Share via Email Hit list Eamonn Mccabe for the Guardian How do you write a hit song?
Original music is much more hip right now than it was even a decade ago, and people who play cover songs are almost sneered at. For musical entertainment, we are increasingly being subjected to listening to songwriters performing their creations.
This is a new phenomenon in the world of music; even a generation ago, popular singers like Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Bessie Smith certainly did not sing only their own songs-- in fact, songwriters were rare then on the pop charts before Think of all the singers who did not write songs: Is it a good thing?
I think it all has to do with ownership of copyrights and big business. George Washington signed into law the first American copyright and patent laws, which established the period of 17 years for a patent and 28 years for a copyright, after which the works would fall into the public domain.
Sincethey were both changed somewhat to allow a renewal, which for patents meant a total of 34 years, 56 for copyrights. Even Xerox corporation was unable to prevent its 's photocopy patent from expiring in the The Copyright Act of made some big changes in the previous law, and enabled copyrights now to be in effect for how to write a hit record book deliverance years after the death of the last-surviving author, and for a special renewal term of 47 years for works rather than the 28 year period allowed before that were under copyright before Copyright was also modified to go into effect at the moment of creation, and registration of the copyright, though recommended, is no longer a requirement to prove ownership.
The recording industry didn't really get going until the late 's, so this means that virtually all of the music that has ever been recorded is still copyrighted.
Not much music in our lifetimes has ever fallen into the public domain. Scott Joplin's music is the only significant example I can think of. A look at the legal history of the two finds many stories of people who were unable to defend their patents, usually for financial reasons, and many cases of tolerated infringement.
Copyright law seems to have sharper teeth, and anyone with a valid registered copyright can bring General Motors lawyers to their knees. And when you look at the way the music business doles out its money, you will see that owners of copyright get the largest and most reliable chunks of the pie.
The artist royalty, which is part of the record contract, will be far smaller than that, and is only paid on new copies that are sold. So when you listen to the golden oldies station pumping out the hits of yesterday, only the owner of copyright is collecting money- not the artist or the record company.
If a song becomes part of the voice of a generation, the amount of royalty airplay money it can generate is substantial. An all-pervasive hit song can literally provide hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for life for its owner, while the artist who performed it might be driving a taxi. Once you have been around in the music business for a while, you learn that owning of copyrights is the oil well and the gold mine.
Owners also have the sometimes extremely lucrative option of licensing the song to movies and TV commerials, which make more money and even increase record sales and airplay, which make more money. The Rolling Stone Magazine "Where Are They Now" articles are full of tales of woe of the artists whose performances no doubt made many of those songs popular, but who are sitting back and watching other people make a fortune from them.
Entertainment is becoming one of the United States largest exports. We cannot bring ourselves to punish China for torturing its political dissidents and killing its own people in Tianemen Square, but a serious trade war just heated up over the issue of ownership of musical copyright.
That should give you a clue how much money is at stake. If the ownership of the copyright or publishing is the oil well, then young artists who write songs and who are eager to become famous are the acres of Texas land the oil companies snap up in the land rush.
Record companies generally are far more likely to sign artists who write songs. Big record deals do not often go to skilled musicians, or those who play traditional music, simply because part of most "standard" record contracts involved transfer of the "publishing" half of the royalty money; the remaining half is known as the writer's share to the record company.
This is a big part of the payoff for a big record company. They also have all sorts of clauses to reduce the amount of artist royalties they pay because of book club deals, foreign sales, sales to military bases, etc. If you look at the popular hit-making singers who are among the few who don't write songs, you'll find a frenzy of activity behind the scenes to determine whose songs they cut.
The orchestra and the piano dominated certain periods in musical history; we are now in the Era Of The Copyright Owner. It began in the post-war record industry boom. Elvis Presley was one of the first artists whose name started showing up on the copyrights; reputedly he did not write them, but obtained ownership or part ownership as a pre-requisite to recording the song.
When rock records in the 60's started to sell in truly gigantic numbers, people figured out that they would make a lot more money playing their own music, and that is when the original artist thing really got rolling.
In the 's, there was a brief interest in folk and public domain music, which may well have been some record companies' idea of a good way to avoid paying mechanicals to songwritersbut many of the record companies got burned badly when they found out that many things that were assumed to be public domain were not.
Tom Dooley was a 1 hit for the Kingston Trio, and the record company lost an expensive lawsuit because the family of banjo player Frank Profitt had a claim to the copyright.Dec 29, · Even though many trends in hit music have been analyzed, no composer or researcher has figured out how to write a hit every time.
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The Record was a NPR blog that ran from to The Record is the ongoing story of how people find, make, buy, share and talk about music.
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