Berlin Music Tech Fest and "The Blockchain Lab from 23-27 May is by invitation only, bringing together the best minds in blockchain technology to develop and innovate new open technology through collaboration around a series of problems, challenges and provocations."