The Hodgepodge: Updates and Changes with Songwriting Royalties

Doug Morris, Sony CEO

There’s been a few updates over the past week with respect to songwriting royalties. I haven’t really dug into them yet to offer much commentary on the updates, but I do offer my initial thoughts at the end of the post. I’m sure there will be a follow-up post to these changes as I better understand them.

100 Percent Licensing

Last month, I somewhat broke down the new proposal at the Department of Justice called 100 Percent Licensing. Essentially, 100 Percent Licensing was proposed to give each songwriter or publisher who worked on a song 100% licensing control for the song. Before, if two people worked on a song, Person A essentially had licensing power over the part of the song he or she contributed (a verse, chorus, or melody), and Person B had licensing power over his or her own contribution. And together, Person A and B would have to come into an agreement for the whole song to be included on a service like Pandora. However, what 100 Percent Licensing proposes is that Person A or Person B can have full control over the song and be able to deal the song with Pandora without the other person’s permission.

The DOJ ruled last week in favor of what they call “Full Works Licensing.” The DOJ wrote in a statement:

“We discovered that there was significant disagreement in the industry about what rights must be conveyed by the blanket licenses (as well as other categories of licenses) that the consent decrees require ASCAP and BMI to offer,” the DoJ writes. “Some argued that, in order to effectuate the purpose of the consent decrees, the blanket license must grant licensees (also called ‘users’) the right to publicly perform all songs in the ASCAP and BMI repertories. Others believe that the blanket licenses offered by ASCAP and BMI instead confer only rights to the fractional interests in songs owned by ASCAP’s and BMI’s members and that music users must obtain separate licenses to the remaining fractional interests before playing the songs.”

The DOJ ultimately came to the conclusion, “We think the evidence favors the full-work side.” Performance Rights Organizations like BMI and ASCAP and others like David Israelite, president and CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association have spoken out against the ruling. Israelite calls the ruling “a massive blow to America’s songwriters.”

“The interpretation that the consent decrees demand that all works must be licensed on a 100% basis is both unprecedented and disastrous to the songwriting community,” he said. “The decision represents a misunderstanding of copyright law and directly violates the legal guidance given by the Register of Copyright. The defiance displayed by these career antitrust lawyers in ignoring the legal opinion of the Register of Copyright is shocking.”

BMI and ASCAP issued a joint statement proclaiming that the ruling “will cause unnecessary chaos in the marketplace and place unfair financial burdens and creative constraints on songwriters and composers.”

It appears that the new ruling won’t go into effect for another year, giving the organizations and stakeholders time to figure out how to conduct business within the scope of the new full works licensing. The full statement from the Department of Justice can be found here.

NSAI Calls Out Sony

Another big movement within songwriting and streaming is Sony blocking and contesting songwriters during the recent proceedings with Copyright Royalty Board. As songwriters and publishers fight for larger payouts from streaming, Sony has been contesting them, siding with digital streaming services. In fact, Sony is the only major label stepping in and opposing the publishers and songwriters on the matter.

In an open letter to Sony CEO Doug Morris, Nashville Songwriters’ Association International (NSAI) Executive Director Bart Herbison asks Morris and Sony to step out of the proceedings.

It is embarrassingly disingenuous that Sony would attempt to hide behind its claim to “increase the headline rate” when in fact its proposal to the CRB would actually lower the rates songwriters currently receive from digital interactive streaming services. Warner Brothers, Universal and other record labels have chosen not to attempt to suppress the rates digital interactive services pay to songwriters.

The big argument is that labels like Sony and Universal can benefit financially from an artists’ tour and merchandise sales while a songwriter only receives royalty payments from his or her song. David Israelite has also been vocal about Sony’s involvement.

With one major change from Full Works Licensing and a possible change in the works with CRB, we could in fact see a shift in the way the music industry conducts itself. If songwriting royalties are diminished through streaming, then chances are that we’ll be subjected to far more committee songs written for popular appeal. That’s essentially what we see on country radio today as it is, but moves like this could further marginalize the solo or independent songwriter, and could detract potential songwriters.

While a service like Spotify or Apple Music have playlists for “Americana” or “Independent Folk” for music fans to explore away from the mainstream, these are still playlists that need to be sought out and aren’t necessarily advertised. And if a label like Sony is getting in bed with streaming services to favor the labels, then they could easily “encourage” Spotify to advertise a playlist of Sony artists on Spotify’s main page or within Apple Music’s suggested playlists. The labels have money and that money allows them to wield their power for personal gain. And working to have streaming services give the labels more money, not the songwriters, only intensifies that power cycle.

Upcoming/Recent Country and American Releases

  • Tomorrow’s a big day for releases in country music:
    • Cody Jinks‘ I’m Not the Devil
    • Kelsey Waldon‘s I’ve Got a Way
    • Justin Moore‘s Kinda Don’t Care
  • BJ Barham of American Aquarium will release a solo album called Rockingham next week on August 19.
  • John Paul White will release Beulah on the 19th.
  • Lydia Loveless will release a new album on the 19th called Real.
  • And Dolly Parton will also release her new album on the 19th called Pure & Simple.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Diggin Up Bones” by Randy Travis 30 years ago this week, Randy Travis’ debut album Storms of Life hit Number 1 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. So this week’s throwback song is a number one hit for Travis from that album.

Non Country Suggestion of the Week

Gov’t Mule The Tel-Star Sessions Rock band Gov’t Mule recently released an archival album called The Tel-Star Sessions, which include early and never-before-heard recordings from the band. Gov’t Mule is set to go on tour with Blackberry Smoke with the first show tonight in Portland, ME.

Tweet of the Week

When I saw that “Fix” was number 1 on the Airplay charts, I went to Twitter seeking out tweets complaining about the song. When my search for “Chris Lane Fix Sucks” had no results, I complained on Twitter, and our friend Cobra from Hope For Country Music fixed the search problem.

Two iTunes Review for Chris Lane

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 6.14.50 PM

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 6.15.03 PM

Both of these reviews were left under Chris Lane’s new album Girl Problems. Whether it’s the whole album or simply “Fix,” both reviews apply.

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19 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Updates and Changes with Songwriting Royalties

  1. Great Hodgepodge as usual. I will be interested to see the further developments with this whole licensing laws.

    Thanks for the shout-out with the TotW. Glad I could help rectify the problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 30 years ago: Randy Travis & “Digging Up Bones”
    Now: Chris Lane & “Fix”
    Well…it’s all about pushing the boundaries of country music & taking country music to the next level.

    My first “experience” with pushing boundaries & next levels was in 1986. The Bellamy Brothers released the album “Country Rap”. The single “Country Rap” was a Top 40 hit in 1987.

    A Part of the “Country Rap” lyrics (according to azlyrics.com):
    “Hillbillies talkin’ ’bout turnip greens
    Cornbread, sweetpatatos, pork and beans
    Country roads farm and ranch
    Drink a little creek water from the branch

    We got pickup trucks chicken clucks
    Happy even when we’re down on our luck
    We got fatback that’s a fact
    And if you don’t know that’s a country rap.

    Neighbor down the roads got a cow for sale
    Twenty dollars more you get the horns and tail
    Saturday night we’re goanna go get drunk
    Something in the road smells like a skunk.

    Steel guitars rowdy bars
    Redneck girls and beat-up cars
    We got fatback that’s a fact
    And if you don’t know that’s a country rap”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The final Billboard 200 numbers are in!

    Chris Lane’s “Girl Problems” debuted at #29 on the Billboard 200 with 6,216 albums sold! O__O

    That’s just hilariously pathetic, plain and simple. It it were akin to seats at Madison Square Garden, Lane would fill less than a third of those seats. Even the Oasis of the Seas (the world’s largest passenger ship) has a higher passenger capacity than that. And Chris Stapleton sold almost twice as much this week, this late into his era, than Lane has upon his debut.

    *

    At least The Cadillac Three have more of a legitimate excuse behind their quiet debut (they opened at #18 with about 10,000 sold).

    They never had a breakout hit at radio. They are a band that ride on a fairly small but passionately loyal fanbase and a unique Southern rock attitude and musicianship (which is also not country but, at least it’s interesting). They remain too rough around the edges to be palatable for radio between their gritty sound and Johnson’s hickory-soused, often unintelligible vocals. 10,000 for their debut is at least respectable given the situation.

    Chris Lane has absolutely ZERO excuses for a debut this hilariously awful. If Shania Twain were to lyrically update her classic “That Don’t Impress Me Much” to cater to 2016 events, one of her interjections would be: “So you’re a fellow country singer who likes singing in falsetto………………….That Don’t Impress Me Much!”

    I’m dead serious. Every single interview I’ve seen regarding Chris Lane and Joey Moi, they specifically obsess over his falsetto as his selling point. Nothing about the songs themselves besides “Fix”, nothing about his personality, not even anything about his sound being so-called “evolving” and “innovative” as we’ve grown accustomed to hearing in the realm of mainstream country/”country” music. No, it’s all about his f***ing falsetto………………….which is a terrible falsetto.

    And the general public agrees. They have spoken saying “That don’t impress me much!” with regards to Chris Lane being a self-professed “country singer” that sings falsetto, and that “Fix” is one of few singles released to country radio from an independent label (let alone the first attempt from a start-up independent label) to reach #1.

    *

    I’d like to think this means “For Her” will be halted dead in its tracks as the follow-up. But, seeing that Kelsea Ballerini has somehow managed to break-out with two more hits to her name despite an also (though not as bad when paired up with Lane) pitiful opening sales week of 13,500 for her debut album, who the hell knows?

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    • I think opening that pitiful like Chris Lane did will definitely harm followup singles.

      While Kelsea Ballerini sales haven’t been great especially opening week her album has had a decent staying power and it seems like her fanbase is growing bigger and bigger through massive media exposure add in the fact she has the Jason Aldean duet on Jason’s upcoming album Kelsea just seems to be going up.

      But I do have to smile seeing Chris Lane sell that bad. His live vocals are somehow worse than in studio so I will gladly eat crow Josh and agree with you Chris Lane is talentless.

      Also news is swirling around on Pulse that Lauren Alaina “Road Less Traveled” is going to be the next selection for OTV. So I am really happy (the song isn’t country but it’s a great motivational song that’s great regardless of genre) that might be selected as it’s one of my favorite songs on the radio right now.

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      • Let’s hope so.

        The falsetto in the chorus of “For Her” is so damn irritating. The way he sings “She make you wanna fight for her, she make you wanna die for her…” makes my skin crawl with how soulless it sounds.

        Jeff Buckley is a great example of a singer who knew exactly how to carry a falsetto to glorious effect. It all comes down to honoring the subtleties in vocal interpretation as someone who was always a lyric-centric songwriter. He had a sharp intuition for knowing when his vocal tracks called for a reach into a higher register and, when he did do so, you were blown away by how well-rounded and robust his vocals are and that, best of all, there’s always a purpose for when he did decide to reach for a falsetto.

        Same with Smokey Robinson, or Prince, or Freddie Mercury. You knew they were solid vocalists in their own right, but even when their music reached for histrionics, they still honored composition first and foremost and acknowledged vocal techniques as just part of a means to an end, rather than the other way around. Even Miguel and Passion Pit’s frontman honor that today as a couple of recent examples, or Thom Yorke when he uses it to convey a certain emotonal quality.

        But Chris Lane? It’s unpleasant hearing. It’s threadbare and gutless. It’s just a marketing gimmick above all else. It doesn’t help matters that his songwriting is just as bad and Joey Moi is basically giving him his Florida Georgia Line B-sides treatment as a producer.

        *

        With Kelsea Ballerini, her debut album at least hinted at potential as a songwriter on a handful of cuts.

        The album isn’t country at all and has plenty of terribly written songs. Ballerini also is an unimpressive singer across this album at least. But I’ve said before how she can write a fairly solid track when she truly puts her heart to it, and she does that with the title track, “Second Hand Smoke” and “Stilettos” most notably. And though “Peter Pan” didn’t impress me as much as those tracks I just cited, she at least handles the metaphor competently in the context of a relationship.

        But again, the radio success she has been getting this era just smacks of “fluke” to me as evidenced by the lowly sales. She hasn’t even gotten a Top Forty hit on the Billboard Hot 100 yet (which I attribute the composite chart peak as the most significant data in relation to overall popularity and impact as opposed to the airplay chart) nor a Platinum single. Maybe the forthcoming Aldean/Ballerini duet will change things for her, but at any rate despite it being impressive how Black River Entertainment has managed to develop into a label capable of sending back-to-back singles to #1, the returns have been unimpressive and hardly seem indicative of a breakout star with staying power.

        *

        I have not the slightest idea why someone who already enjoyed great, enviable visibility as a runner-up favorite on American Idol five years ago has been given the On The Verge treatment.

        It makes equally devoid of sense as “The Voice” nearly minting the ex-Steel Magnolia’s Meghan Linsey as the winner of season eight. I feel bad for both of them in that their initial efforts had limited and/or minor success, but it’s dishonest to me to use an incentive designed to give an up-and-coming, fresh-on-the-scene artist and/or entertainer a much-welcomed shot in the arm. Instead, they’re gerrymandering performers who had already enjoyed relative success and visibility but failed to catch on.

        I think they should have given “On The Verge” to someone like Tara Thompson. She’s part of the Big Machine Music Group roster, she seems to have found a middle way between country-pop and modern sensibilities with her sound that should appease radio programmers, and she is a fresh face on the scene. Even Runaway June makes sense because even though it consists of a familiar face in Jennifer Wayne of Stealing Angels, it is its own entity as opposed to a Jennifer Wayne vanity project.

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        • I am definitely not complaining about Lauren Alaina possibly getting OTV, yes she’s been around for a while but man she can sing and “Road Less Traveled” is one anthem of a song. That and if I’m being honest I am utterly unimpressed with Tara Thompson, just something about her voice grates under my skin. Also it’s not said and done that Lauren Alaina will get OTV. I personally see nothing wrong with it as Lauren just oozes star potential, also is it really success when Lauren Alaina got one top 30 to her name. I mean she was American Idol runner up, but that was 5 years ago so I imagine most of the general public has forgotten about her so this hopefully will be a good way for people to not only remember Lauren Alaina but hopefully see her talent and how much of a sweetheart she is. I am praying that she gets OTV.

          Well for Kelsea Ballerini “Peter Pan” was just certified Gold today and it still isn’t quite in the Top 5 on country radio so it seems more and more people are taking notice of her, I also happen to think she’s a solid singer (is she a Carrie Underwood or Mickey Guyton no but people obviously saw something in her) and her radio exposure. I also still think it’s a country pop album but agree to disagree their.

          Also it should be worth noting that the total sales for Kelsea Ballerini album is 167k so far which for a 15 month time span is not bad. Better than Dustin Lynch sophomore album so she at the very least is a placeholder who definitely has the potential to be an A-lister. Also it is pretty hard for acts to get Platinum singles as their hasn’t been too many of those this year. With sales down across the board having 3 straight Gold singles all things considered is impressive.

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        • I see the whole Lauren Alaina thing differently myself. She has an immense amount of talent and despite the previous exposure, I imagine the general public has basically forgotten all about her (I know I did until she released “Next Boyfriend”). Lauren Alaina has an immense amount of talent.

          Also Tara Thompson hit “Someone To Take Your Place” dropped off the charts and Big Machine is probably still in the early stages of developing Tara Thompson. For Runaway June, well that one was another I was hoping for but I do prefer “Road Less Traveled” over “Lipstick” so no complaints from me.

          Radio has now recognized Lauren Alaina’s talent (evident by having more first week ads than songs from Raelynn, Chase Rice, Jana Kramer, Randy Houser and Eric Paslay despite not having nearly the success they’ve had). I find “Road Less Traveled” to be a good song so I am happy with this selection if it turns out to be true.

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          • My argument isn’t against Alaina herself, but against the idea that she should be getting special treatment via a program designed to catapult fresh faces into the mainstream.

            It’s gerrymandering when you’ve already had someone, who has charted five minor hits over the course of five years beginning with what was intended to be her American Idol coronation song, receive what would otherwise have gone to an emerging newcomer in need of a break.

            I mean, what’s next? Are we going to give Katie Armiger the On The Verge treatment despite being around for nearly a decade? Or will we give it to Sarah Buxton should she decide to give another shot at a solo career after faltering a decade ago? I’m sorry: this decision smacks as a lack of integrity on iHeartMedia’s end.

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          • Well for me I believe OTV should promote talented newcomers, yes Lauren Alaina has been around a while. But I’d rather have more Lauren Alaina in country music than Raelynn or Kelsea Ballerini (and this is coming from a guy who likes Kelsea Ballerini) and “Road Less Traveled” is a really good song imo, so I am person looking for to it, if it is in fact true.

            Also OTV has done this with other genre like Nick Jonas and the one guy that left One Direction (can’t remember his name), so it’s not like this is anything new if it happens.

            I find it funny you mention Katie Armiger and Sarah Buxton. Katie Armiger is out of a record label and Cold River Records regardless has no real clout with radio programmers whatsoever so even if she was signed she would never get it. Sarah Buxton, will probably just stick with song writing, who knows, even if she is making new music she needs a label to back her up.

            Nadia, the decision hasn’t been final yet, don’t assume anything it’s just a rumor nothing more.

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          • Lauren Alaina confirmed it via her own Twitter account earlier today.

            In fairness, it has been two and a half years since iHeartMedia first formulated “On The Verge”. It does seem, in more recent months, that they don’t make it explicitly clear if their selection has anything to do with the artist being a fresh face on the scene and that, for all we know, it merely boils down to which of a handful of songs that are shipped to radio programmers is deemed the most likely to be a breakout hit.

            But if that is the case, it poses a new question: “Is, technically, ANY artist eligible for this shot in the arm? Could Coldplay be eligible? Could Pink be eligible? Or Santana?

            If so, what they’re doing is obviously not unethical at all or anything. But it’s disconcerting that the program was first launched with the overture being to give new artists a shot in the arm, and now the focus has deviated towards going with whatever track is catchiest. I mean: that has always usually been the modus operandi of radio, yes?

            *

            I know I sound visibly agitated here, but mind you I have no hard feelings for Lauren Alaina herself. Good for her that radio continues to put faith into her. I haven’t been blown away by anything she has released thus far, but she’s undoubtedly a solid vocalist and with the right material she can truly blossom.

            I just think iHeartMedia needs to clarify and/or come clean about the intention of On The Verge, since it has been pretty vague as is.

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          • I think OTV is for acts that don’t have a hit whatsoever or at least not one with much staying power (Dustin Lynch being the obvious exception) so I have no qualms.

            There’s an obvious difference between a name like Lauren Alaina then P!nk. One is an international superstar the other is a singer who has had success and personal issues (Country Universe has a Sunday Selection and they had an interview link for Lauren Alaina). Lauren has also been gone from the public spotlight she’s basically a new artist to the general public.

            I still don’t technically believe it’s confirmed til iHeartMedia says so. Lauren favoriting a tweet about it is definitely encouraging but I’m not 100% convinced until I see dead on official confirmation.

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          • ‘for all we know, it merely boils down to which of a handful of songs that are shipped to radio programmers it deemed the most likely to be a breakout hit’

            Combined with which label is willing to fork over the cold hard cash to iHeart. And I don’t mean like small bills in a brown paper bag but partnering with iHeart on events and the like. Radio reminds me of that great scene from the Rodney Dangerfield movie ‘Back To School’ where the business professor is explaining how to start a business and Rodney keeps interrupting with comments on in the real world you have to grease the skids (pay off the building inspector, pay the mob guys). This whole radio system is a rigged game right now.

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          • Hahahahaha, that’s a hilarious, fitting analogy, Scotty!

            In summary, I’m happy there remains a lot of faith and goodwill in the industry towards Lauren Alaina and, who knows, perhaps some good can come out of this. I just think iHeartMedia is being disingenuous as to the intention of “On The Verge”.

            By their latest example, it’s only fair Katie Armiger would qualify since, much like Alaina, she isn’t a newcomer but has nonetheless failed to achieve a breakout hit. Same with Kelleigh Bannen. “Landlocked” easily could have made for a summer hit. Or The Henningsens. That’s obviously not taking into account the label politic side of the equation, but if “On The Verge” selections are predicated on which track radio programmers think is most likely to be a hit, do label politics even matter in that sort of scenario?

            Money sure doesn’t talk in this instance……………..it swears.

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          • By the way, I meant to say earlier I listened to “Road Less Traveled”.

            It isn’t a bad song by all means: just a painfully generic one.

            Its sound resembles many of my criticisms about Kelly Clarkson’s more recent output beginning with “Stronger” and continuing with “Piece By Piece”. You KNOW Clarkson is an astounding vocalist, but the production usually doesn’t do her any favors. It’s glossy, banal power-ballad overkill And, much like Clarkson, “Road Less Traveled”……………………well…………………..treads the tired, much traveled path that is “pseudo-inspirational-be-yourself-no-matter-what-others-think” trope that dominated the choice themes of female Adult Top 40 staple acts during the former half of this decade.

            It sounds interchangeable between Kelly Clarkson and Rachel Platten’s manufactured Hallmark-card-put-to-a-beat fodder. Sure, I’ll take lyrics that actually try and speak something positive over the arrogant, entitlement attitudes of Sam Hunt, Old Dominion and Chris Lane any day…………………but they’re not THAT much better.

            It’s a boilerplate pseudo-inspirational anthem. Nothing more, nothing less. I can see it charting well on the airplay chart, but I certainly don’t see it building the foundation for a career or even a follow-up hit.

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          • Nadia what I am not getting is you keep listing Katie Armiger and now Kelleigh Bannen along with The Henningsens. None of those acts have a label to support them whatsoever. Also label politics do matter because their not gonna pick an act that doesn’t have a solid promotion team backing them up. Lauren Alaina’s label is home of superstars like Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Little Big Town, Keith Urban. So the label has the backing and the people to work it out. Kelleigh Bannen, Katie Armiger and The Henningsens are all out of a contract so what sense would it make to give an act OTV.

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          • Also shocked you don’t see if “Road Less Traveled” is a hit the followup will flounder. I guess like I always thought once Lauren Alaina got that first hit she was gonna really breakout, she has star potential through and through. So I hope that if she does get OTV.

            I happen to love the song (at times I feel like if my opinion doesn’t line up with yours you poke out what is wrong with liking that song and why said song is bland or awful) as Lauren sounds great and despite the overproduction Lauren Alaina still sounds great (she’s actually gotten better vocally since her vocal chord work a couple years ago) and the melody works really well. So I will definitely defend “Road Less Traveled” as I see the song very different from how you see it (I respect your opinion but this is one of those times where I don’t agree with at all) as I see it as a motivation to be who you truly are in life and very uplifting and the furthest thing from manufactured.

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