In the world of “sync,” (putting music with commercials, film or video) the songwriter is like any other free American citizen. He can say yes or no to a negotiated price for his work, usually the same fee as the owner of the sound recording master. This is a fair model that encourages creativity by compensating all creators.
When it comes to the other two main income streams, Performance and Mechanical, with a very few hopeful exceptions, a professional songwriter is a sharecropper. He gets the share mandated by legislative and judicial decisions. He plants the seeds, the words and music, he puts in all the heart and soul and sweat to make his songs the foundation upon which the entire music ecosystem is built, but he can only earn what his landlords, federal rate court judges and royalty boards allow him to earn.
This is a completely different animal from the making and marketing of a sound recording. The Sound Recording Copyright allows the artist / businessman to sell his recording for whatever price he can get in the free market. That certainly sounds more “American” doesn’t it? Then the businessman / artist, who makes the recording pays the songwriter his government maximum (sharecropper) wage, no matter how much the record man charges for the sound recording. In the growing digital marketplace, this puts a MUCH higher value on the recording than on the song that makes the recording possible.
Songwriting, the creation of the words and music that mark the moments of our lives, may well be the only American business that is not allowed to negotiate and charge what its product is worth on the free market.
There is also no other American business that is forced to license and sell its product to anyone who wants to use it (compulsory license) at the price the government sets. Songwriters can either quit or take the share the master (as in master recording) is required to give us. We are not allowed by law to unionize, so collective bargaining is out of the question.
This is the land of the FREE but unfortunately for the American songwriter, master of the double entendre, only one meaning of the word applies. We’re a step up from slavery, we’re sharecroppers.
As our lawmakers contemplate a review of American Copyright, let’s all hope for and work toward a more simple and fair royalty system. The future of American Music depends on it.