The Music Chronicles of Russel Ray

Music on Mondays (11-11-13)—Singers and songwriters

The Music Chronicles of Russel Ray

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Back in the early days, the music industry consisted of singers and songwriters. Songwriters wrote the songs, and singers sang them. If you look at music charts from the 1940s through the 1970s, you will notice that there might be four or five versions of the same song on the charts. Songwriters wrote the songs and then sold them to singers while keeping royalties from music publishing.

In many cases, singers got a monetary advance from the record company. When the record was released, and you bought it, you actually were supporting the record company and the music publishing company more than you were the recording group. Debut groups sometimes had recording contracts that paid them a mere penny per record sold. That included The Beatles, whose initial recording contract gave the group one penny for each record sold. That penny, though, was split between John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The royalty rate was further reduced for singles sold outside the United Kingdom, for which The Beatles received half of one penny per record sold, again split between John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Although songwriters also made money with the release of the record, they made additional money from royalties from the sale of sheet music, public performances, cover versions twenty years later by a different artist, etc.

When Whitney Houston died a few years ago, it was revealed that she basically died penniless, mostly due to her apparent drug addiction but also due to the fact that she wrote very few, if any, of her hit songs. They were written by songwriters. The public felt sorry for her in her death and started buying all of her music posthumously, wrongly believing that they were supporting her estate. They were not. They were supporting the record company, the music publishing company, and the songwriters. Many songwriters got extraordinarily rich when her hits became hits again after her death.

For example, “I Will Always Love You,” Whitney’s #1 hit from 1992, was written by Dolly Parton and was a hit for her in 1974. Dolly made a lot of money from that song in 1974, in 1992 when Whitney released it, and again after Whitney’s death in 2012 when the public started buying it again.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

The Beatles were the first to recognize that songwriters didn’t get the glory but got a hefty part of the money. They became singer-songwriters, and the John Lennon-Paul McCartney partnership is recognized as the most prolific in the history of music, even outshining Rodgers & Hammerstein of musical fame (“Oklahoma,” “South Pacific,” etc.).

How lucrative are publishing rights? Very. When Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson were recording “Say, Say, Say” in 1983, McCartney introduced Jackson to the world of music publishing, telling Jackson that he was earning $30 million per year from royalties on the songs of other people that he owned. For example, McCartney owns the publishing rights to all the music by Buddy Holly.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Jackson followed up on that knowledge when he bought the catalog of Beatles music from 1962 to mid-1967. The Beatles’ early music was owned not by them but by their publishing company at the time, Northern Songs. When the Northern Songs music catalog was sold in the early 1980s, Jackson acquired The Beatles music for $40 million. Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono initially had bid for The Beatles music, but ultimately Yoko Ono apparently thought the price was too high.

Publishing rights to Lennon-McCartney music from mid-1967 on belongs to Apple Corps, a multimedia corporation that The Beatles founded in mid-1967 partially to manage their publishing rights and royalties.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

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18 thoughts on “Music on Mondays (11-11-13)—Singers and songwriters

      1. I Am Jasmine Kyle

        No no you said remakes… I hear SO many remakes of the same song in R&B music and just thought that’s what you were talking about. Not these songs just the remakes in general…

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        1. Russel Ray Photos Post author

          Yeah, generally I don’t like remakes. Some, though, I do, such as “Got To Get You Into My Life” a remake of The Beatles by Earth Wind & Fire. A few other remakes come to mind: “Pinball Wizard” by Elton John, “Come Together” by Aerosmith, and “Rock On” by Michael Damian. I thought they were equally as good as the originals.

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          1. I Am Jasmine Kyle

            Ok I yield you make a great argument for SOME remakes! But I would like to insert that MODERN remakes are usually a complete catastrophe!

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  1. likeitiz

    I enjoy a lot of remakes. I think of it as younger people being able to connect with periods before their time. There are a handful of movie remakes that are all right. There are some disaster too. Yes, Footloose was a catastrophe. I did, however, enjoy The Women. My sister-in-law and I watched “An Affair to Remember (1939) and then “Love Affair” (1994) back to back. We both bawled our eyes out. We loved both. I could name some duds though….

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      1. likeitiz

        Ahh yes, Cape Fear. Both were indeed good versions. Casting in both was quite good. There are a few good ones of note. Some of these have foreign films as their originals: Scent of a Woman, The Departed, The Last Kiss, 3:10 To Yuma, The Magnificent seven, Man on Fire, The Thomas Crown Affair. To name a few. 🙂

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          1. likeitiz

            The Departed was originally a Taiwanese film. We found it on Netflix (I think) and enjoyed it very much too. 3;10 to Yuma — both versions are American. The original is from the 50’s.

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  2. slingshotbaby69

    On your Whitney Houston post, I am proud of you for giving Dolly Parton the due credit. She was the one who sang that song first and most don’t recognize she was the one who brought that song to life. Not Whitney! Good job!

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