Chart Beat Chat: Maddona, Taylor Swift, and Royalties



I write often and you answer often, I never seem to say thank you for all your replies. I also own all but one of your books (which I cannot find).

Here is my question: when an artist dies and still has an active catalog, who get the royalties? For example, the late great Laura Branigan passed a couple of years ago and yet re-issues are still coming out. He husband died a couple years before her. What happens to those royalties?

Vincent DeTiberiis

Dear Vincent,

Now you’ve got me curious which one of my books is missing from your library. “The Billboard Book of Number One Hits” and “Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits” are both in print and have been updated over the years, so I’m sure it’s not one of those. That means it would either have to be “The Billboard Book of Number One R&B Hits” (written with Adam White) or “Dick Clark’s American Bandstand” (written with Dick Clark). Both are officially out of print, but I constantly see them for sale by online booksellers. Since they are out of print, I won’t receive any royalties if you buy them, so this is not a commercial plug (at least, not for those two books).

And speaking of royalties, anyone who earns royalties or residuals, including recording artists as well as songwriters and film and television actors, writers and directors, would designate a beneficiary for those royalties or residuals. That would ensure that monies owed after one’s death would continue to go to one’s heirs or estate. One can also designate who should receive those funds in the event that one’s first choice of beneficiary passes away.

The beneficiary can be anyone – spouse, child, other relative, friend or charity, for example.


Hey Fred,

Your list of artists with the most top 20 debuts reminded me that none of Madonna's highest debuts reached the pinnacle of the Hot 100, despite the fact that she's had a dozen chart-toppers. The Beatles, Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson all reached the top with most of their top 20 debuts, and it's likely Taylor Swift and the Jonas Brothers will eventually reach No. 1 on the Hot 100, but more than half of Madonnna's top 20 debuts didn't even peak in the top five.

The Swift/Jonas trend of releasing a single each week reminds me of a similar strategy that wasn't quite as successful for the ’60s band Moby Grape. Their eponymous album is considered a classic now, but it was a commercial disappointment when released with the marketing gimmick of promoting all tracks as singles simultaneously.

Of course, this was long before the refined media saturation of the digital age, and none of the members of Moby Grape were as young and photogenic as Taylor, her ex, and his brothers, so those are factors to consider as well.

Happy Holidays,

Vince Ripol
San Diego, Calif.