Songwriting 101

Courtesy of Motown songwriter Barrett Strong, who learned the writer’s equivalent of a tragic lesson in making triple double dog sure you hang onto publishing rights as a songwriter:

“Songs outlive people,” he said, with a mixture of sadness, resignation and anger. “The real reason Motown worked was the publishing. The records were just a vehicle to get the songs out there to the public. The real money is in the publishing, and if you have publishing, then hang on to it. That’s what it’s all about. If you give it away, you’re giving away your life, your legacy. Once you’re gone, those songs will still be playing.”

Email this Post


  1. cynical one wrote:

    Bill Gaither learned that after selling a few songs to other people, then trying to buy them back. Dolly Parton knew the importance of this, too. There’s a story that Elvis wanted to record “I Will Always Love You”, but the Colonel insisted on owning the publishing rights. Dolly stuck by her guns, and it’s worked out very well for her.

    I’m no Gaither or Parton, but I’d probably try keep my songs, too, unless a publisher gave me a compelling reason to sign it to them.

    Also, royalty situations are much different now that they were in the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s.

  2. sensible wrote:

    Ask Greg & Chuck Day (writers of Midnight Cry) how important it is to keep publishing rights. My understanding they did not make much off that song.

  3. Ed wrote:

    I am very curious about this. Take the Big Chief for example. He wrote some songs including “I Want to Know,” as I understand it. Does his family receive royalties? I think JD wrote many songs. Just have to wonder what kind of money the royalties bring today…

  4. Guy wrote:

    I have often wondered how much Mark Lowrey receives from Mary Did You know each year. It has been recorded by many, many mainstream, poular artists.

  5. Joel Lindsey wrote:

    While there is some truth to the thought that it is good to hold onto your publishing rights as a songwriter, I think this addendum is important: To hold onto your publishing rights, you must DO THE WORK of a publisher.

    Publishers work hard for your songs and deserve the compensation they receive. If you aren’t able to get your songs into the marketplace and into the hands of the right people and then do all the paperwork and maintenance of keeping those copyrights generating income, then you need a publisher.

    When a co-writer decides to keep their part of the publishing and then just expects me or my publisher to do all the work, that’s when I stop working with them. They’re receiving money for work they’re simply not doing.

    Bill Gaither was smart to keep his publishing, but Bill Gaither has worked diligently in his role as a publisher.

    And while we’re on the subject of publishing rights: In southern gospel, If I write a song for a group that becomes a hit or even a career song for that group, the difference in the honorarium they can charge in ONE NIGHT is often more than I will make in the life of that song. So for them to ask me for a part of the publishing, just because they want to record the song, is an insult. My answer to them has become, “sure, I’ll give you a percentage of the publishing, if you’ll give me a percentage of your nightly honorarium.”

    Plus, for every $15 CD they sell at their concert each night, they’re pocketing at least $10 of that. I split .09 per song with my publisher and co-writers.

    And, back to Barrett Strong, I don’t know his story but if it is indeed tragic, I want to know, where are his SONGWRITING royalties? Those are different from publishing royalties and if he signed those away, then that is indeed a tragic story.

  6. truth teller wrote:

    About songwriting: In recent weeks Southern Gospel Today has brought on some new staff. They’ve become edgier. After only a few days this article which was easily excessible from their homepage, was made only viewable via search. It’s by “columnist” Larry Petree who is a noted successful songwriter in Gospel Music who stepped away cause.. Well, it tells you. AND NAMES NAMES - Wow!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked * Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.