“Someday, this song will run for president…” thought no songwriter. Ever.
Of course, we want big things for our song babies. And once we send our songs out into the world, we can’t really control how they’ll do. Will they be popular? Will they get in with a bad crowd? We hope for the best… but in the “worst case scenario” there is a mechanism in place - the parental intervention of songwriting - which allows us approval rights for a commercial synch use - particularly for requests in certain restricted categories which include the sales of tobacco, pharmaceuticals, firearms, NC-17 and x-rated movies and personal hygiene (umm, eew?). However, did you know that a use in support of a political campaign or platform is considered a “public performance” use? Meaning - ASCAP and BMI, because of the Dept. of Justice’s outdated consent decrees placed on them - Can’t. Say. No.
So, if you’re following along, we songwriters CAN say “no” to certain synch use requests. And that “no” is legally binding. It’s a clause that’s put into most songwriters’ publishing deals and it’s the one tiny piece of control we as parents of songs are allowed to have. “Approved Use” is a control mechanism which was put in place exactly for this reason - so that our songs will only be used in the way we intend them to be used. But in the case of a political campaign (or any other “public performance”), no matter the personal opinion or beliefs of the songs’ creator, they must roll over and say, “OK,” unless that songwriter is adamant enough and famous enough to claim that use is a violation of his or her right to privacy (according to the Lanham Act).
So, here’s this guy Donald Trump, with all the subtlety of a Tyrannosaurus Rex wielding a flamethrower, storming through our collective consciousness on his run for the US presidency. And this run requires a soundtrack, of course. He’s a dramatic dude. He tries using an REM song (“Its the End of The World As We Know It”), but Michael Stipe ain’t having it. He tries a Neil Young jam (“Rocking in the Free World”), but Neil shuts it down. So he moves on to his favorite band Aerosmith’s tune, “Dream On” - because, maybe third time’s the charm? Nope. Steven Tyler says “no” too. Then, in a particularly dick-ish move, Trump goes on and continues to use “Dream On” as his entrance music! Cue the sound of our friend Dina LaPolt’s head exploding (as she happens to be Steven Tyler’s attorney).
“Sing with me, sing for the year, sing for the laughter, sing for the…” Needle scratch.
Not today, Donald. Not today.
In the SNL-skit version of this story that I have in my head, Trump goes on to try using other songs that he’s liked over the years for his grand entrance. I picture him standing just off stage, waiting for his cue as “Can’t Touch This” blasts through the arena sound system. Needle scratch.
“Mama Said Knock You Out…” Needle scratch.
“Everybody Wants to Rule the World…” Needle scratch.
“It’s Raining Men…” Wait, what?
Hopefully, The Donald will get the hint and knock it off. Maybe he’ll hire some famous songwriters to write him his own campaign song. And he has every right to do that. It’s called a work-for-hire and he could use the resulting song however the hell he wants. Most importantly, the writing session would be fodder for a-MAZING comedy.
SNL-skit part 2:
SONGWRITER 1: “Let’s see. What rhymes with Trump?”
From a professional songwriters’ perspective, this is not a partisan issue, but an issue of fundamental property rights. The bottom line is this: We songwriters need to work together, as a community, to get the consent decrees modified so we can have FULL approval rights over how our songs are put to use, particularly for something as personal and resonant as a political endorsement! We need to support Steven Tyler’s right to decide for himself whether or not he wants to endorse Donald Trump’s candidacy. And if Steven Tyler says “no” (which he did), then “no” is what he means.
Remember - #SongwritersRightsNow!