About Music & Lyrics (copyright and royalties)

Ok I’m not the best person to ‘advise’ on this, just wanna share what I know from the making of my album. For model answers, please go to www.compass.org.sg

First off, it’s always easier to come up with an album with songs written by yourself, with 100% of the rights belonging to you. Why? Because for instance, if you are signed on to a music publisher, and you sell your song to say a Taiwan/Chinese artiste, it is such that you have to split the ‘profit’ i.e. royalties from the sale of a song, 50-50, 60-40 or 70-30 depending on how you negotiate with the music publisher. If you are signed to a music publisher, and you want to come up with a DIY album of your own songs, they are entitled to draw that particular 30-50% of royalties, well unless you are on good terms with your publisher, and they are willing to waive or reduce it on goodwill.

Yes, for my album, the royalties will come back to me, but at least I do not need to ‘pay out’ first. And trust me, if it’s DIY, we’re not really thinking about real returns from royalties unless the radio stations play your songs all day all night long and people volunteer to do music videos for you so other people can sing your songs at karaoke outlets. KTV, TV drama serials and radioplay are where the real royalties come in, not CD sales (at least not anymore). For the different kinds of royalties, click here.

People have asked me, if you do not write your own songs and hence have to outsource for composers and lyricists, how much should you pay them? In all honestly, I think $300 per song (per music melody, or lyrics) is minimum. Hence outsourcing for a complete song can cost up to minimum $600. But note that it’s a one-time sell-off, i.e. the composers or lyricists are not entitled to anymore share of royalties after the transaction. It is important to have an agreement on this before the transaction, and put it down in black and white.

Recently somebody put a scenario to me: If she came up with the concept for a song, and even wrote the English lyrics (or parts of it), but asked someone to write in the whole concept in Chinese, is she entitled to a part of the copyright (and hence royalty)? Unfortunately, the answer is no…because eventually the lyricist is the one who has to come up with the Chinese words and use his/her skills to string them down into a song. Well, unless you are able to convince the lyricist and come to an agreement with him/her that you deserve some credit for the input of the concept. At the end of it, there are no hard and fast rules if you’re on good terms with your working partners.

So if you have the ability to write yourself, it’s always the best. And what if you really want to do a cover song?

As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to pay royalties to the songwriters. For instance, the writers of the French classic La Vie En Rose are French, even though very much afar and very much dead, I still need to pay the music publishers (in France). What you need to do is to email ALL the major music publishers in Singapore, and see who handles the administration of the copyright for that particular song. In Singapore for this song, it’s Peermusic , which had kindly made it very easy for me to include this song in the album. It’s important how many copies you’re printing, and which region you’re distributing to, because it affects the amount of royalty you need to pay upfront to the publisher. In my case, for 1000 copies and for distribution in Singapore, it’s way below $500 (not sure if I can put the real amount here, so I’ll just give a range).

One other thing a lot of people may not be aware of is, IF you put up YOUR OWN music online (i.e. on your own website), you need to apply for a music license (new media licensing on an annual basis) from COMPASS. I paid a hefty amount for it, though assured that the main bulk of the money will come back to me (since I wrote most of the songs). Well well (sulk). Do check with COMPASS for more information on that.

Hope the above helps. If you have experiences which differ from mine, leave a comment!

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