Songwriting Royalties For Non-Performing Songwriters

Jerry A. Greene
Jerry A. Greene

Question: I am thinking about a career in songwriting, but I don’t really want to perform. Is it possible to make a good living as a non-performing songwriter and not have to work a day-job?

Answer: The royalties for non-performing songwriters can be extremely good and definitely make it so that you wouldn’t need a day-job, but, generally you must work really, really hard to get your first cuts (recordings on other artists’ CDs) if you expect to see any money come in from your music.

Getting Your Songs Heard

Before you can expect to make any royalty income from your songs, you going to have to get them heard and recorded. If you just consider yourself to be a lonesome songwriter, meaning you write by yourself and don’t really have any contacts to get your music heard, let alone recorded, then you are going to either have to sign with a music publisher, or start your own music publishing company. This is extremely important, since artists (and the people that screen songs for them) are used to hearing directly from music publishers, not the songwriters themselves. If you set up your own music publishing company and don’t have any contacts to get your songs heard, you may want to hire a song-plugger.There are also “music industry tip sheets” that allow you to know who is recording, or about to be in the studio and what kind of songs they are looking for.

Performing Rights Organizations

You’ll also need to sign up with a performing rights organization in your country. In the United States, this would mean joining ASCAP, BMI, OR SESAC, both as a writer member and a publisher member. This will ensure that royalties from performances on radio, tv, satellite radio, and internet radio have somewhere to go! The performing rights organizations collect royalties for the use of the music and pay songwriters and publishers their percentage share of these royalties. This is one of the biggest ways that non-performing songwriters make a living.

Making Money From Your Music

Here are some of the other places you can make money in the form of royalties:

  • Performance royalties come from: radio, broadcast television, cable and satellite television, satellite radio, internet radio, jukeboxes, concerts and clubs. These are all tracked by the performing rights organization that you belong to.
  • Synchronization Royalties: From placements of your music in movies and other multimedia. These are generally negotiated between music publisher and the production staff of the movie wishing to use the music. The publisher must keep track of the money for the use of the music. If the movie ends up on broadcast, cable, or satellite tv, the performing rights organization that you belong to will keep track of these performances and pay accordingly (as long as a cue sheet has been submitted)
  • Mechanical Royalties: These come from sales of physical products containing your music, generally CDs. Publishers can keep track of these royalties, but it is usually suggested that the publisher use an organization like the Harry Fox Agency to take care of these licenses and royalties. Placement of music in video games is also becoming a big part of these royalties, although they are more likely to be licensed and tracked by the publisher directly.
  • Print Music Royalties: Sheet music and arrangements of music in print form. These are also usually licensed and tracked by the music publisher.
  • Grand Rights: This falls into the category of “show music” like Broadway and cabaret. Again, this is usually licensed and tracked by the music publisher.

Sound Exchange

There is also a new organization called sound exchange which collects royalties from digital media. You’ll want to learn about them, as they are becoming a strong force in the industry: Visit their website: SoundExchange.Com

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