A few words in praise of paying royalties

After I posted my L5 review, which included a few lines about how much I liked “The Blood Covers it All,” written by Belinda Smith and Marty Funderburke, Smith and I exchanged a few emails, including this one that Smith granted me permission to use, with her name, obviously.

As [one of the] songwriters in SG who are not artists, I think we have some unique insight to some of “needs improvement” areas of our industry, especially the areas of artists and labels not paying royalties. I know myself how frustrating it is to work day in and day out writing songs and trying make a house payment, only to open that royalty statement and see that I get paid $17 from a project that has sold thousands and which I have three songs on. (That happened on my last statement and I haven’t felt more defeated in my life.)

There are few staff writers who are, perhaps, financially secure enough to handle the repercussions of naming names and putting the financials on the table for everyone to see, but I am not one of them. I would only be met by lots of criticism telling me this is a ‘ministry’ or I would have labels ban my songs from being put on projects. Yes, I know of this happening.

So, it seems not only appropriate but imperative that I do name names when someone does it right. I have just recently started handling some of my own publishing which makes it necessary for me to handle the contracts and collections myself. Understand that I only have one SG cut in my catalogue so far, so I’m not trying to take anything away from any other artist by writing this. I have one SG experience to tell you about and I hope you’ll let everyone know that Jeff & Sheri Easter have been amazing to deal with. They recorded my song, “Over and Over,” and I couldn’t be more impressed with the integrity they’ve displayed in our dealings. They’ve told me the number of units and sent the royalty payment to my publishing company immediately…we may have even gotten paid royalties before they had the units in hand. That is how timely Sheri has been.

So, to me, it seems only right to give credit where credit is due. I have always been a fan of Jeff & Sheri Easter, the group, while I’ve never known them personally. I am now a fan of the way they handle the business of their ministry. May we all be inspired by the dealings I’ve had with them.

I thought this warranted quoting at length for a number of reasons, not least of which is some good news from a part of the bidness world that can be so dismal.

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Comments

  1. woody wright wrote:

    Thanks for the royalty rap. I too got the quickest royalty payment ever from Jeff and Sheri. What a blessing. The Gaither folks have always been timely and dependable for royalty payment. Others, sadly are laughable. Some top of the line, charting artists pay pennies if any. Some say I should blame the record company. That is true on the first release, but some of these folks have been with non-royalty paying folks for years. A few thousand sales only pays a few dollars, but if everyone paid a few dollars like they should, the electric bill of songwriters could be paid. Every little bit helps. Hopefully your story will too. Thanks again!

  2. Al wrote:

    This commentary on royalties and copyright licensing saddens me. What other business, or what other commodity can we buy or use, and totally disregard paying for it? Try withholding payment of our water or electricity bills, our mortgage, car payment or any other obligation, and see how long it takes for the service to be cut off, or our homes foreclosed on. Why should this be any different? The issue here is not the number of units. Groups that order 1000 units should apply for a mechanical license and pay the 9.1 cents per song, per unit, that artists who order 20,000 units of product do. There’s a principle at work here, all ministry aside. It’s called business ethics. Songwriters and publishing companies should be able to do whatever it takes to ensure that this is followed. Anything other than full compliance by artists is a disgrace, and dishonors their ministry, and the Lord. Every 1000 units of products nets $91. for each song, which doesn’t sound like that much. In a 10-song CD, sure - that $910. adds significantly to the project cost. But, it’s right to give the laborer their due. Keep this issue before the sgm listeners. And I write this as an artist, who also writes and publishes songs, and who knows the value of doing things decently and in order.

  3. Keith Waggoner wrote:

    Integrity should be the norm in SG, but unfortunately it’s a byword if judged by the practices of some record companies and artists. While I know that thel label is supposed to take care of reimbursing the songwriter for their work, I still think the artist is ultimately responsible for making sure that the writer has been paid.

    I’m a member of a full-time SG group who isn’t signed with a label. We move several thousand units per year. We spend literally thousands of dollars each year on royalty fees. We’ve winced, many times, when writing the check. It seems like that the rate per song keeps going up and up, while we attempt to keep our CD price stable. However, our philosophy has always been that if we take care of the song writer (for the initial order and all reorders), they’re going to keep writing for SG artists like ourselves. While I don’t say this to put ourselves up on some pedestal (I know there are many others who operate their groups with the highest level of integrity), I do think that we as artists owe a great debt (literally and figuratively) to the creative and inspired writers who continue to churn out the songs that impact our audiences. By the way, if an artist is so oblivious to the business side of their ministry that they aren’t aware of whether or not their contributing writers are getting paid, then they better take a closer look. The writers might not be the only ones being stiffed.

    Pay up, people!

  4. Dean Conklin wrote:

    “Integrity should be the norm in SG…” is what Keith wrote. I met Keith recently, and have spent some time with the group he sings with — and they have integrity. It happens that my group is NOT a professional group, NOT full-time, NO keyboard player (quietly, now, we sing to tracks), NOT even a regular weekend bunch. We’re out in the wilds thousands of miles away, but when we did our first CD project, our hands were clean. We’d paid for the tracks, including one from Keith’s group, and we’d paid nearly a thousand in royalties for stuff we may never sell much of. And Keith’s group helped us find one writer we couldn’t find. But our hands are clean, and we don’t owe anybody — and yes, thank God for the writers (and the groups that let us buy their tracks). Oh, the CD manufacturer we used REQUIRED copies of payment for tracks and royalties. And we had that documentation.

  5. CVH wrote:

    I’m glad you printed the email and continue to be a voice for propriety and ethics in the SG business. I’ve been on both sides of the fence, as a producer handling rights and permissions for albums produced for groups (payor) and as a writer and owner of a small publishing house (payee).

    Do royalties add to the ‘cost’ of a project? Yes and it can be a burden for small groups on tight budgets. But I always factor the current royalty rate for initial product orders and reorders into the total cost to the client. Product is only shipped to me and is not released to the artist until all the other bills, including royalties, are paid.

    On the other hand, as a writer, I’ve been stiffed a few times. But if a couple of friendly phone calls and letters don’t produce a check, I usually let it go. There have been two exceptions; in one case a lawsuit produced results, in another the threat of a lawsuit was enough. And this was a national religious organization, people who were well aware of their obligation and responsibility.

    I don’t work in the world that Belinda Smith does but for her and those like her who are faithful to the call God has placed on their lives, serving the Body by creatively melding lyrics and melody together, I offer this: know that countless thousands of people are blessed by the fruit of your labor, people who are blissfully unaware of the internal struggles of the business. That’s not a justification for a system that treats you unfairly. But even when the earthly scales aren’t tipped in our favor, God takes our best and uses it for His glory.

    I do wonder though what would happen if the labels/publishers/groups who don’t pay royalties were ‘outed’. Or sued. Does a writer risk losing a lot in the process? Yeah. But maintaining one’s own integrity (as well as keeping one’s tongue) only enables the unfair and illegal practices to continue. It’s the David and Goliath thing. I say, give them your best shot. Sure, in life we have to choose our battles, but in this situation the bottom line is, they’re wrong. And I don’t believe the pursuit of righteousness means we have to roll over for every sleazbag who talks the talk but is incapable of walking the walk.

  6. dkd wrote:

    Gerald Wolfe (Greater Vision) has been paying royalties to me for several years now. That organization has always been on time and honest and I appreciate it. I can’t say the same for the record company’s that I have had to deal with or some of the publishing companies.

  7. Randy Oxley wrote:

    So true…………so true……….Many times I find that the Mom and Pop groups just simply do not understand the process. However, for the bigger SG groups, it’s simply unexcusable, dishonest, and greedy. Many will give you the “ah shucks….I forgot” routine. However, about one letter from an attorney seems to simplify the process.

    The bottomline is that you have “creavtive” or “artists” attempting to run a business. It’s simply not in them. Now……there are a few that have such an ability. BUT, the majority do not. There mind is simply functioning on a different level.

    There is nothing more frustrating that a “creative minded” or “artist” attempting to pose as a business person. They simply cannot do it no matter how hard they try. BUT, the exceptions, like the Easters, Greater Vision, etc. are simply a breath of fresh air………….

  8. Larry Ferguson wrote:

    It’s sad to say how true these statements really are. No writer is immune. I manage Dottie Rambo and with her vast number of songs it does keep me on my toes.

    The Gaithers are excellent in royality payments as are nearly ALL the secular companies. Jeff and Sheri are incredible people with honest hearts so I’m sure anything that they have done or will do will always be above board.

    To go a bit further, it can be sad when a label has it’s own publishing company and pushes the artist to use ONLY songs from their company. Of course the reasoning of this makes good business sense as the label will make even more money off your project. The sad aspect of this is, those same labels are the ones spoken about in the statements made in the posting. When you really think about it, if an artist is only selling 170 units do you think they need to stay on the label roster?

  9. CVH wrote:

    Larry,

    Good points all. But the practice of labels pushing their own publishing has been going on for a long time. I remember when Tempo Records was formed in the 1970s they were tied in with Lillenas Publishing (actually I believe it was an offshoot of Lililenas), but there were a number of groups who had to cut Lillenas tunes on their records. Since Mosie Lister was their top writer, that meant everyone was doing versions of his songs. I appreciate his songwriting for what it is, but really, did we need 10 versions of “In The Arms of Sweet Deliverance”? About the best some groups could do, as they gained clout, was do every other record with their own choice of tunes. I’m sure the label’s motives were positive, not just profit motivated, but still, the notion of artistic freedom and creativity must have been stiffling.

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