The business of songwriting

This post is a contribution from Tom Bibey, one of our 2010 IBMA correspondents. You can see his profile here.

I attended an IBMA songwriter business conference Tuesday morning. David Crow, a Nashville attorney who specializes in entertainment law, Nashville songwriter Larry Shell, and Tim Stafford of Blue Highway were among the panelists. The seminar was titled “Follow The Money: Songwriter Royalties and the Real World.”

Several pearls: Even if you are a hobbyist, you need to document your work with one or more agencies that track music play lists. Another easy way to be notified of any use of your material is to register it with Google Alerts, and the song then will show up in your email if it sees some electronic traffic.

Even though you might suspect the subtitle could be: “How to get your money and not resort to breaking anyone’s leg,” the panelists emphasized the importance of solid personal relationships with business associates as the foundation for transparency in royalty statements. Larry Shell is a veteran who has seen it all twice, but has done deals on a handshake when he knows the commitment is a solid one. At the same time, he recommends you read your contractual arrangements with care, and seek good counsel for any questions.

Tim Stafford said he always takes notice when regional and local bands call him to be sure they have handled the credits for the use of his songs correctly. As hard as it is for artists to survive these days, you can be sure they don’t forget when folks call them from out of the blue to deal with them with integrity.

I was impressed music law could be a complicated business, and came away convinced any artist who purses their craft beyond the serious amateur level (which I loosely define as anything more than 1,500 to 2,000 units of their product) should establish a relationship with a intellectual property rights expert like Mr. Crow. As in all other aspects of life, the music biz has become tricky to navigate, and I want all the good advice I can get.