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‘Hey, I Wrote That!’
These licensing arrangements are similar to recorded music in that each artist gets the same fee-per-song payouts no matter who they are — but that fee could be higher or lower depending on the agency in question. Some artists have made lucrative careers from their work as songwriters. You might be thinking of someone like Bob Dylan, who is covered a lot by a lot of different people. But the artist who really maximized his songwriting is Ike Turner — bluesman and R&B legend who also appended his name to so many songs over the years that some question his role in their creation. His wife (and then ex-wife), Tina Turner, performed his songs most famously, but a variety of artists have covered Ike Turner’s songs. As late as the mid-’90s, Ike earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from cover credits and samples of his music. Before the age of digital distribution, the system outlined above kept the business of covering songs — and collecting royalties from the songs performed by others — relatively simple. Now, with the proliferation of new musicians and ways to distribute their music online, that’s not the case. It’s not hard to see the challenge here, but a solution remains a bit vaguer, at least one that doesn’t infringe on people’s First and Fourth Amendment rights. Still, artists can take steps like setting up “trending search” alerts and relax knowing that if someone makes enough money off their songwriting to be worth the trouble, they’ll likely hear about it. And a cover song always drives interest in the original, too — never a bad thing for anyone!
‘Hey, I Wrote That!’ The Law Behind Song Covers
You might think there’s no way to get rich off a cover song — or if you do, it’s because you’re a famous musician with good attorneys. But neither is the case, and you’d be surprised to hear that patent law approaches cover songs pretty much like it approaches any song — with a flat fee for the songwriter, which in this case is about 10 cents for every copy you sell. The same is not true for live music, however — in that case, you’ve got to deal with the tangled world of licensing and other concerns. In fact, a live venue may ask that you not play any covers at all. In the words of Marvin Gay, “What’s going on?” Here’s what’s going on: That venue hasn’t paid the right fees for the right licensing, and that means they can be fined for basically trying to cheat an artist or songwriter out of their cut. The good news, though, is that there’s no fee to play cover songs when the venue has the right licensing — and no way to play them if it doesn’t!
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