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Songwriting royalties for session players?
Old 29th August 2012
  #1
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Joe Haze's Avatar
 

Songwriting royalties for session players?

One of the artists I am currently producing just called me asking about song writing royalties regarding session players.

In my experience session player are paid an agreed rate in a “work for hire” capacity and own no part of the song or royalties of any type. In some cases a player may contribute a significant musical contribution and wish negotiate partial ownership of the song with the artist.

In this situation years ago my artist wrote a couple songs,
I am defining (wrote) as lyrics and basic chord structures (on the piano). She then hired somebody to embellish on the chord structures (connecting melodic bits) “work for hire” composer?

She then paid him a session rate to play the songs in the studio.

Years later he got wind that the songs are “going somewhere” and wants part of songwriting.

She had no contract spelling out an agreement.

Thoughts on this?
Old 29th August 2012
  #2
The session player has no case.
If I was asked to develop someone else's material I would come to some firm agreement ahead of time. After the fact it's hard to prove who did what.
Having said that, it's in the gift of any artist to give a credit to someone who went the extra mile. Agree a point with someone who helped make the song what it is. Many artists do just that.
Hard to know what your artist should do in that regard, without knowing the circumstances intimately.
Old 29th August 2012
  #3
Gear Head
 
Mark Kano's Avatar
SoundExchange - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The soundexchange website is down at the moment for some reason, but this is a non profit organization that collects royalties for the musicians who play on sound recordings. In other countries artists are paid both a royalty for the composition, as well as for the performance on a recording. Not so for commercial radio in the US. There is legislation I believe that is trying to change this, but I am not up to date on where it stands.

The session player is not owed any songwriter royalties unless he contributed to the actual composition of the song... i.e. lyrics, melody, chord changes. It sounds like this is something that should have been addressed at the time of writing or shortly thereafter. Typically arrangements do not count towards writing, nor do guitar solos, creative bass slapping etc.

Your client should probably register the sound recording with soundexchange and list the players who appeared on the songs. They will need to negotiate percentages of course. Right now I believe only college radio and internet streams pay this type of royalty in the US (I could be wrong), but any juice you can squeeze out of it is worth it in my opinion. I hope this helps in some way.
Old 29th August 2012
  #4
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Joe Haze's Avatar
 

Thanks! It's one of those situations where the guy was hired as a "work for hire" composer. He improved parts around the existing chord changes, but thinks he now own a part of the song..
Old 29th August 2012
  #5
Gear Head
 
Mark Kano's Avatar
No problem. This has always been a tough area to navigate.
Old 30th August 2012
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe Haze View Post
One of the artists I am currently producing just called me asking about song writing royalties regarding session players.

In my experience session player are paid an agreed rate in a “work for hire” capacity and own no part of the song or royalties of any type. In some cases a player may contribute a significant musical contribution and wish negotiate partial ownership of the song with the artist.

In this situation years ago my artist wrote a couple songs,
I am defining (wrote) as lyrics and basic chord structures (on the piano). She then hired somebody to embellish on the chord structures (connecting melodic bits) “work for hire” composer?

She then paid him a session rate to play the songs in the studio.

Years later he got wind that the songs are “going somewhere” and wants part of songwriting.

She had no contract spelling out an agreement.

Thoughts on this?
Your outlook on the situation is correct. Session players don't get songwriting royalties unless they actually write the song(s), which is a different matter and contract.

The person hired to embellish the original song is not a songwriter unless this was agreed on in advance, in writing, and has his name appearing on the copyright filing.

The job the session player did is titled "arranger" (not composer)*, and it's a work for hire just like any other session job. If the song is going somewhere then it would be proper courtesy to give the guy an arranger credit on the record (and possibly a tip if she's so inclined), unless of course he's being a dick about things. If he both played and arranged as two different jobs he might be entitled to a double session fee.


* - an example: I have a special arrangement of the old Elmore James classic "It Hurts Me Too", in which I added a whole jazz-blues arrangement with substitute chord changes to the original raw Delta-cum-Chicago blues tune. Despite it being a moderately drastic reworking of the harmonic structure, it does NOT entitle me to a writing credit. I am the arranger, not composer or co-writer.
Old 30th August 2012
  #7
Yup, john hit the nail on the head.

And also as a correction, Sound Exchange DOES NOT collect royalties for musicians who played on songs.

Sound Exchange collects royalties for those who own the sound recording copyright (i.e. record labels or the artist if not signed to a label).

In the US and most of the world musicians' contributions to a sound recording is a work for hire. Same thing with arrangers AND producers!!!

If the musician is union, they can be entitled to "special payments" through the union. For example, a friend of mine (who passed away a few years ago from cancer, may he RIP) was the piano player on the two big Brian Setzer CDs (Dirty Boogie and Vavoom). He told me once that because the recording session was a union session, that he's made an additional $10,000 off them in special payments, because the albums sold so many copies.

But outside of the union, musicians do not get paid any royalties whatsoever. Technically speaking the only thing that is copyrightable is the melody and lyrics. So if any musician did not create any of the melodies or any of the lyrics, then they are not a writer. This is why coming up with chords is not considered "writing". It's considered "arranging" since the chords still have to work around the copy-written material (the melody and lyrics).
Old 30th August 2012
  #8
Quote:
Originally Posted by Etch-A-Sketch View Post

In the US and most of the world musicians' contributions to a sound recording is a work for hire. Same thing with arrangers AND producers!!!
In the UK and Europe musicians are paid residuals from recordings. But all the artist has to do is notify the agencies who did what where.
Also it's normal for record producers to receive royalties. Producers on a flat fee only is somewhat unusual.
Going back to the original question. It seems like the 'session player' was more of a ghost writer, than arranger or simple part player.
It would be appropriate to credit and remunerate them if they improved the song, as it seems they have (reading between the lines). My view remains however, similar to other repliers to this thread, you really need to nail this down at the time of the work taking place, not some time later.
Old 31st August 2012
  #9
Gear Head
 
Mark Kano's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Etch-A-Sketch View Post
Yup, john hit the nail on the head.

And also as a correction, Sound Exchange DOES NOT collect royalties for musicians who played on songs.

Sound Exchange collects royalties for those who own the sound recording copyright (i.e. record labels or the artist if not signed to a label).

In the US and most of the world musicians' contributions to a sound recording is a work for hire. Same thing with arrangers AND producers!!!
Sorry if my post wasn't 100% clear on this, but yes SE does in fact pay royalties to artists and musicians who appear on recordings.. even if they do not own the master. 50% goes to the copyright owner, 45% goes to the "featured artist" (in the case of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, the Heartbreakers would also be considered a featured artist), and then lastly 5% goes to a fund that does in fact pay session musicians, musicians for hire etc. If you are an indy artist who owns your master then you would keep 95% as you own the copyright and are the featured artist. If you respect the musicians who add life to your recordings but don't have writing ability, then imho it is a great way to cut them in on royalty earnings for the physical recordings which their talents helped to create.
Old 3rd September 2012
  #10
Gear Maniac
 

It's a tough one, Joe. Speaking as someone who's a producer and a session musician, it's important in a producer capacity to direct the musician rather than just let them do what they want - a decent session musician would also let the producer guide him. Otherwise, a situation can arise where the musician may think that they've come up with a melodic line/riff that constitutes a hook, and may justifiably see themselves as being entitled to part of the songwriting royalties. That happened to me quite early on in my career as a studio player - I ended up not broaching the matter re song royalties (the song wasn't released in the end) and put it down to a relative lack of experience at the time.

In the interests of fairness, if what the musician did constituted a hook that's ended up as being integral to the track, it might be best to give them a small %. But it's interesting how they're only bothered about the issue of authorship now that something's happening with the songs...
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