Tiffany Red shines light on unfair songwriter and publishing splits

Many artists, including big names like Beyonce, have been accused of stealing undeserved and unearned publishing splits. Tiffany Red is calling them out…

by CHRIS CASTLE from Music Tech Policy

It’s, unfortunately, an old story, but that doesn’t make it right. 

One of the most underpaid creatives in our business are songwriters who “just” write songs. “Just” is an odd word to use but it’s a common way to refer to those who give artists a voice because it really does all start with the song. And as Tiffany Red says in her video, the system is simply unjust.

“The system” is what has always been called “stealing publishing”. This is when an artist or a producer (and it happens with producers but for different reasons) threatens songwriters who created a song the artist may record with not covering that song unless the artist gets a chunk of the publishing. The amount can range all over the place, but often is at least 25% of the copyright. So not only are they not entitled to song’s earnings as a financial interest, they are definitely not entitled to the copyright because they created nothing.

On top of it, songwriters often have to eat many costs in order to get the song written, demoed and pitched. (I can’t tell you the number of times the songwriter demo essentially becomes the arrangement of the final recording, so “demo” is relative.). There’s a bunch of opportunities along the way for people to write themselves into the song when all they did was a job that they were probably being paid to do anyway. I have even encountered producers whose managers demanded a piece of publishing for the producer to even listen to an artist’s demos. 

On the producer side, some producers want a piece of all publishing on the record and if they actually write they want their contributor share as a writer ON TOP of the publishing they are already stealing. Why? What possesses anyone to think they are entitled to do this? And “entitled” is exactly the right word. 

One reason they steal publishing is because the producer royalty is unlikely to even recoup the producer advance in a streaming reality unless the track is a huge hit. (Remember that a producer gets a percentage of what the artist gets, say 30%ish, and the artist gets somewhere around 50% of the fraction of a penny per stream.) This is especially true of producers who enjoyed a lifestyle in the pre-streaming era and are trying to keep it going. It’s understandable, but that doesn’t make it right. 

And remember, the songwriter isn’t getting an advance. On top of the insult of stealing publishing, the artist has no intention of paying for it because the songwriter should consider themselves lucky to get the cover–which often is a career making record for the artist opening up income streams the songwriter never participates in.

When faced with these overreaching demands, songwriters have to make some hard choices. Occasionally I get to tell the artist’s team to fuck off. More often though–as Tiffany says–songwriters acquiesce.

I think Tiffany is also hitting at a point that Merck Mercuriadis made at the last Artist Rights Symposium:

“Let’s face it—this is insulting.  If I sat down and explained to my decent Greek working class parents that this is how songwriters get paid, they’d be shocked.  If you went to your bank manager and explained how songwriters get paid, they’d be shocked.  Doctors, lawyers, everyone who has some understanding of the economics of the world or what drives an industry and what creates value for an industry would be shocked by how songwriters are paid.”

But nobody can bring the frustration home like a songwriter on the receiving end of this injustice. Watch Tiffany’s video. Take 15 minutes out of your life and watch it from beginning to end with no distractions. She’s absolutely correct that until the artists stop, until they let their team know that stealing publishing is not acceptable and if they do it they are not only not helping the artist, but they’ll be fired–then it will start to change. 

She’s right about something else, too. A songwriter shouldn’t need a gatekeeper to protect them in a situation that should not be happening in the first place. There’s a line that we all learn from parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, the line between acceptable and unacceptable treatment of other humans, right and wrong if you like although that’s a bit simplistic. Stealing publishing is wrong, stealing publishing is on the wrong side of that line. This is what I think whenever I have to deal with the situation–how do you sleep at night?

Watch the video above. It’s not a rant; it’s the truth.

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