Could be worse (if you’re a songwriter)

Evidently, it’s music appreciation week here at DGLM–believe it or not, I actually had this music-themed blog post in the works Wednesday morning before I saw Miriam’s post. But rather than scrap it, I think it dovetails with Miriam’s question about lyrics and books, so here we go:

As book publishing is considered a media industry, you’ll often hear comparisons drawn between the book business, the music business, and the film industry. And you’ll often hear about the common problems they share–declining sales, disappearing retail outlets, fragmented audience, technological challenges, and so on. But as much as people carp about the state of book publishing, I think it’s always good to remember that when you compare books to other media–especially the music biz–things could be worse. A lot worse.

And to that point, I wanted to share this post¬†from Wired by the musician Aloe Blacc yesterday morning, where he points out the criminally small royalty that songwriters are paid by streaming music services like Spotify and Pandora. The idea that Blacc has earned less than $4,000 for a song that has been streamed 168 million times seems crazy. Yet on the whole, the complaints about royalties for streaming services have been fairly muted–as Blacc notes, streaming provides more exposure for listeners than ever before, and it seems like artists to this point have been willing to trade earnings for that exposure.

Now, compare those muted complaints to the noise surrounding Amazon vs Hachette. With all the hue and cry about Amazon screwing authors and publishers, one might assume they’re being ripped off as badly as Blacc–and of course, it’s nothing even remotely close to that bad, partially thanks to the agents who established standard eBook royalty rates early on. But credit also goes to publishers for defending their author’s right to earn–a right that has never been recognized properly by the big music companies who’ve been screwing artists out of royalties since the beginning of the industry. And as much as I hate to admit it, credit goes to Amazon when it comes to self-pubbed authors, for whom a loose analogy can be drawn to indie musicians on services like Soundcloud and Bandcamp–again, Amazon is making indie authors millionaires, Soundcloud not so much.

So while our business has its problems, and while writers have legitimate complaints about earning power, take heart–apparently it’s better to be even a struggling writer than a famous songwriter. Though movie stars seem to have it pretty good…


3 Responses to Could be worse (if you’re a songwriter)

  1. Joelle says:

    Believe me, you’re right. I’m an author married to a singer/songwriter. It’s gotten so bad that you really can’t even make a living at it anymore. Not only are royalties practically non-existent, but record deals are pretty much over, and as it’s been for years, getting payed anything resembling reasonable to play is a fantasy. We know an 80 year old musician who’s at the top of the food chain and has made his living as a musician his entire life. The other day, he had to walk on the ferry to the mainland because if he took his car to the gig, he wouldn’t have broken even. It’s become a “pay to play” job.

    So, yes, it could be worse…you could be a songwriter instead of an author. About the only way to make any decent money is for an original song to get in a movie or television show (or commercial). Might as well play the lottery.

    Good thing he has me raking in the royalties. Hahahahaha!

    On the plus side, in my YA, I just used all his lyrics for my songwriter character. I’ll pay him later.

  2. This post is very interesting but regarding how we hear so much about Amazon v. Hachette as compared to songwriters being screwed, I wonder if that’s not a result of the publishing industry echo chamber. I often have to ask my friends and family if they’re aware of XYZ that seems like a titanic deal to me because I follow industry blogs, etc. Often they’re completely unaware, even of the Hachette debacle. So, I wonder, if we were music industry types, maybe songwriters being underpaid would be a super big deal to us and such and such about novelists wouldn’t even be on our radar. Just a thought.

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