I had the privilege to moderate a panel last week at South by Southwest (SXSW) with Money Mark, Ted Leo, and Rebecca Gates on the need for the music industry to look to our artists and songwriters for leadership as we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of creativity and commerce. I began my career in music as a songwriter and performing artist with my group Bratmobile and since then have participated in nearly every corner of the industry, with the good fortune to have worked with amazing artists, songwriters, labels, publishers, music services and trade organizations. A recurring theme throughout has been the need for artists and songwriters to be more at the center of the decisions our industry is facing, particularly as the landscape of revenues has shifted dramatically in recent years.
The conversation we had at SXSW was nothing short of inspiring. Artists like Mark, Rebecca, and Ted have forged unconventional paths in their careers, taking risks and holding true to their personal values while making a sometimes consistent, sometimes inconsistent effort at having music be the primary source of their livelihoods. Money Mark was a collaborator with The Beastie Boys - writing, touring and recording with them since 1992's “Check Your Head”, but always wrote, recorded and released his own albums, which are amazing. He had the foresight to negotiate reversion rights into his contracts, allowing him to gain control over his masters which has proven to be particularly valuable in today’s environment. Listening to Mark speak about his approach to his craft, learning and mastering every instrument he could as well as studio engineering and production, should serve as an inspiration to every creator looking to control their destiny and have as many opportunities in music possibly available.
Rebecca Gates is one of the most gifted singers and songwriters I’ve ever heard and I’ll never forget the first time I saw her. She was not performing yet, but was the manager for Portland indie-rock group, The Dharma Bums, and, seeing her work the promoter and the merch table at the WOW Hall in Eugene, Oregon, was something I’d never witnessed before. When she started her own group, The Spinanes, I toured with her while playing drums for my friend Lois. After every show, Rebecca would record every financial entry into a ledger book (OK, I’ve just dated myself, this was before the ubiquity of mobile phones and even laptops!) carefully reconciling the books to properly account all the income and expenses. Also known as running a business. Many of my peer bands were not so concerned with such matters and this left a lasting impression on me. Taking oneself seriously encourages others to take you seriously as well. One of the most resonating ideas Rebecca shared was how she has dipped in and out of making music and gained inspiration from other creative and business disciplines as well as through her work with the Future of Music Coalition and her specific advocacy work in behalf of artists. The FMC report on artists’ revenue streams was the first of its kind and continues to serve as a reference for the industry and the constantly changing climate for artists.
Ted Leo’s passion is infectious and as noted in the LA Times -- “Survival in music, requires a "perpetual curiosity to actually learn about what's happening, a curiosity that almost makes it fun to figure out the approaching challenges." Ted’s perpetual curiosity and passion for justice has fueled his craft and work ethic since he started his career way back in high school. The values nurtured in punk rock communities have inspired countless artists to make business and creative decisions that follow their passions and hearts - often against the tide of the industry or convention. These paths may be more challenging, but the rewards can exist in multiple forms. There were lessons of caution though - what is sustainable for one's career might impact other areas of life. Nothing is one-size-fits-all for any artist.
Risk-taking, autonomy, values, mission -- are all things that these three and many other songwriters hold high when they make decisions about their careers. We’re so proud that Songtrust is an option for creators to maintain control of their songwriting copyrights and offers the most flexible and technologically forward option in the publishing rights landscape. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with artists of caliber and integrity as we evolve our company and consider the creator at the center of our mission.
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We created this guide to answer a simple question: How do songwriters support themselves?
The answer is not as simple as we’d like, but our goal is to make it as clear, transparent and understandable as we possibly can.
Songtrust is more than just a rights management platform and publishing administrator - we’re a team of experts in the music community who strive to educate, support, and provide thought leadership to creators, representatives, and businesses across the music industry.
Our hope is that you’ll finish this guide with an better understanding of the business behind songwriting and have actionable resources to help you be successful.