Royalties, cont’d

A reader provides another view on royalties:

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.

Update: and right on cue, David Bruce Murray offers to help confused artists figure whom to pay royalties, for $5 a song.

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  1. Alan wrote:

    Kudos for this post, whoever it came from. Every word is true. It can take parts of entire days to search out some songs. I wish everyone used The Harry Fox Agency. One call or a few keystrokes, credit or debit card info, and out come the pages with mechanical license. Haven’t found any company as efficient as they are in administration of licenses.

  2. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Using Harry Fox Agency can be very convenient IF they handle the song. Sometimes they only handle a portion of the song.

    If your quantities are relatively small…say a few hundred at a time, there’s a huge cost disadvantage to using Harry Fox. For example, if you want to license 300 copies, you’ll pay $42.30 per song. $15 is the Harry Fox fee vs. the $27.30 you’d owe the publisher when dealing with them directly. Multiply that by the number of songs on a CD…10, 11, 12 or whatever. Also, if you plan to offer digital downloads, Harry Fox requires you to buy that license separately, and pay them another $15 per song. I would never use Harry Fox unless I was licensing at least 1000 units each time.

  3. Alan wrote:

    DBM - understood. Having never had to use them for smaller orders, I wasn’t aware of that aspect of dealing with them. As for their fee, I’ve found it well worth it, in the amount of time they save you. It might have been better to have written “A company like The Harry Fox Agency”, and to have broadened it beyond one firm. My basic underlying point was that when it can be such a major job to chase down the particulars of a single song, companies like the HFA make things extremely easy.

  4. Hello? wrote:

    1. BMI and ASCAP websites provide most of the needed information for anyone (including publishers) to access on their databases.
    2. Of course, Publishers need to keep up with their paperwork with BMI and ASCAP so the songs appear on the websites.

  5. Hello? wrote:

    BMI and ASCAP websites provide much of the needed information for anyone (including *ARTISTS*) to access on their databases.

    GAGirl, you made some substantive points, and I appreciate the tone of the discourse.

  6. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Absolutely…if dealing with units in the 1000s, HFA can be a practical route.

    A couple of alternatives to HFA include: 1. (includes copyrights owned by EMI CMG Publishing, Mercy Vineyard Publishing, Word Music, Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, and Maranatha Music)
    2. ICG ( is another representing a variety of publishers including some in Southern Gospel.

    Both of these companies have made it a relatively simple online process to license songs.

  7. Alan wrote:

    Thanks, David, very much. I used one that you’d mentioned, one time, and agree - they were great. On the flip side, I join the ranks of many who have had horror missions trying to search out some songs, and it shouldn’t be that hard! Some make you wade through murky waters indeed.

  8. JulieBelle wrote:

    For songs that artists are pitched, most writers I know and the ones I’ve dealt with when being pitched a song are smart enough to include licensing information on their pitch sheet. Publishing companies do the same. If not, they include contact information to be able to obtain licensing info.

    Now, if you’re going back and recording an oldie…that may be a tad harder, but it can be done. I’ve done it scads of times. Yes, it takes effort, but it’s the right thing to do.

    As a writer myself, I see one major problem is in paying on re-orders. Generally I’ve gotten payment for the initial license (although there are a few who haven’t paid)…overall, it’s the re-orders/re-licensing that doesn’t get done or paid for.

  9. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    The other alternative is to not use a mechanical license at all. You can go the compulsory license route.

    For artists who sell large volumes of product, a compulsory license is actually preferable, because you pay monthly as units are sold rather than paying in full for the number of units manufactured. Of course, if you can do digital bill pay or use some other method that avoids postage to multiple publishers every month, that can make a compulsory license even more cost effective.


  10. Jeff wrote:

    DBM, that’s cheap, Kelly Nelon paid me to research the songs for her compilation for her solo recordings back before she released “Still Her Father’s Child”. It’s a lot easier now 2 research then B4.

  11. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Jeff, that’s true. Online resources make it much easier these days.

    Unfortunately, a previous reply I made regarding compulsory licensing has evidently got lost in the digital black hole and it’s too long to type again.

    Just read this:

    The law does provide this alternative to the mech license. It’s most beneficial to people who handle most enough quantity that it isn’t practical to pay for an entire run of product up front.

  12. Robert wrote:

    I’ve found song publisher information after much detective work, contacted them or the songwriter, and almost never get a reply. I try to do the right thing but it seems no one wants my money. In three projects and a total of 33 songs I have gotten 3 replies. The whole royalties conversation is a mute point if no one wants your money.

  13. Not a Gramarrian wrote:


  14. Not a Gramarian wrote:

    so outraged I spelled my own name wrong

  15. Not a Grammarian wrote:

    twice in a row

  16. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    And so, the streak continues…

  17. quartet-man wrote:

    David, your post might be in Doug’s spam folder. One of mine was once.

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