Billboard Country Music Summit Explores Ways Songwriters Can Thrive in the Digital Age
Billboard Country Music Summit Explores Ways Songwriters Can Thrive in the Digital Age

Portishead
Digital Domain: Moderator: Tom Roland, Billboard: Barton Herbison, Executive Director of the Nashville Songwriters Assn. International (NSAI); Rhett Akins, Songwriter and Artist; and Artist Linda Edell Howard, Entertainment Lawyer, Adams and Reese LLP; Ben Vaughn, Executive VP/GM, EMI Music Publishing/Nashville; Andrew P. Kintz, CFP, Managing Director, SunTrust Bank; Dallas Davidson, Artis and Songwriter (Photo: Beth Gwinn)

The impact of piracy on the income of country songwriters and publishers was an ever-present theme throughout the songwriting panel at Billboard's Country Music Summit (the panel's full title is "Songwriters: Win Lose or Draw? Content Creation in the New Digital Marketplace (What You Have to Know & How to Get There)"). But increased avenues for song usage and new legislation to combat piracy were citing as bright spots in a challenging industry.

"I'm surprised anybody has a hit song and gets paid," said Bart Herbison, executive director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). "Twenty nine out of 30 songs are stolen due to piracy."

Hit songwriter Rhett Akins noted that during the 1990s, when major artists like Garth Brooks and Shania Twain were selling millions of albums, "You could have a song on that CD and make a living with a song that never went to radio," he said. "Now it's hard to get a songwriting deal if you're not getting songs on the radio because the amount of sales doesn't add up to enough for your publisher to keep you around."

Ben Vaughn, executive VP/GM of EMI Music Publishing Nashville, said his company has fewer writers on their roster. "We're more focused," he said, later noting that publishers expected their songwriters to work hard at their craft. "Any professional songwriter who has quota issues needs to do something else."

Akins said he has no problem working hard, often scheduling multiple writing sessions in one day and doing it for several days at time. On the edge of burnout recently, he nearly said he nearly cancelled a writing appointment, but decided to keep it and the last song he wrote that day was cut by new BNA Record artist Tyler Farr.

When an audience member tweeted a question asking how writers could gain credibility, Akins and frequent co-writer Dallas Davidson both touted the benefits of working hard at the craft and networking. "Go in a room and bring it," Akins said. "Write your butt off. Then [your co-writer] will tell somebody who will tell somebody."

Andrew P. Kintz, CFP, managing director of SunTrust Bank agreed, noting that his bank has staffers attending Music Row functions listening for artists and writers who are generating buzz and could be prospective customers. "We're excited when we hear people in the community are excited," he noted.

Herbison says there's new legislation on the horizon, the IP Enforcement Act, which will enable Internet service providers to remove sites engaged in illegal downloading. "ISPs are going to be policing themselves," he says. "We won't have to sue."

Entertainment lawyer Linda Edell Howard of Adams & Reece LLP says things are getting better in many respects for writers and publishers, and cited the fact that 13 years ago 100% of all music used in karaoke was pirated, not 90% is compensated.

"It took lawsuits and it took the community realizing it was valuable," she said. "I know publishers that have made millions from karaoke songs."

Check out all of our coverage from the 2011 Billboard Country Music Summit right here!