Music Business

‘Elderly and drifting towards homeless’ – Hit songwriter’s plight illustrates devastating economics of songwriting in 2022

Chris Castle shares the plight of Hugh Prestwood whose songwriting income was “destroyed by the massive change in the economics of songwriting that split apart the album format with no commensurate increase in songwriter royalties” and the inspiring GoFund me campaign to save them.

UPDATE: While far from solving the underlying problem, the GoFundMe campaign to help Hugh Prestwood and his wife has raised $102,706 to date including significant donations from hit Nashville songwriters Dallas Davidson, Craig Wiseman, Kylly Lovelace and Luke Laird and country star Randy Travis who had a #1 hit with Prestwood’s Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart.

Read Prestwood’s impressive songwriting credits below.

By Chris Castle from Artist Rights Watch

If you ever thought we were too aggressive in our campaign to end the 15 year freeze on statutory royalties for physical, consider the situation of songwriter Hugh Prestwood and his wife, photojournalist Judy Ahrens. Songwriters and photographers are two occupations that are devastated by the digital blight that has visited apocalyptic devastation on creators.

As Hugh says in their GoFundMe page, his songwriting income was destroyed by the massive change in the economics of songwriting that split apart the album format with no commensurate increase in songwriter royalties. Songs became a major driver of wealth for hardware manufacturers and Internet providers (remember dancing cows chanting rip, mix, burn?) in the 2000s, and streaming drives wealth for catalogs and platforms. The doubling effect of Moore’s Law imposes a halving effect on creator royalties. Hugh and Judy are living proof of what happens to an aging population of creators who could not have possibly planned around the digital blight–other than learning to code, I guess.

Of course we want to encourage readers to contribute what you can to Hugh and Judy’s GoFundMe, but we also want to make a larger point. 

The Copyright Royalty Judges need to understand that there are real consequences to real people when they freeze mechanical royalties. While the Judges are not responsible for all the harms that accrue to songwriters in the rigged statutory licensing and royalty scheme, they do play a part and they can make a difference. Songwriters may not expect the Judges to fix their problems, but they do expect them not to make it worse. Freezing rates for 15 years makes it worse.

The Judges should also understand that they have an opportunity to do something to add fairness back into the system that the Judges effectively control. Creators like Hugh and Judy will never appear in their courtroom alongside the well-heeled lobbyists and lawyers who make millions off of the rate proceedings and the black box in what has become a laughingstock. 

Congress, too, needs to listen up. It is well past time for a songwriter advocate to be a permanent part of the Copyright Royalty Board proceedings for mechanical royalty rate settings. A songwriter advocate would speak for people like Hugh and Judy. As Linda said of Willie Lohman in Death of a Salesman, “Attention must be paid.” I’m not asking that songwriters should be able to overrule the lobbyists, although that’s not a bad idea.

But at least hear them out before they’re all gone.

Hugh Prestwood’s bio and songwriting credits

(Wikipedia) Hugh Loring Prestwood (born April 2, 1942) is a Hall of Fame American songwriter, whose work is primarily in country music.[1] He was discovered by Judy Collins, who gave him his first hit “Hard Time for Lovers”, which was recorded in 1978. Prestwood has written number one songs for Randy Travis” Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart”, which won BMI’s Robert J. Burton award for Country Song of the Year.[2] Prestwood’s song, “The Song Remembers When”, recorded by Trisha Yearwood, was picked as the Nashville Songwriters Association’s Song of the Year and also won a Prime Time Emmy for “Outstanding Achievement in Music and Lyrics.

Other artists who have recorded his material include Shenandoah and Alison Krauss (“Ghost in This House“), Highway 101 (“Bing Bang Boom“), Barbara Mandrell (“Where are the Pieces of My Heart”), John Conlee, Tanya Tucker, Don Williams, The Judds, James Taylor and Jerry Douglas.[3] Michael Johnson has recorded or performed over a dozen Prestwood-penned songs; his recordings That’s ThatMichael Johnson, and Departure each feature multiple Prestwood songs.[4] Prestwood is also known for his song “Asking Us to Dance,” which originally appeared on Kathy Mattea‘s album Time Passes ByJimmy Buffett recorded “Savannah Fare You Well”, on his Far Side of the World album.

Three of Prestwood’s songs have been nominated for Grammys in the “Best Performance” category:

“Sound Of Goodbye” performed by Crystal Gayle. “Hard Rock Bottom Of Your Heart” performed by Randy Travis. “Ghost In This House” performed by Shenandoah.

In 2006, along with Jimmy Buffett and Jim Weatherly, Prestwood was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.

For over 20 years he taught Advanced Songwriting at Manhattan’s New School.

Most recently, the English recording artist Rumer released her album, Nashville Tears – The Songs of Hugh Prestwood (2020). All 15 tracks of this album were written by Prestwood.[5]

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