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Songwriters Demand Musicians Stop Taking Credit For Their Work

By Gary Symons

TLL Editor in Chief

A group of the world’s top songwriters are launching a rebellion of sorts against “a growing number of (recording) artists” who they say are taking credit—and royalties—for songs they had no hand in writing.

Called The Pact, the group includes writers who have penned massive hits for Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, One Direction, Lorde, Michael Bublé, Shawn Mendes, and Selena Gomez, but it’s worth noting the The Pact has not named any of those artists as being part of the problem.

This week the new advocacy penned an open letter, which we’ve reprinted in its entirety below, demanding a fair share of publishing royalties and full credit for songs they’ve written. They say music labels and artists alike have used leverage to pressure songwriters into either sharing credit for songs they’ve solely written, or in some cases to sign over the songwriting credit altogether. The purpose of The Pact, they say, is to create an organized group of songwriters who will universally refuse to sign away credit or royalties for their work.

“This body of songwriters will not give publishing or songwriting credit to anyone who did not create or change the lyric or melody or otherwise contribute to the composition without a reasonably equivalent/meaningful exchange for all the writers on the song.” – The Pact

Signatories to The Pact include Justin Tranter, Emily Warren, Ross Golan, Amy Allen, Savan Kotecha, Joel Little and Victoria Monét, all of whom have penned hits with some of the world’s most popular recording artists. Tranter, who has also been outspoken on the issue on Twitter, said Emily Warren is the primary person driving the message behind The Pact. “Emily is the one that has really led the charge here so this moment can actually happen,” Tranter said.

Together, the group says they and other future signatories to The Pact will simply refuse to give up their rights to songs they write.

“Over the last few years, there has been a growing number of artists that are demanding publishing on songs they did not write,” The Pact says in their open letter. “These artists will go on to collect revenue from touring, merchandise, brand partnerships, and many other revenue streams, while the songwriters have only their publishing revenue as a means of income. This demand for publishing is often able to happen because the artist and/or their representation abuse leverage, use bully tactics and threats, and prey upon writers who may choose to give up some of their assets rather than lose the opportunity completely. Over time, this practice of artists taking publishing has become normalized; and until now, there has been no real unity within the songwriting community to fight back.

“That is why we have decided to join together, in support of each other, and make a change.”

The practice is an old one, and unlike the newer disputes over payments from streaming services to musicians, it dates back to the days of Elvis Presley, whose manager Colonel Tom Parker typically insisted that Elvis get a co-writing credit on the songs he recorded. Naturally, many songwriters agreed, since Elvis was highly likely to turn the song into a hit, and sharing half the proceeds made more sense than earning all of the revenue from a song that never made it on to the Billboard charts.
But the issue has heated up over the years, as changes to the music industry have left both musicians and songwriters grappling with a sharp reduction in revenue due to the payment scheme under streaming agreements. Typically, those agreements see the music labels picking up 82 per cent of the revenue, leaving only 18 per cent for the artist.

In a somewhat unrelated debate, musicians are arguing that streaming should be considered more like a play of their song on a radio station, in which case they would received 50 per cent of the revenue, rather than the 18 per cent they would get from a record sale. In the United States, however, streaming services like Amazon and Spotify don’t agree with the principle that musicians should get a larger share of the pie, and have even launched a court challenge to oppose a proposed pay increase for both songwriters and publishers.

For now, songwriters say the situation is so bad, they literally can’t make a living. British songwriter Fiona Bevan told the DCMS Select Committee in the UK that she can barely stay afloat financially, despite being a highly successful writer, having written hits for One Direction, Lewis Capaldi, and Kylie Minogue, among others. For example, she co-wrote the song ‘Little Things‘ with Ed Sheeran, which went on to become a number one hit for One Direction. She told the committee she earned only £100 (about $137 in today’s US dollars) for co-writing the song ‘Unstoppable‘ on the Number One Kylie Minogue hit album Disco.

“The most successful songwriters in the world can’t pay their rent,” said Bevan. “Right now, hit songwriters are driving Ubers. It’s quite shameful.”

The songwriters say the issue should also be a major concern for the music industry itself, because songwriters who can’t make a living eventually stop writing songs.

“If we take the song out of the music industry, there is no music industry,” the open letter concluded. “As of today, 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. We are all in this together, and we all need each other for this wheel to keep turning. So let’s start acting like it.”

THE FULL TEXT OF THE PACT’S OPEN LETTER IS BELOW:
To whom it may concern:

The beauty of the music industry is that it operates at its best as an ecosystem. Behind most songs, there is a story of collaboration. By the time of release, a song has been touched not just by the artist, but by songwriters, producers, mixers, engineers, record labels, publishers, managers and more.

Over the last few years, there has been a growing number of artists that are demanding publishing on songs they did not write. These artists will go on to collect revenue from touring, merchandise, brand partnerships, and many other revenue streams, while the songwriters have only their publishing revenue as a means of income. This demand for publishing is often able to happen because the artist and/or their representation abuse leverage, use bully tactics and threats, and prey upon writers who may choose to give up some of their assets rather than lose the opportunity completely. Over time, this practice of artists taking publishing has become normalized; and until now, there has been no real unity within the songwriting community to fight back.

That is why we have decided to join together, in support of each other, and make a change. What we are saying is this:

This body of songwriters will not give publishing or songwriting credit to anyone who did not create or change the lyric or melody or otherwise contribute to the composition without a reasonably equivalent/meaningful exchange for all the writers on the song.

To be clear – this action is being taken for two main purposes. First and foremost, we hope that this action will protect the future “us”, the next generation of songwriters – those who believe they have no leverage and no choice but to give up something that is rightly theirs. The second purpose is to shift the rhetoric and perspective surrounding the role of a songwriter. As songwriters, we are fully aware of the importance of the artist who goes on to perform and promote the songs we write, the role of the producer who takes the song to the finish line, and the role of the label that finances the project and plans for strategy and promotion. In light of that, we are not suggesting we dip into those revenue streams, we are not asking for something we don’t deserve. We are simply asking for that respect in return. We are simply asking that the ecosystem stay in balance; we are simply asking that we not be put in positions where we are forced to give up all we have in exchange for nothing; we are simply asking that we give credit where credit is due and only take credit where credit is earned.

If we take the song out of the music industry, there is no music industry. As of today, 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. We are all in this together, and we all need each other for this wheel to keep turning. So let’s start acting like it.

Sincerely,

The Pact

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