Songwriters deserve more credit. It’s easy to forget the music industry embodies distinct fields. For every article about writers and composers, 100 others focus on artists. As a result, we think it’s important to show love to both. Here are several simple steps writers can take to collect their composition royalties!
For the artist’s equivalent of this guide, read our one-stop confusion solution, “10 Things To Do After Making Your Music Available Online.” To learn more about the nuts and bolts of compositions, spend some time with “Music Publishing 101.”
What are composition royalties?
Let’s start by tackling “composition” itself.
Originally, the word referred to sheet music. Staffs filled with bass clefs and quarter notes soon expanded to encompass more—ideas scribbled on napkins, lyrics typed in smartphone memos. Today, compositions include two primary parts: lyrics and melody. Music publishers exist to maximize the value of compositions, a copyrightable form of intellectual property.
Just about every song you stream, besides white noise, includes a composition. If Beyonce writes the line, “Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation,” she has contributed to the composition. Let’s say she then creates the melody for how that lyric is sung. That’s good for another contribution. If she records the melody, she has now become a performing artist, which means she has contributed to the master. This is another form of intellectual property at the heart of the label business. Masters equate to compositions you can play back. They are the finished product you hear on Spotify or Apple Music.
The same logic applies to sound. One producer might create the composition—what you hum while thinking about that chorus you love. Another producer might create the master by designing the sound itself, choosing the instrument(s) to play the melody and recording what they play.
Writers earn composition royalties when a person or business licenses the right to use their work. Now we can discuss what you need to do to track these royalties down.
1. Register with a PRO
Performing Rights Organizations collect performance royalties for composition owners. These royalties reflect fees owed to writers in exchange for the right to play their song in public. “Public” includes radio airplay, television broadcasts, streaming services and venues, too (e.g. concerts, ballparks, restaurants).
Three stateside companies (ASCAP, BMI—both nonprofits—and SESAC) exist to make this collection process possible. They deliver quarterly payouts and performance reports to their members. Artists, writers and producers must sign up for one of the three to cover this important income stream. Check out these links for more information on royalty calculation for ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.
2. Find a partner to collect mechanicals
A mechanical license grants someone the right to reproduce a song. When someone downloads a track on Amazon or iTunes, the platforms owe 9.1 cents to the composition owners. Legally enforced by the U.S. government, this compulsory rate is traditionally split evenly between lyricists and melody makers. For years, streaming services have fought to remove the responsibility to pay composers and faced litigation as a consequence. Stem collects mechanical royalties generated by U.S. downloads. For more on the history of mechanicals, click here.
3. Create a Genius Account
Genius won’t pay you royalties, but it will help you secure more if you treat the lyric site’s incredible community with care. To start, create an account, begin the verification process and annotate away! Many music fans crave a glimpse at the creation of their favorite works. Songwriters and producers have a powerful platform in Genius to provide exactly that and raise awareness for yourself.
4. Ask for financial reports
Request access to song performance data if you’re receiving your royalty payments from other artists or teams. You can never be too careful. It is not unreasonable to respectfully request clarity in this situation. Stem transparently automates monthly accounting for royalties and can help minimize the risk of inaccurate, underpaid earnings.