Ross Golan: With Music Modernization Act Passed, Here's What Songwriters Should Do Next (Op-Ed)

Matty Vogel
Ross Golan

The songwriter and host of the 'And the Writer Is...' podcast lays out his agenda for greater rights in the music industry.

The worst cancer in the mind of a songwriter is to think the way the music industry was and the way the music industry is, is the way the the music industry has to be. 

We've been getting screwed by the music industry and government for 110 years. We've been getting screwed since Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States and before Edison first recorded sound on a wax cylinder. So this appeal by the DSPs shouldn't be news to us. 

It's not that the previous five generations of songwriters didn't try to change the laws. It was just that out of nowhere, a generation raised on LimeWire, Napster and The Pirate Bay... a generation that destroyed record stores... a generation of disorganized songwriters and artists... you know, the ones that are still not allowed to legally unionize... well it's that generation, with one tweet, one post, one graphic, one phone call, one email at a time that took control of its collective future. That generation passed the most comprehensive music legislation in 109 years. We are that generation!

We, the songwriting community, have entered into a golden era of communication and transparency. We organized like never before and we are still organized. We fought like never before and we still fight for fairness. We intimidated like never before and we are stronger than ever. 

We took down a half a trillion dollar hedge fund, a number of senators with special interests and a multi-billion dollar digital radio station and in return got an unanimous vote in both the house and the senate for the Music Modernization Act. That's 100% of Democrats and 100% of Republicans standing in support of the future for songwriters and artists. 

That's what our generation did. 

And these are things that our generation should still do! 

I say we should demand the following:

Record Labels: Need to provide a living wage for songwriters. If you want the right to be the first to release our music then pay us for it! I'm asking for an advance of $4,550 per song to hold for a renewable term of six months for the exclusive right to release our songs first. That $4,550 is the mechanical royalty equivalent of 50,000 units sold, to be split equally among the writers, not including the artist. Advance our mechanicals like you advance producer royalties. Record labels don't have to pay for manufacturing, distribution or breakage. There is no legitimate excuse for labels to be in the golden era of their industry and to not compensate songwriters. You don't buy us plaques anymore, you can use those savings to buy us food. I guarantee the label that steps up first will get the songs first. 

Publishers: Need to provide access to affordable E&O insurance. For those who don't know what that is: Errors and Omissions insurance protects you if someone claims you've stolen their intellectual property. This would all but eliminate the need to preemptively give publishing to unintended interpolations and would free up cash flow in the event of litigation. I guarantee the publisher that steps up first will get the songs first. 

Performance Rights Organizations: Need to provide healthcare for qualifying songwriters. With 1.2 million members of ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR, there is no reason other than complexities to not use that collective power to take care of the health of your writers. Perhaps both Publishers and Record Labels should help subsidize this initiative. After all, a healthy songwriter writes better songs than a sick one and a songwriter with a healthy family writes better songs than a writer with a sick one. I guarantee the PRO that steps up first will get the songs first. 

The Grammys: Need to revisit qualification for the album of the year to be all participants, not just those who wrote, produced or recorded the minimum of 33% or more of an album. That just shows a gross misunderstanding of how albums are made in the 21st century. Why does Kacey Musgraves have to stand on stage for album of the year without the people who wrote the songs that got nominated for song and record of the year? You know, when we fought for getting songwriters added to the album of the year category, a NARAS member said, 'What next, the caterers?' Well, your caterers got your CLASSICS Act passed. You're welcome. There's a new sheriff at NARAS and we welcome her to be our friend. Do the right thing. 

NSAI and SONA and the other trade organizations: Together we changed the world. It's time to centralize our efforts as much as legally possible. I guarantee the united trade organizations that step up first will get the songs first. 

Now, before I end. I don't want to just complain about injustices in our industry! I don't want to lose sight of what a songwriter's goal is: Write great songs. That's one way to get paid more, write the best song you've ever written. You wanna be professional. Act professional. Stay focused and beat your best song. Songwriting is not a game. It's a discipline. Be a soldier for your community. 

Because as I said in October when the MMA passed: We are not ASCAP or BMI or SESAC. We are not UMG or Warner or Sony. We are not major or indie. We are not artists or fans. We are the music army!

Ross Golan is a songwriter and host of the And the Writer Is... podcast. He delivered a version of this text at the "Ask Spotify Why" Town Hall presented by Songwriters of North America and the National Music Publishers' Association on Monday, May 13, in Los Angeles.