A fair point

This reader may be painting with a slightly overbroad brush, but the point is not inapt all the same:

Everybody is up in the air about someone “stealing” by copying an artist’s CD. All the while, most artists and so-called labels are not paying the songwriter royalties due from the CD’s they did sell at full price. Sounds like a reaping and sowing issue to me!

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  1. Musicscribe Blog » The Tedium Of Honesty on 04 Mar 2009 at 6:52 pm

    […] topic of songwriter royalties is being discussed on Doug Harrison’s blog already today, though in a different context: should an artist be […]


  1. K. Allen wrote:

    I honestly think that statement is a bit indulgent… the fact of whether or not someone pays royalties is completely between them and the songwriters… No one knows who needs to reap anything… Using royalty dishonestly as a punishment for piracy is just as kindergarten as it gets.

  2. Joel wrote:

    The fact of whether or not someone pays royalties is completely a legal issue. Non-payment of royalties is not only illegal, it is simply not Christian. And, reaping and sowing is the most elementary law of the God the music is based on. No one knows? Indulgent? Kindergarten? Puh-leaze!

  3. Alan wrote:

    I guess we’re transferring from the prior thread to this? The comments following “Piracy and Piety” are fairly fascinating, and necessary. I hope that thread keeps going for a while.

    Joel’s statement wasn’t completely fair, and indeed it was painted with a very broad brush. I wouldn’t have had the guts to comment on that thread if I didn’t pay any and all royalties. If a 10 song CD features all non-original songs, royalties cost us nearly $1 per CD. It’s not unsubstantial.

    We honor songwriters and publishers, and they deserve their due. Consider this, though - their investment in our recordings cost them thought, prayer, and creativity. What it costs us to finally bring their song to life will cost thousands of dollars. We’re all invested here. We couldn’t sing what we do without them, and their creations will never be heard outside of family and friends if it weren’t for the artists recording them. I do disagree with #1, in that whether or not we pay royalties is between us and the songwriters, as laws apply here too. So do the age-old values of right vs. wrong. I will absolutely agree with the last statement of #1. Two wrongs never make a right.

  4. Glory Hound wrote:

    I’ve heard that Jeff & Sheri Easter are very conscientious about promptly paying royalties - what other artists or labels are known (in a good way) for supporting songwriters?

  5. CVH wrote:

    The intersection between art and commerce is clearly marked; the problem is, most people go flying blindly through the intersection without considering the implication of their actions.

    If you have a standard mechanical license and your project is not one that is subject to a controlled composition clause, you should be receiving 9.1 cents per song per unit sold. That share is divided among co-writers and co-publishers. If you’re an artist who also writes and you sign over your publishing to the label you could probably pull a 100% share. It’s not rocket science.

    There’s also another side to Alan’s point that songwriter’s “investment in our recordings cost them thought, prayer, and creativity.” That’s not always true. Some of the best-selling songs have been pooped out in 10 minutes on the back of a Denny’s napkin. On the other hand, there are lyrics that a writer may have been working on for years that aren’t close to completion. You can’t equate the amount of effort involved in creating a work with its value. Value is determined by the marketplace (or in this case, the U.S. Congress and the Copyright Office).

    The fact that some artists or labels don’t pay royalties is intolerable. In my experience, it’s simple. Make the best deal you can. Keep track of sales statements and watch for record label slight of hand (promo copies, returns, padding your account with bogus expenses, etc.). If you aren’t paid properly, approach the matter according to Christian principles but don’t be stupid. Have a good accountant and an attorney who understands the music business and don’t hesitate to use them. Sometimes all the incentive a publisher needs is a C&D order or a succesful lawsuit to help them see the light.

  6. jake wrote:

    It all gets down to honesty. Artists (and/or their record companies) are responsible to pay their royalties, and consumers are responsible to pay for the CDs (or whatever format applies). Anything less is taking what isn’t rightly yours — a.k.a. stealing.

    However, it is never OK to justify stealing with the excuse that someone else also steals — just as it isn’t right to “spiritualize” stealing with the excuse that it is for the spreading of the gospel.

    It is pretty arrogant to ask God to bless music that involves stealing, whether it is the photocopied sheet music for the choir, unpaid royalties by the artist, or pirated CDs by the consumer.

  7. philip elwood wrote:

    CVH chum who was the group you emceed for in the 70s,just being curious.

  8. Marty Funderburk wrote:

    Alan - your equation is a tad simplistic. It costs songwriters (and publishers) far more than “thought, prayer and creativity” to consistently bring good music to the market. Those songs have to be presentable before they are pitched to an artist. It’s nothing to spend a couple of hundred bucks to have a track done and professional vocals recorded - not to mention the cost of a studio and engineer to record and mix the demos. Then there’s the cost of paying the copyright administrators to draw up contracts and licenses, to copyright the material, and to catalog and index the songs with BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC. They also tabulate and distribute royalty statements. Oh, and there are publishing staff salaries that must be paid - these are the people who manage the catalog of songs and pitch material to artists. And of course, someone has to pay the electric bill to keep the lights on at the publishing company so all these activities can take place. So there’s a lot more behind-the-scenes activity than most people begin to imagine, and the profit margins, in Southern Gospel, are incredibly small. At the end of the day, I still believe “it all begins with a song.”

  9. Alan wrote:

    Every point well taken, Marty, and I did not intend to minimize anything that you folks must do in creating songs. I’ll say it again - we’re all invested here. Thanks for introducing the songwriter/publisher side of this equation. Hopefully it will raise all of our collective consciousnesses. As for the profit margins, I totally agree….And yes, it all begins with a song.

  10. Marty Funderburk wrote:

    Thanks Alan - and certainly, without the artists’ investments, our songs would never be heard. We need each other.

  11. Wade wrote:

    I don’t know WHO PAYS ROYALTIES WELL… but I know whenever there is concert in Knoxville and sometimes in Chattanooga if he’d been in writing sessions with Phil Cross, Kirk Talley would show up to try to collect royalties from the groups.

    I know who he said was BAD… but I am trying to be more positive!! lol

  12. CVH wrote:


    You mean the backstage story? Not trying to be coy but it might be problematic to mention their name as they’re still around in one form or another.

  13. quartet-man wrote:

    #5 CVH said “That’s not always true. Some of the best-selling songs have been pooped out in 10 minutes on the back of a Denny’s napkin. ”

    Well, CVH, I have heard of talking out of your butt, but I sure hope if someone poops it out on a Denny’s napkin, they at least have the decency to do it at home or in the restroom. ;)

  14. Irishlad wrote:

    CVH pal,that was me being a prat ,i fully understand why it would be less than prudent to disclose such information.

  15. NonSGfan wrote:

    I think the point is very valid. There once was a time in Southern Gospel that songwriters were hailed and acclaimed, praised, and adored..and most importaintly…PAID. We’re living in a day now, where they don’t matter anymore.

    Songwriters are STILL pitching, because they dont wan’t to be forgotten, but groups are NOT paying because they know they can get away with it.

    NOT SO, in Counry, Rap, Contemporary Christian, or ANY other genre’ of music. I personally know somebody who’s brother is a HUGE country writer who makes millions yearly and ALWAYS get paid on time.

    The world is FAITHFUL with their royalties and payments…the church, however….is not.

  16. Unknown Artist wrote:

    Wow! This is sad indeed! When we recorded all of our projects, we paid in advance for the royalties on the # of cds we had duplicated - never occurred to us not to! Hopefully that means God will reward us by letting some of the good songs come our way!

  17. Alan wrote:

    I’ve gotten my CD’s manufactured in Canada for around 6-7 years now. Given the value of the US$ vs. the C$, it works well for me. Before the CD’s can be shipped to my distributor up there, I have to fax the duplication firm copies of the mechanical licenses for each applicable song. If I didn’t, my product would sit in storage until I showed proof of having paid every penny. Somehow I think that if that practice was in place here in the US, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  18. quartet-man wrote:

    That is sad. It is also sad that there are Christians (at least by name) who only do what they are supposed to when forced to (as in the company that forces you to or won’t duplicate.) I don’t mean you personally, Alan, just that others who use them should do so because it is the right thing to do, not because they are forced to.

  19. Ron F wrote:

    Hey did you all know that BMI and ASCAP are going after some of the SG Concert Promoters in Alabama, saying that they have to buy a License if they are to have a concert. I wonder if the writers see any of that money.?

  20. cdguy wrote:

    The problem with the manufacturer or the custom studio collecting royaties, or verifying payment of royaties, up front, is that assumes all copies manufactured will be sold. It seems a bit unfair to me.

    If a local artist does a custom cd and buys 1,000 copies, some custom companies require the artist pay the 9.1 cents (or whatever it is now) per song up front for all 1,000 copies, even if they never sell a single cd. That’s not right!

    A major label, however, reports and pays for actual sales on a quarterly basis. The exception would be that some publishers require a recoupable payment upfront. I don’t know what dollar amount or quantity it’s based on, but the labels you and I know in s/g probably don’t have any trouble selling that quantity in a year’s time, or they wouldn’t be putting out a project on that artist. It’s just that they have to pay it during the production process, rather than as it sells, then account for it later.

    It may be that some of the most astute custom labels have seen that their sister publishing companies are unable to police and collect from those local-yocal’s, and have decided to make their own lives easier. Gaither Studios was the first I saw do that 30 years ago.

    I don’t know what the decision-making process was, but it’s highly possible that could be it.

    I do know there are independent artists and well-known Christian labels who are notorious for not paying royalties, or paying them very slowly. One day, writers and publishers may catch on to who those culprits are, and cut them off. Or sue.

  21. CVH wrote:

    Irishlad - I kind of wondered…when we get together for drinks I”ll tell you the whole story.

    quartet-man - good point! Let’s hope so.

    Speaking of rest rooms, I was thinking if ol’ J.D. was still around he’d have urinal cakes made with other groups names on them and put them in the mens rooms during NQC. I can only imagine how he’d announce them.

  22. Kyle wrote:

    What would happen if, for every time a group failed to pay royalties, they were denied payment for a performance? Seems fair to me….

  23. Alan wrote:

    Q-Man, #18 - The company that I use in Canada manufactures CD’s that come from every genre of music, and not just Gospel music. They also do a lot of duplication of secular CD’s for Canadian sales, so as to avoid any Customs hassles. This law was not implemented (as far as I know) due to Christian artists stiffing writers or publishers. But, it ensures that everyone plays and pays by the same rules.

    cdguy - #20 - I guess I can see your point, but if there’s a question of whether or not someone can sell 1000 copies of a CD, then perhaps they should order 500. We pay upfront for a lot of things in life, you know? And, if it takes a law like that to keep people honest, it might be sad and it might be unfair to honest and/or new artists, but it’s not all bad, in my view.

  24. Oldtimer wrote:

    Legacy Five recorded a song that I wrote and those guys went the extra mile to see that I was paid promptly and fairly.


  25. A Promoter wrote:

    #19 I am a promoter and pay my fees every quarter. Listed on the report is the Groups that perform and the amount of money collected for the concert. I would certainly hope the songwriters get’s their share of the fee. I know there are a lot of promoters out there that DON’T pay the necessary fees, therefore depriving the songwriters of their fee. There are also a lot of Churches that have groups in singing that don’t pay the fees.

  26. quartet-man wrote:

    #24 Old Timer - Thanks for sharing that. It is great to give credit to those who are doing it right. Would you share with us which song you wrote?

  27. Irishlad wrote:

    We’re having the Isaacs (who probably could be considered a ‘top tier’group)over to NI for 3 nights tail-end of March. Some outfit called Drop Inn Ministries,from here,are promoting them. The tickets are £15 roughly $20.It’s claimed at the bottom of the professionally produced flyer that ‘any profits towards our feeding and education programme for Aids Orphans in Africa. Very commendable,but,who exactly is making what? I for one won’t be attending,too high pitched for my liking, Sonia’s voice that is. Like Becky B however.

  28. Irishlad wrote:

    Just thinking of the fundies and liberals tearing the throats out of each other on this blog,and,how one can turn to Allison Lynn(the starving artist)and get a refreshing read from an intelligent and humble lady,who,no doubt is a conservative in my book. Goes to show you not so much what you say (important as that may be)but how you say it.(IMHO).

  29. Wade wrote:

    Irish Laddy … how are the Irish Spirits?? Yout get to rambling and have lots of COMMAs and ( ) when your HAPPY!!! lol What where you listening too???

    I am currently listening to Live… Back Home in Indiana… I miss Candy Hemphill… she’s singing. TEARS ARE A LANGUAGE… right now!!! Then Jesse’s gonna tear it up!!!

    Good Sunday AM… on my way to early service for the blue hairs in just a minute!!

  30. Irishlad wrote:

    Good boy going to church. Not think DH is worse on the , and( ). Lol bud. Btw on an other thread i mentioned just having listened to ” Live Georgia” The Kingsmen great stuff in those days best live quartet by far then. Also Wade great new stuff of the early 70’s Oaks on youtube.

  31. Irishlad wrote:

    Wade pal you have me childed i am going to use punctuation marks less often at your instruction hope my friend it doesnt turn plain English into an undicipheral mess although its a lot quicker to text this way anyway i sincerely hope within the not too distant future we all may possibly meet up yourself CVH Harry and Fonda Q-M et al at the NQC what a blast that would be although i said i wasnt going back until it was reclocated to Nashville Belfasts twin City kill two birds with the one stone so to speak BFN folks.

  32. wanderer wrote:

    #29 That is actually Amy Lambert who sings Tears. Candy sang Jesus Built this Church on Love.

  33. Wade wrote:

    Thanks Wanderer… Irish Laddy we might just do that… but use all the punctuation marks you want… I did not say NOT to use them… just meant that I could tell when you were on the Irish Whiskey when you had MANY of them!!!lol…

    Do you think ppl really can go to the NQC and have a few drinky drinks and have a good time with out feeling guilty!!! lol I KNO WI HAVE… but you are right… it was when it was in Nashville!!!

  34. Hello? wrote:

    CVH #5:
    I’ve always appreciated your pithy comments and clear understanding of the industry, but your description of a quickly written song is pretty low. You could say the same about the production of some CDs, books, movies, etc.

    I do know writers who can speedily create songs, but usually those songs go nowhere unless a lifetime of professional ability comes first.

  35. CVH wrote:

    Hello? I totally agree with you; trust me, by no means was I singling out religious music (CCM, SG, etc.), although it does seem the lower bar of acceptability and commercial viability in SG makes it too tempting for some to resist.

    I believe some writers can legitimately write ‘below their level’ and incorporate all their experience and giftedness into simple, ‘disposable’ songs, while at the same time being capable of creating beautifully crafted lyrics and melodies that are deeply moving. I can appreciate, for example, most songs Rodney Griffin writes but it’s obvious that some are more thoughtful and carefully constructed than others. Still, you know the caliber of writer he is.

    The ‘Denny’s napkin’ songs I’m referring to are the lowest common denominators of the business, by writers who are just imping the latest trend and trying to get a fast hit or a gimmick tune for their concerts. Still, my excretory comments aside, they can sell, win awards and help build careers.

  36. Hello? wrote:

    Interesting that you should mention Rodney Griffin’s songs. It seems that much of his best, most thoughtful work is pitched to other artists. I don’t know why Greater Vision is determined to persist in a boom-chick mentality, when songs like “He’ll Carry Me” are so refreshingly timeless.

    But to be fair, every song in a writer’s catalog cannot possibly be of equal stature. Yes, professional writers may write some songs “below their level” — but it could be because 1) only God can create at the highest standard at every moment, and/or 2) artists or projects demand a lesser standard to fit what they consider to be commercial or their niche in the market (likely a disappointingly low target to hit).

    So let’s be done with napkins from Denny’s, shall we? Otherwise, we’ll have to start taking potshots at house painters who have an off day and have a few spots on the upstairs window panes, or counselors who have second thoughts about a pat answer given to a patient, or blog commenters who go for the quick laugh.

  37. CVH wrote:

    Hello? Gee, would you have been happier if I’d suggested Perkin’s napkins instead?

  38. wackythinker wrote:

    Hello? “blog commenters who go for the quick laugh”? Whomever would you mean?


  39. Wade wrote:

    CVH… no they will never be happy… now that you have said PERKINS w/ so many of them being outta biz they will look for a meaning there too… SGFan will fine a Bible Verse for it and dr jow blow will think you are terrible for eating at such a place and will have a verse too!!!

  40. Mike McIlwain wrote:

    Why couldn’t a group or record label allow a few songs (maybe one from each album) for free mp3 download. That way a person could sample the music or if a fan wanted to introduce the music to a friend the fan could either download it or burn it to a cd. This way the music would get out into the world as ministry, others would be exposed, and maybe a desire would be created for the new listener to buy the entire cd.

  41. cdguy wrote:

    Mike, there have been artists (not sure any s/g folks, though) who have put albums on their website for download, for a free-will offering, or for free. Just as a means to get the word out.

    However, that still doesn’t mean free sharing with your friends and loved ones. The material is copyrighted. So specific permission would have to be granted for sharing.

    It really only works if ALL parties (songwriters, publishers, labels, artists, et al) agree. And chances of a mid-to-top-tier artist pulling that off would be slim-to-none. It would probably have to be an independent artist who writes and publishes his/her/their own material.

  42. Mike McIlwain wrote:

    I had forgotten about needing the rights for the other groups (songwriters, publishers,ect.). One solution might be to offer do an independent project that is self-produced, use the group’s own musicians, and write their own songs or use songs from other writers with permission to share.

  43. cdguy wrote:

    Mike, yes, that would probably work. Problem is, too many artists are not (good) writers, don’t have their own musicians, etc. Hired producers and most hired musicians probably wouldn’t be as much of a problem as the composers, publishers, and labels.

    It sounds like a good idea to me, though, if someone could pull it off. See the newer thread about EHSSS asking fans to hip thier friends.

  44. CYNOTSYF wrote:

    Back to the original post:
    “Everybody is up in the air about someone “stealing” by copying an artist’s CD. All the while, most artists and so-called labels are not paying the songwriter royalties due from the CD’s they did sell at full price. Sounds like a reaping and sowing issue to me!”

    I agree.

    If you artists cheat songwriters (who literally make pennies on songs), why should you expect God to bless your CD sales or your concert attendance?

    Not paying your bills (songs are simply part of the normal cost of recording) would be like stealing money from the offering plate, or books, Bibles, furnishings, or an IPod from the pastor’s study when you’re visiting the church to do a concert.

    Additionally, the people who buy your CDs and love the songs are trusting you as the artist to pay the writer of the songs. CD buyers can’t pay the writers; that’s your job.

  45. JulieBelle wrote:

    I think most A and even B groups are pretty good at paying royalties on first orders. But a lot aren’t very good at paying on subsequent orders. This I know from personal experience.

    Most C, D, E, and F groups pay decently, although I’ve had several promise they paid royalties and I never saw a penny.

    Royalties are supposed to be paid on what’s duplicated, not on what’s sold.

  46. cdguy wrote:

    JulieBelle — #45 — Why should royalties be expected on what’s duplicated, rather than what’s sold? That doesn’t make sense to me.

    The artist/label doesn’t make any money until it’s sold. Royalties should not be expected on what’s given away for promotional purposes (radio, in-store demos, concert promoters, etct). That’s a part of doing business.

    Now, if a local artist had, say, 1,000 copies duplicated, and gave all of them away, it would not be fair to stiff the copyright owners. But everyone in the bidness understands a few copies have to be given away to promote the artist and the project.

  47. GAGirl wrote:

    I’d like to make a clarification here as someone who is very involved in the process of paying royalties, first hand. I work for an SG artist who is VERY committed to paying royalties. However, this business of royalty paying is more of an art than a science. I cannot tell you how complicated the process is. Not only is the publishing information near impossible to find on some songs, but the publishing rights many times have changed several times, or the publishing companies are no longer in existence. Each publishing company has its own set of rules of reporting, how often the royalties should be paid (per quarter vs. each 1000 unit run, etc) and the paperwork differs greatly as well. Sometimes a license can be renewed with a simple email followed by a check being mailed and yet other publishers require a new application for every payment…it’s a very convoluted and complex process. For those artists who are dilligent about paying their royalties, we are required many times to do our own detective work to hunt down the songwriter’s publisher etc. While there is no excuse whatsoever for not paying royalties, understand that the process is very difficult at best. Perhaps songwriters need to really think about the process in which their publisher requires payment before deciding to go with that publisher as that very decision can determine how quickly and easily they will be paid. One suggestion would be for the songwriter to include publishing information on his songs on his own website so that the artist doesn’t have to spend hours or days hunting it down. If you want to get paid then make it easy for people to pay you. I’m not slamming the songwriter but I think many songwriters could be more hands on and proactive which would in turn help them.

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