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Topic: When to worry about royalties?

  1. #1

    When to worry about royalties?

    Hey everyone -

    At what point do you guys start worrying about royalties? I've done a lot of small projects, some tv commercials/etc., but now I've been asked to bid on what may be a recurring doc series, and I don't know if it even comes into play with that! I was a member of ASCAP long ago, but never did anything with it, and I am not sure if it's an issue now or not!

    So for those of you that deal with this on a regular basis, what's the plan?


    Eric Doggett
    MoonDog Media

  2. #2

    Re: When to worry about royalties?

    You should always worry about royalties! They can become a huge part of your income in the future. All of the little things that you do can add up over time - tv shows, films, commercials - many stick around for many years. So that stupid little track that you licensed for $500 can make you many times more than that over the years, especially if it plays worldwide. The goal is to get as many things out there that can make you royalties - thus - you should NEVER sign away your writers' royalties on a deal. NEVER. Most composer deals will give the publishing away to the producer / network / etc. - although you can try and negotiate to keep that on the lower end stuff. But the writer's share should not be questioned, ever. Pretty standard stuff. It's been talked about years, but the day that people start signing away writers share just to get a gig and that becomes the norm, then we can all kiss the performance royalty income goodbye. And that is money that will help you through the ups and downs in the future, so don't give it up. It's hard to see in the beginning when your ASCAP checks are $3 but that will change as you get more and more works out there earning for you over time. Good luck and again, it should not be an issue at all when negotiating your docu project - most standard cable composer agreements will give the writer's share to you. Try and get as much up front as you can but realize even if it's not a huge $$, if it airs you can make a nice chunk on the backend.

  3. #3

    Re: When to worry about royalties?

    Are you saying that these things should be 'acted upon' when you are dealing with something, for example, like a 10 episode show that airs either locally or on history channel/etc?

    Eric Doggett
    MoonDog Media

  4. #4

    Re: When to worry about royalties?

    I'm not sure what you mean by 'acted upon' - but I'll try. Basically, make sure the deal that you sign gives you your "Writers' Royalties". It's usually early on in the deal and has a blank where you fill in Ascap or BMI. If you're doing 10 shows on History Channel, and your deal's all set - then when you finish each episode they (or you) will do a music cue sheet. On this you'll put yourself as the writer and your affiliation (ascap/bmi).

    At this point, you need to be set up as a writer with BMI/ASCAP. Doesn't matter which but if you were at Ascap in the past you're probably still registered there. Then when the episode airs, it will track and you'll get paid royalties each time it plays. If you signed a bad deal where they take the writer's share, then you will get none of the $$ when it plays - obviously a bad thing and something you should fight for. Some documentaries and History/Discovery/ type stuff will play many times over the years. Long after you've done them and moved on to something else so protect yourself now. Again, it's standard stuff, you really shouldn't have to fight for your writers share - almost every deal with give it to you. If you're still confused, it might be worth your time to get a lawyer to help you with the deal to make sure its ok.

  5. #5

    Re: When to worry about royalties?

    That's all great info!

    I think I was just wondering what the first type of job would be to file with ascap - obviously a series to be on cable, but a tv commercial as well?

    This info really helped out, as well as some help by Kays. Thank you guys!

    Eric Doggett
    MoonDog Media

  6. #6

    Re: When to worry about royalties?

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Doggett
    Are you saying that these things should be 'acted upon' when you are dealing with something, for example, like a 10 episode show that airs either locally or on history channel/etc?

    Before. As Hank Mancini said to me, "You're not IN the music business, you ARE a music business." Part of income management is royalties. For film, pick one: ASCAP or BMI.

    If you're songwriting, ultimately, you'll be both BMI and ASCAP.

    If you're doing Christian work, your songs should be registered with CCLI.

    Get THIS BUSINESS OF MUSIC and read it until you understand it. It's updated routinely.

    FWIW, the worst selling music books are usually on music business.
    Peter L. Alexander
    Learn it right the first time.

  7. #7

    Re: When to worry about royalties?

    You should have every work registered with a PRO, no matter how small the work or how small the station on which it will be played. I did a show in 1990 that aired on a tiny cable station in NYC - a station I never heard of. After 9 years of the show airing, ASCAP finally caught up with them and I received a surprise check for 6 figures. In fact, I'm still receiving regular ASCAP checks for music my Dad did back in the 50's. Music has a life of its own and it can pay for the rest of your life. But you must have those works registered with a PRO in your name as the composer. And remember, there is no such thing as a small job and you should never, never sign away your writer's rights.

    Best of luck.

  8. #8

    Re: When to worry about royalties?

    All great advice Eric.

    I would add that you should not forget your publishing rights. Are you giving it away to the producers or anyone involved? You should start your own w/ ASCAP or BMI and retain the pub as well or make whatever good deal you can, (common to split it 50/50) since publishing is half the royalty monies. Look at other shows credits & you will find that there are publshing companies listed, unless this is on a 'for hire' basis.

    Also, There may be sync & copyright licensing fees that you would get paid right up front, all negotiable.

    All of this should be clear, in writing. ASCAP or BMI could help you with this stuff too.

    Ricky B

  9. #9
    Senior Member Nigel W's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Cologne, Germany

    Re: When to worry about royalties?

    It's interesting that here in Europe, the GEMA -equivalent to BMI/ASCAP in the US and PRS in the UK- has just agreed among their members -which include writers and publishers- that composers should not be forced to sign a publishing deal with their client company when taking on the project.

    That is really quite a milestone. How it works in practice remains to be seen, as so far it carries no legal weight, and "the guy who gets the job" will probably still do so with the understanding that the client company expects to get the publishing. However: crucially, the onus is on the publisher to state explicitly that the publishing deal was not forced upon the composer.

    It's about time that the balance was redressed in favour of composers who finance their own job fee through giving their publishing income away!

    I second the importance of taking care to register and monitor your royalty-producing work. Most fees are fairly modest when you take into account the time spent and the costs of doing the job properly. The royalty income makes it worthwhile.


  10. #10

    Re: When to worry about royalties?

    I would go further and say that the onus should be on the Publisher to prove that they have tried to "exploit" the music, and if they haven't done so, then the rights should be returned to the composer. It is already the situation that you can make them prove it, but all that achieves is that you won't be offered any more work. If there was an automatic return of rights then one wouldn't even have to get into the argument in the first place.


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