Do The Write Thing.

MBW Views is a series of op/eds from eminent music industry people… with something to say. The following comes from Merck Mercuriadis (pictured), the founder and CEO of Hipgnosis Song Management. Mercuriadis’ words are published on the morning of the day (May 18) of the Ivor Novellos, the UK’s annual awards ceremony celebrating songwriters and their music.

I’m saddened not to be at The Ivors today as I’ve been grounded in Los Angeles by the great Dr. Joe Sugarman due to a nasty ear infection. It’s disappointing as this is the most important day of the year (along with the Songwriters Hall Of Fame) in the music calendar. It’s the day that we celebrate songwriters – the people without whom there is no music business.

Everything in our industry starts with and revolves around the work of the songwriter. Most especially, there is no recorded music business without the songwriter delivering great songs first.

Despite this, songwriters do not get the recognition they deserve and remain the lowest-paid people in music’s economic equation. Any opportunity to shout about them from the rooftops and honour them must be embraced – hence this note.

On this greatest of days (on par with Christmas and Arsenal – eventually! – winning the league again!) I’m delighted to celebrate these incredible songwriters and their iconic songs; Hipgnosis’ own Nile Rodgers, Dave Stewart, Jack Antonoff et al will be lighting up my phone while I cheer everyone on from afar. Five hours or so of well-deserved celebration, but then we have to get back to the reality of a statement that I’ve been making almost every day since I started Hipgnosis, “SONGWRITERS MUST GET PAID MORE”.

It’s a statement that no one in our industry can argue with, a statement that has resonated more and more over the last five years, and a statement that is echoed across the music publishing and songwriting communities.

It has helped bring change and it has momentum.

As a result we’ve made some very positive movement both in the US – with CRB III and IV – and around the globe.

In the United States, we have a position of stability for the next five years – at the highest rates paid to songwriters to date – in the evolution of the streaming economy. We are now working towards improving the songwriters’ share of the streaming revenue ‘pie’ yet further and, eventually, getting to a free market.

I believe even our friends in recorded music ultimately agree that change is needed. When Warner Music Group CEO, Robert Kyncl, quite rightly says that “an Ed Sheeran stream is not worth the same as a stream of rain falling on a roof“, I’m pretty sure he also means that an Ed Sheeran-written song – particularly those co-written with amazing songwriters like Johnny McDaid, Amy Wadge, Benny Blanco and so many others – is worth more than just any other song.

“We are now working towards improving the songwriters’ share of the streaming revenue ‘pie’ yet further and, eventually, getting to a free market.”

No one benefits more from the work of great songwriters and their hit songs than the recorded music companies who, thanks to the buoyant streaming economy, have billions of dollars flooding through to them on a monthly basis – and the best years in their histories in front of them. But we have to work together so that we can look forward to a future that has not only the DSPs and recorded music companies at the negotiating table but also songwriters, publishers and artists to agree fair and equitable terms for all.

It should not be left to legislation to decide what crumbs from the ‘streaming pie’ go to the songwriter. If how a songwriter is going to get paid is determined by legislation, then the entire streaming economy should be determined by legislation.

More appropriately, if how recorded music companies are paid is determined by a free market then how songwriters are paid should also be also determined by the same free market.

When you see recent thoughtless statements made by IMPALA it’s no wonder that one of the many valid reasons the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is striking is they don’t want their members to end up like songwriters. Per the New York Times: “The last thing we need is for film and television to become like the music industry, another creative field disrupted by the internet and tech money, where the middle class has been hollowed out while risk has been pushed from the companies onto the artists themselves. The WGA’s fight isn’t just about keeping writers employed but about maintaining the health of the entire ecosystem that makes our industry run and keeps the supply of quality film and television flowing for viewers around the world.”

In the UK’s Premier League, an estimated 71% of all revenues go to the players; in the NBA and MLB it’s 50%, and it’s 48% in the NFL. Live Nation‘s Michael Rapino and AEG’s Jay Marciano are generally paying their major and superstar artists 100% of the gate.

Who can guess the percentage songwriters get from the overall music business?

“Ultimately the WGA strike is not just a fight for screenwriters; it’s a tone-setter for all writers, and foretells a prophecy of what’s to come in the music business.”

Ultimately the WGA strike is not just a fight for screenwriters; it’s a tone-setter for all writers, and foretells a prophecy of what’s to come in the music business as we strive, for the first time ever, to have a healthy ecosystem of our own that truly reflects and honours the role of the songwriter.

I know that everyone will walk away from today’s Ivors feeling great about being in the music business, having celebrated these wonderful people that write the songs that make our world go round.

It’s time we acknowledged that not just with awards and platitudes but with more money.

It’s time to do the write thing.Music Business Worldwide

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