The Importance of Agreements between Collaborative Songwriters

 

For many songwriters and composers, music creation is fueled purely by their love of the art-form. No surprise then that many do not take the time after collaborating on musical works to iron out and agree to ownership rights, control rights and  revenue splits.

Perhaps it’s because most creatives tend to shy away from the business side of things; or maybe they think agreements between collaborative writers are too complex for them to handle. Whatever the reason or the thinking, if you’re a composer or songwriter, failing to set agreements about ownership and revenue splits could mean major trouble in the future!

According to Entertainment lawyer, Wallace E. J. Collins III, considering the myriad issues that can arise, devising and signing off a copyright and ownership agreement is highly recommended. Collins explains that in the absence of a written agreement, under current case law concerning both copyright and partnership law, two or more collaborators are generally deemed to share equally on a pro-rata basis. This he says, may be so, even if it is clear that the contributions of the authors were not equal, since the Courts generally prefer not to make decisions about the value of each author’s contribution to a copyright. Alternatively, music co-writers can divide copyright ownership in whatever portion they determine by establishing a written agreement.

Outside of a determination of the song’s copyright ownership and revenue share, Wallace adds that the written agreement can also be utilized to determine who will handle the administration rights of the work. He notes that generally most songwriters prefer that there is separate administration among the various writers and their respective publishing companies, whereby each author retains control over their respective share of the copyright. Wallace explains that in this way, each writer is able to retain some control over what happens with the song, the scope of the license and the amount charged.

As it relates to US copyright law, Wallace explains that each joint copyright owner can exploit the song and also grant non-exclusive licenses to third parties, subject to the duty to account to the co-writers for any money that is generated. Additionally he notes that each writer could transfer all or some of their respective share of the copyright to another party without affecting the ownership interests of other co-writers in the copyright. Further he states that unless this is expressed in a written agreement signed by all parties, no one writer can grant an exclusive license nor transfer copyright ownership in the entire song without the written permission of each co-writer.

These are the kind of issues which Wallace says can be addressed in a written collaboration agreement. He notes that there are endless variations depending on the circumstances, and that the written collaboration agreement can be tailored to suit the needs and wants of the parties involved.  For example, he notes that each author could retain his or her share of revenues and ownership, but grant the administration rights to one party, thereby rendering the synchronization licensing process more seamless, as it is usually more convenient for one party to have the right to grant license and to collect and divide all of the income.

And Wallace says, there is no need for the written agreement to be complex. It can be as simple as a pie chart drawing made on a napkin at a dinner after the writing session, signed by all parties he offers! Alternatively it could take the form of a more structured writer’s agreement. The main factors to consider is that the agreement speaks to copyright, revenue and control splits, and that it is signed by all parties.

 

Reference:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/songwriter-collaboration-co-writer-agreements-what-mean-collins-iii

 

—Post by Christine “Chrycee” Charlemagne

ECCO MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Linda “Chocolate” Berthier

black and beautifulMusic, she says, is not her career, but her lifestyle! “If I stop singing, I think I might just stop breathing,” the ever delightful Linda “Chocolate” Berthier laughs, her eyes burning with passion.

Born to a musical family, Chocolate’s childhood bedtimes was filled with the sweet strains of the acoustic guitar, with her father strumming the instrument. She grew up listening to the great classics from the Commodores, to Frank Sinatra Earth Wind and Fire and countless more Gospel, and Country & Western favorites. Meanwhile Chocolate would be cozy up in her room with her trusty dual cassette player turned recorder by use of a headphone attached to the back; singing her own favorites in different harmonies, recording each to create a play back Chocolate Symphony of alto, soprano, tenor, unison and melody.

Other times she’d sit for hours with headphone on, listening and singing along to music greats like Whitney Houston, BeBe and CeCe Winans, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Paula Abdul, and John Secada’s English and Spanish songs!

Her first performance before an audience occurred when she was only five-years-old—singing before her church congregation, her very first original song to God on behalf of her who aunt was sick at the time.

Reminiscing on that experience, Chocolate recalls “I wrote it mentally in Sunday school, and the boy next to me was so irritated about my constant singing he reported me to the teacher. The loving teacher made me sing to the class and later that day to the entire congregation. I still have not recovered from that bittersweet experience!”

From there Chocolate’s musical love affair blossomed. As she grew older she continued honing her talents and craft; performing regularly at church. It wasn’t long before she graced the national stage in St Lucia and began working with prominent St Lucian and regional artists like Jeff “Pele” Elva, Ronald “Boo” Hinkson, Junior Tucker, TC Brown, Zionomi, Emrand Henry, performing duets or recording backing vocals onstage and music albums.dancehall

She admits that she was initially timid about taking the steps to recording her own originals and pushing herself as an artist. She credits her good friend Werner “Semi” Francis for giving her that push and urging her to do her own music as well.

Chocolate who wears many hats—singer, songwriter, recording artist, registered nurse, wife, mother of two adorable twins—says like her multi-faceted life, her inspiration comes from many places.

“First of all from my mother who taught me what unconditional, unwavering and spiritual love is,” she offers. “I sometimes sleep and wake up in the night with a new song in my head from start to finish; Music composed and all. I listen to other great artists and feel inspired by their drive and energy. I spend time with my higher power and get more inspiration to write, and just day-to-day experiences cause me to put pen to paper. At work when I start singing I don’t realize it until a patient or colleague makes mention of it. So I really cannot stop myself.  I can only explain it by saying that ‘Music is I and I Am Music.’ I feel the urge to add ‘Love & Music is my Religion,’” she grins, her vivacious laughter resounding in the room.

For her part, Chocolate describes her music as contemporary, music for all, with a message of love.

“It’s all about love,” she says. “Loving yourself, loving your enemies, loving life like every day is the last day. Loving the sounds and vibrations around you, through your headphones, car stereo, and music system at home. It’s about breathing in fresh fragrances of life all around seeing every day for what it is; a miracle that should not be taken for granted. Which is why, though I have had a challenging past, I smiled every day. I owe this ability to my mother because she was what I just described; A Lover of life and people regardless of the circumstances,”

She goes on: “Everyone needs love and love heals everyone in all states and phases. Whether you’re happy or sad, you can never stop hearing positive, quality, and infectious music. Scady Dot P described my voice on the ‘Yo Magazine’ as “Sultry” and I do agree. When I listen back, I couldn’t understand what others said with words like raspy, soulful but after really opening up my mind and heart to my voice, I hear that it is bleeding emotions and positive vibrations straight from my heart through my lips.”

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Chocolate considers her perspective of life and music as one of her greatest musical accomplishments. The fact that she is no longer shy and afraid to express herself musically.

“I am very happy to define my own meaning of self and my beliefs. Yes I am grateful for gaining music Awards from the Marlin Awards and St. Lucia Music awards, and encouragement from Chocoloverz (fan base aka family), I feel the greatest accomplishment is me happily pushing to achieve my educational goals (Registered Nurse, Certified Midwife, Bachelors Degree in Public Health with Honors), while still producing music that I love.”

She credits her successes to date, and her ability to wear so many hats on her natural inborn drive and what she describes as the “Stubborn ‘Yes I Can’” gene which resonates on both sides of her family, driving them to take risks to invest in their passions and to flourish.

Yet even so, Chocolate says she would have never been able to do it all had it not been for spiritual guidance, her supportive family and praying mother. “As I grow older, I am thankful for being raised in the understanding of depending on the Higher Power to take the wheel as I Co-Pilot the journey.”

Keep up to date with Chocolate’s journey:

 

—Written by Christine “Chrycee” Charlemagne

 

Understanding ECCO: Royalties

In our last blog post, we sat with General Manager of the Eastern Caribbean Collective Organization for Music Rights (ECCO) Inc. Steve Etienne, to gain an overview and insight into the operations of the collective organization. Areas such as ECCO membership, licensing, funding and royalty distributions were highlighted. Today, we delve further to better understand the factors which affect the organization’s royalty collections and pay-outs.

One concern which has resounded among members is in regards to the value of royalties they receive, premised on a belief that more can be done by ECCO to ensure their earnings are more significant. In response to those concerns Etienne explains that as a collective management organisation, ECCO falls at the back end of the music industry, with its ability to impact royalty revenue being twofold:

  • Its attempts to ensure that public music users—such as radio and TV broadcasters, promoters of live events, hotels, restaurants, etc.—obtain the necessary license and remit royalties to ECCO. An ongoing task which ECCO consistently works through sensitization efforts, notifications and legal action where necessary.
  • Maintenance of minimum expense rates.

Otherwise, Etienne notes that the factors which directly affect a member’s royalty earnings occur at the front end of the music industry and are beyond the control of the organisation. Factors, he says, such as a songwriter’s ability to write songs which are regularly performed publicly or broadcast on radio and TV.

“If your music is not popular, if you don’t perform your works, if your works are not played on radio and television stations locally or internationally then you will not reap much,” says the ECCO General Manager. He adds that while music artists have the ability to negotiate the amounts paid from their live performances, royalty receipts are governed by ticket sales, how successful the show was and the dollar amount received at the gates. This amount (royalty from the licensed event) must then be shared equally amongst all the songs that were performed at that event—songs performed live at the event by and entertainments as well as songs played by the DJs.

This Etienne says, leads to a fluctuation in the amount of royalty dividend generated per song from a licensed event.  “This can be as little as $0.20 as a dividend on one performance of a musical work.  It really depends on how much is collected as gate receipts, how many songs were played and performed at that event and how many and what shares of those performed songs belongs to a specific songwriter.”

According to Etienne, ECCO tracks songs performed at live events through physical presence at the shows to obtain and compile set lists from live performers and through receipt of logs from the prompter of the event. Further he noted that in order to improve the efficiency and accuracy of this process the organisation is currently looking into the adoption of new technology which would allow them to connect directly into the music console at an event to digitally record and log every song played.

Meanwhile, Etienne says another factor which has affected the organisation’s ability to pay-out royalties steams from the fact that to date a number of members have not completed and provided ECCO with the necessary notification of works form for their compositions. Without this form and the accompanying mp3 recording of the musical work, it is impossible to determine who should be paid. As a result, Etienne says there is a backlog of funds pending distribution. In December 2015 ECCO issued a public announcement to all members advising of those unidentifiable performances for the period 2013 to 2014, with a call for members to make arrangements to review logs to determine whether any amounts are due to them. This he says is an ongoing process and members can still contact the office in order to review this log.

Lastly, Etienne explains that as a non-profit making, unfunded organisation ECCO’s expenditure must be deducted from the funds collected. As such he explains that the funds available for distribution to songwriters—(i.e. ECCO’s local members, as well as regional and international songwriters) is the net difference of the amounts collected from licenses and the organisation’s operating expenses.

“No one funds ECCO. What it collects and what it spends determines what it can pay out to its members. That has been the major challenge in this territory because we have had to spend a lot of revenue on sensitisation of the community, legal fees and general administrative costs,” says Etienne. To demonstrate this point, he provided the example of a prominent event in Grenada which the organisation was only able to collect license fees after legal action. In this specific case, he said a significant percentage of the earnings would have to be allocated towards the litigation costs, thereby reducing the surplus revenue available for royalty dividend, as such reducing the earnings potential of each songwriter who works were performed at this specific event.

Nonetheless, despite the noted challenges, Etienne says the organization is generating growth with a positive three year forecast. This he attributes to the small team of hard working staff who are focused on ensuring that all public music users obtain the necessary license and comply with the copyright act.