BMG eliminates ‘poisonous’ Controlled Composition clauses from its US record contracts

Hartwig Masuch, CEO, BMG

BMG has announced that it is eliminating a standard US record label deduction which serves to reduce the income of songwriters, composers and lyricists.

Across the US industry, the various discounts and caps which are contained in the so-called Controlled Composition clause cost songwriters an estimated $14 million last year.

The Controlled Composition clause is a provision in recording contracts that grants record labels a 25% reduction (and sometimes more) on mechanical royalties owed to a songwriter in the US for sales of their physical records.

Under the decades-old, traditional recording agreement, any song the recording artist writes (a composition they control) is subjected to a payment at 75% of the minimum statutory mechanical rate at the time of release (currently at $.091, since 2006) per track sold.

The 75% is often further reduced by placing a cap – typically 10-12 songs – on the aggregate mechanical royalty fees that record companies will pay on a particular album regardless of the actual number of songs on the album.

If there are compositions on the album written by additional, outside composers, those have to be paid at the statutory rate, effectively reducing the mechanical royalty to the artist even further.

As a useful example, we can turn to Kanye West, who posted stacks of pages from his historic record contracts on Twitter the other week.

Here’s the relevant piece on mechanical Controlled Composition royalties from a 2005 update to West’s Roc-A-Fella label contract:



With immediate effect BMG will voluntarily refrain from applying the reductions to any new record deals, as well as removing them from its entire catalog over the course of the next year.

BMG states that the move forms part of its ”ongoing program to rebalance the music industry in favor of artists and songwriters by abandoning longstanding practices designed to reduce the incomes of musicians”.

The company has now set up a taskforce headed by COO Ben Katovsky specifically tasked with improving fairness in music contracts.

Its responsibilities include BMG’s recently announced review of historic acquired record contracts for signs of racial bias.

Meanwhile, leading songwriter organizations have applauded BMG’s move, including the NMPA, Ivors Academy, NSAI and SONA.

“It is unacceptable for the record industry to continue to apply deal terms which are solely designed to reduce the incomes of musicians.”

 Hartwig Masuch, BMG

BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch (pictured main) said: “It is unacceptable for the record industry to continue to apply deal terms which are solely designed to reduce the incomes of musicians.

“We have heard a lot during the coronavirus crisis of initiatives by music companies to support artists. The best way to support artists is not to subject them to unfair terms in the first place.”

Added Masuch: “The Controlled Composition deduction is just one of a whole series of ways in which record labels have historically maximized their own profits at the expense of musicians. Eliminating this unfair practice is just the latest in a series of measures BMG is taking to make the music industry fairer to artists and songwriters.”

“We are delighted to finally get rid of the controlled composition deduction. It is an anachronism which has no place in the new music business.”

Ben Katovsky, BMG

Said Ben Katovsky: “If you know your music industry history, it’s hard to dispute the fact that music companies have had a problem with treating artists fairly.

“As the youngest of the big international companies, we were able to start from scratch and design out many of the worst aspects of the old business from our new deals. But inevitably we sometimes find examples of historic bad practice lurking in some of the catalogues we have acquired.”

“We have to be realistic – we cannot right all the wrongs of the past – but we’re going to try our damnedest. We are delighted to finally get rid of the Controlled Composition deduction. It is an anachronism which has no place in the new music business.”

“BMG deserves enormous credit for eliminating this poisonous practice… there is still enough of a physical product market for controlled composition clauses to continue to plague the songwriting community.”

David Israelite, NMPA

David Israelite, President and CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), said: “BMG deserves enormous credit for eliminating this poisonous practice.

“Controlled Composition clauses in recording contracts have been one of the most harmful things to ever happen to songwriters.

“While their impact has been minimized thanks to NMPA’s efforts to make them illegal for digital products, there is still enough of a physical product market for Controlled Composition clauses to continue to plague the songwriting community.

“This is a wonderful pro-songwriter move by BMG.”

“I welcome BMG’s determination to cease industry-sanctioned practices which uphold inequality for creators.”

Crispin Hunt, The Ivors Academy

Crispin Hunt, Chair of The Ivors Academy, which represents music creators in the UK and Ireland, said: “I welcome BMG’s determination to cease industry-sanctioned practices which uphold inequality for creators.

“The Controlled Composition clause has disadvantaged songwriters across music’s history.

“It belongs in a museum along with many other ‘tricks of the trade’. BMG’s abandonment of this regressive practice is a huge step on music’s journey to dignity. Music can’t change its past but we can change its future.”

“We salute BMG and challenge every record label to follow their lead and fully eliminate controlled composition immediately.”

Bart Herbison, NSAI

Bart Herbison, Executive Director of Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), said: “BMG ending the Controlled Composition clause in the company’s recording contracts is important, laudable and something that other record labels should embrace.

“The songwriter community has long waged battles over this practice that some have compared to ‘theft’.

“We salute BMG and challenge every record label to follow their lead and fully eliminate Controlled Composition immediately.”

“BMG is taking a massive step forward for songwriters by removing the Controlled Composition clause from all of their recording agreements.”

Dina LaPolt, SONA

Dina LaPolt, music lawyer, activist, and co-founder of Songwriters of North America (SONA) said: “BMG is taking a massive step forward for songwriters by removing the Controlled Composition clause from all of their recording agreements.

“This clause is an antiquated and restrictive provision in virtually all recording artist deals that seek to further reduce the songwriter’s mechanical royalties which, already regulated by the government, are much lower than any other income stream in recorded music.

“I sincerely hope the other record companies follow their lead.”Music Business Worldwide

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