What’s worth more, the song or the recording?


What’s worth more, the song or the recording?

The rights answer is, “It’s a tie.” But that’s not currently how these siblings are treated.

As rates are debated over a variety of digital mediums, a light is shone on the fact that depending on the type of transmission, we have cases where the song (and songwriter) is paid something and the recording (and performing artist) nothing (i.e. terrestrial radio) and other cases where the recording is paid much more than the song (i.e. digital streaming).

When I was in DC for Grammys on the Hill, the concepts of “one music” and “equity” were thrown around. As an industry, we now need to put our money where our mouths are. If indeed we believe in these catch phrases, the answer is very simple.

Publishers and record labels have a chance to work together towards increasing the overall top line number and then share the results equally, regardless of distribution medium. This is how we’ve always operated in the synchronization environment, and this logic needs to be applied across the board. If we as “one industry” can get 55% - 60% from Pandora, if this is the number deemed appropriate after negotiations, then the song and recording should split that evenly. Similarly, if we can get 10% - 15% from terrestrial radio, this too should be split evenly between recording and song. Additionally, the money should flow from the service to the label and to the publisher in parallel, not through the label and then a portion to the publisher. The song and the recording should be treated equally. Who’s to say whether the writer or artist added “the most” value to the resulting work? It’s impossible. It is a symbiotic relationship. Was it Frank or Sammy, Billy Mann or Pink, Dr. Luke or Katy Perry? It was both. One without the other would remove the magic.

As is always the case in life, most complex issues can be boiled down to playground rules. If there are two kids and one swing, they share it. Most kids do this on their own. The government rarely has to step in. I watch my 7 year old “share and be fair.’

Can’t we in the music business remember these simple rules? We will all be better off if we do.

- Richard Stumpf, CEO Atlas Music Publishing. Richard has held positions on the label, publishing, and new media sides of the industry.