Sheet music (see what I did there?)

Edward Case
Latest posts by Edward Case (see all)

There’s a saying in the music industry that applies to the most commercial end of pop and country which goes: “Change a word, get a third”. It’s a way that artists get a share of a song’s publishing when they haven’t actually written it.

It’s been going on at least since Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager, made it a condition of Elvis covering a song – the argument being that 50 per cent of a song on an Elvis record was worth more than 100 per cent of it on anyone else’s

The only person I know of who outright refused the deal and consequently didn’t get one of her songs recorded by The King was a young hopeful named Dolly Parton.

In the long run it worked out OK for her, of course, but she’s the exception.

With the advent of streaming the business model has completely changed (as one look at my own Spotify and Apple Music royalties accounts will testify) and now the lion’s share of earnings come from sponsored tours and merchandise, not royalties, so composers who are not artists themselves can ill afford to give away shares of their songs.

Today it’s why there can be a huge list of supposed co-writers on a hit song including the artist/s, the producer, his secret mistress and the manager’s bookie.

No song needs a committee of writers.

One writer, Fiona Bevan, who has written for Lewis Capaldi and One Direction among others, told a select committee last week that she had earned just £100 in royalties for “co-writing” a track that appeared on a Kylie Minogue album.

Jobbing songwriters are being held to ransom by unscrupulous managers and given the ultimatum of either paying for the privilege of having a name artist record your song or being frozen out of the industry altogether because they refused to play ball.

It’s a practise so entrenched that even a new advocacy group calling itself The Pact, made up of composers who have written hits for the likes of Britney Spears, Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes, Selina Gomez, Michael Buble, Lorde, Fifth Harmony, Dua Lipa, Little Mix and Lady Gaga are unlikely to bring about a change.

An open letter signed by the group, who have not gone so far as to expose any artist who is taking credit where it’s not due, says: “We will no longer accept being treated like we are at the bottom of the totem pole, or be bullied into thinking that we should be making sacrifices to sit at the table,” which is fair enough, because writing a hit song, even if it’s a throwaway piece of silliness with no artistic merit, is still a skill – and most importantly, a skill that many of the Tik Tok generation teen idols do not possess.

But as much as I would defend the philosophy that everything begins with the song, at that end of the market, where a couple of samples can be cut and pasted in Pro Tools with a computer generated 160bpm drum track on repeat for three minutes, it really doesn’t.

This is not an argument about quality, it’s part of a marketing formula to convince the lowest common denominator that something is cool.

Which doesn’t make it good.

Oh well, if you say so that must be OK then

I’m no fan of titles like BAME or LGBTQ as I think there are enough labels around that segregate us, but as I’m neither of these and consequently unaffected by their use, I don’t think I should push that opinion with any gusto.

So I’m puzzled by how groups that are supposedly qualified to speak on certain matters can reach conclusions that are, let’s say questionable.

Like the report on racial disparity that claims the UK is not institutionally racist where I don’t need to be BAME to see it plainly is.

That makes as much sense as the Metropolitan Police investigating itself and concluding that all of its officers behaved appropriately at Clapham Common a couple of weeks ago when they clearly did not.

What it boils down to is people are not being held accountable for their actions.

By those criteria I could investigate my profession and conclude that we’re all harmless really.

Stupid TV quiz answer of the week:

Q: Papillon is the French name for which flying insect?

A: Dog


Edward Case