Getting Paid

May 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Bud Scoppa



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As for the remuneration: “There is a fee that is paid to the record label and the publisher to license the song,” Calamar points out. “Depending on their deal, some of that money will hopefully trickle down to the artist. Of course, the exposure will help bring out more people to their live performances, which is probably the most significant area where artists are getting paid these days.”

“At ASCAP,” DeSavia points out, “we can actually say how much money you'll make if you have a song used in a series, if it's the theme song, if the show gets syndicated. That performance income is making up for the lack of mechanical royalties. ASCAP used to be seen as the bank and an afterthought; it's amazing to see how important we've become to the limited industry. It used to be an ancillary source of income; now, it's the primary source, except for touring, if you're lucky. It's a totally different world.”

DeSavia notes that composer Michael Giacchino jumped from videogames to scoring TV series like Alias and Lost, as well as movies like The Incredibles. Similarly, Shawn Clement's CV includes TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, several videogames and the upcoming feature-film Quantum Quest. “I'm a big fan of getting yourself out there, whether Facebook or Twitter or directories,” Clement said in the March issue of Mix. “There is film, TV, videogames, Webisodes, cell phone content — endless opportunities for the working musician who is open to a lot of new things. Now there may not be a lot of money at first, but there wasn't money at the start of music videos or videogames. You have to have an ear out for the next big thing and the money will come.”

Another viable medium for income and mega-exposure is the TV commercial. It's safe to say that the use of Coldplay's “Viva La Vida” in an Apple iPod campaign was as significant a driver of exposure and subsequent sales on the album of the same name as any other individual factor. In recent months, the little-known indie band Chairlift got a huge boost from having their song “Bruises” used in an iPod Nano campaign, which resulted in a deal with Columbia Records.

“In the old days, no self-respecting band wanted to have a song used in a commercial,” says DeSavia. “But then Led Zeppelin started shilling for Cadillac and it all became okay. And then, when U2 did the iPod commercial with ‘Vertigo,’ everyone saw what it could do for records. Here was a heritage band that all of a sudden had a big hit single. More recently, Wilco had multiple songs used in a VW campaign. And just think, back in the early '90s, that was the most un-Pearl Jam thing you could do.”

New Model Army

Reacting to the radically changed landscape, a new breed of proactive individuals has arisen, tossing out the conventional wisdom as outmoded and drawing up their own career blueprints — in the process giving a whole new meaning to the term “independent.” Singer/songwriter AM, a Hotel Café regular, self-produces and self-releases his music — “and off one album he's had 63 placements,” DeSavia marvels. “He has no interest in getting a record deal; he's focused exclusively on recording himself and getting placements.” Greg Laswell, who produces and engineers his own records for indie label Vanguard, is another in a growing field of proactive artists who derive their income primarily from licensing their material, and that primary form of exposure enables them to sell tickets and records. Both are making a decent living doing what they love.

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, a Vermont-based group that got traction on the jam-band circuit, are on their third album for Disney's Hollywood Records. For them, the traditional model is working. Their label, which has exhibited remarkable patience during an era that prioritizes immediate results, has put the band together with producer T Bone Burnett, a situation that wouldn't have happened if Potter and her crew were still on their own. But they don't rely on subsidies from Hollywood to cover their overhead. They do it by “touring our faces off,” says Potter.

“That's not the only solution, but it's what we know,” she explains. “Sometimes you just can't get over what you were born to do. No matter what happens, we can always go back to ground zero and pack ourselves into the van we pooled our money to buy in 2003, as long as we can scrape together $40 for gas and get ourselves dinner. And hopefully by the end of the week we'll be able to pay the rent. We're not selling a lot of records — I hope someday we can be that band. But we're lucky to be on a label that can sweat it out with us. You can't wait for the tide to turn; you have to turn it yourself.”

“There's every reason to be optimistic,” says Richard Conlon. “People are going to use music. Maybe consumers won't be buying CDs, or buying downloads for that matter. But whatever happens, music is going to be used. It's not like the music is gonna turn off everywhere. Writers will write, artists will record, consumers will listen and enjoy. If you keep those fundamentals in your head, you'll realize the sky isn't falling by any sort of metric.”

Bud Scoppa is Mix magazine's L.A. editor.

Resources for Producers and Engineers

The Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing advocates for equitable compensation on behalf of recording professionals. In our back-page Q&A this month, Maureen Droney, senior director of the P&E Wing, discusses her organization's current projects, including research into new streams of revenue, development of compensation models, development of a recording metadata collection tool to facilitate proper crediting and payment, and support for the Performance Rights Act.

Droney also wrote a feature on the use of metadata and file management, key components in tracking and recovering payments owed to producers and engineers; read it at For general information about the P&E wing, visit; for answers to specific questions, e-mail p&

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