Your Art Is Your Capital: The Importance of Valuing Your Songs

“Art for art’s sake, money for God’s sake.”
– 10cc

One of the things that musicians do wrong all the time is to treat the music they complete…be it a song, an EP, a whole CD (whatever those are)…as an inspirational moment that gets conceived and effused over for a while, then recorded and promoted, consequently posted and maybe even “shopped” a little bit, effused over for a while longer and….nothing happens.

This is a guest post by Grammy Winner, Producer, Musician & Engineer Paul Santo

At least nothing that gets you too excited or indicates forward movement. Whoopdy doo, we got some views and likes.
Anyway, the novelty wears off. Then we file that creation in a drawer and move on to the next song, and so on.

Repeat as necessary.

Why do we do this? I know the feeling well- I had to train my brain to regard all of my output in a complete picture. It’s the nature of a majority of artists to dismissed past work; some of this mindset can be traced to the idea that your baby has been conceived and been born, and that’s enough. Everyone understands the need to get IT out and into a song, whether you write in the first, second or third person. That’s fair and great for anyone who does it and doesn’t want it to be a job.

It’s difficult to envision that song as a product that is a viable commodity, like an electrician’s trade, tools you buy at Lowes, a sumptuous meal at a fine restaurant. But it is.

Why do we often not think that… comprehensively? Well, being ignored enough or even outright dismissed can do wonders to your confidence in a negative way, if you allow it, and hence your thought and energy…your DESIRE…for getting the music heard can suffer.

Second, a certain boredom from frequently being deep into the creation…the sheer exposure, will often leave you with a feeling of “Well, that’s enough.” I mean, we’ve all experienced not been able to listen to mixes for a while after you’re finished and endured whatever recording process you endured.

Third, and probably most popular, is that musicians don’t tend to think like that. There’s a lot more instant gratification required, more immediate rewards and a general mental detachment from such a thought process.

But this mindset can’t continue and be part of a real attempt to monetize and have your music heard, especially to a meaningful degree.

ART For Arts Sake Money for God's Sake

Think of it this way – you created this music and you think it deserves to be heard. Feeling as if you have something to prove is a great motivator. Everybody ought to have something to prove once in a while.

What some people fail to recognize is that these songs (as well as other aspects of your artistic or stylistic prowess) are your capital, and potentially your assets, and that no one experienced that inspirational moment that you experienced when you created and recorded that song….until they actually listen to it.

Giving up on the product (although almost all of us love and live for our art, after it becomes art it then becomes a commodity to be sold) before it really becomes universally available is unfair to the song and short changes you, because you are packing your capital away where no one can find it.

Don’t wait until someone ASKS you or they come looking for that great tune you wrote 5 years ago. It’s your duty, if you’re serious, to find ways to at least have it all available, easily accessible, and looking like it’s relevant. By that, I mean, not oversplaining about each tune – allow it to be taken on its own merits and not have it attached to certain time or with any disclaimers.

You must consciously, deliberately, and with intention remain in the zone where you believed it was a great song worth recording. You have to understand that virtually no-one (an amount so mathematically puny) has ever heard most of my reader’s music. Think about it: There’s now 8 billion people on earth. How many people have heard your song?

Now this might seem daunting and depressing but I prefer to look at those 8 billion as potential consumers of what I do, a potential audience, a potential connection to someone whose brother works as music supervisor over at some big Hollywood studio.

Your song, or better, your catalog, has a vast potential audience. 8 billion as of last count.

“Chance favors the prepared mind”
– Louis Pasteur

But I couldn’t count the people I know, who may have been capable of having some sort of music career, enough to not have a real job, who either were or remain, totally oblivious to that idea.

Perhaps we should be concerned with increments, pollination across platforms and potential audiences and…small steps. My goodness, wouldn’t you rather play, write, record, sing or produce or all of the above rather than have a real job? If the answer is “no”, obviously you’re in the minority. Which is cool, when you know what you want. Even if you love your “real” career, you will always think how cool it is to be a full-time musician.

For for those who want to make a go of it, you need every movement in your favor. If you know that you’d like to make a living, or a little better or worse, in music, a sweeping assessment of your assets and liabilities should be drawn up. In business, that might be something like the value of the instruments in the music store, the goodwill of the name, the pupils who are taught music there, etc. and what the expenses are to run the store: employees, heat, internet etc.

In the life of an artist, it’s your art that you are selling, combined with your appearance, how you present your assets and liabilities, such as being possibly charismatically challenged, etc. And again I stress, unless you have a trust fund or something similar, you want and deserve to barter the happiness (or doom…whatever you’re in to!) you bring through your art for money.

WHO doesn’t want to be heard?

Here is a brief illustration of why your material is potentially an interest-bearing investment and why you should protect it…and what happens when someone is enormously successful beyond most of our dreams from writing songs.

About 10 years ago Steven Tyler sold his publishing rights in bulk, reported to be for somewhere around $50 million. This was for everything he’d written or co-written since their resurrection in the mid-80’s. Conspicuously absent were the earlier songs from the Leber-Krebs/Columbia Records-era like Sweet Emotion and Dream On, which were the “partnership” property of entities other than the band, who had co-owned them since they were recorded and released.

Yes, Dream On. All the tunes, actually, on those records, that were not covers, were the co-property of people other than the songwriters in the band. I’m not speaking out of turn as all of this is quite public, but Aerosmith did not sign a record deal, per se. They signed a management deal with Leber and Krebs. In that management/production deal, among other details, L&B retained part of the publishing side of the band’s copyrights in perpetuity, something record companies used to do. Back in the “good ol’ days” at the dawn of rock and roll, plenty of people took it ALL. Anyway, Leber and Krebs essentially then signed the band to Columbia Records. They…the management…were for all intents, partners with Aerosmith, and in the contract got a 20 year catalog reversion on the master recordings, although that reversion was still back to a split between the band and LK. Someone (management, record company) usually took part or all of your publishing side (vs writer royalties). Very rarely did one get their catalog back.

So, to speak to my point about retaining interest in your potentially valuable work, plus the fact that the business has changed to the point where artists frequently can call the shots regarding their rights…that is, remain owner of not only the recorded work but the underlying composition, as they say, rather than it becoming a possession of, essentially, an employer. And feel free to do the math on the publishing side from those first 7 or so Aerosmith records. It was probably accepted by the band as standard operating for signing a deal; this was only the dawn of artist-advocate managers and people like Peter Grant, manager of Led Zeppelin, who were using the economic power of the band to change the actual ongoing economics of the band. People, and many musicians were and remain naive, felt they had to give that publishing up in order to get a deal, and that might be true. It also may have been an oversight or a savvy managerial maneuver, but it certainly was not only a financial hip-check, but also something of a personal affront, as those were the band’s creations. “But…they were huge” does go some way to not obsessing over the split and not worrying about anyone in the band making rent, but when you scale that DOWN to a contemporary working musician lifestyle, unless you are in the 1% with big deals, a publishing percentage will probably make a great deal of difference to you. And as a “working songwriter” (someone not making records) your writing income is your boat and lifeline.

Yes, I hear you thinking: “royalties are different now, and streaming sucks and yada yada…”

…things DO change, but the crux of the biscuit is…

  • A) without the content there is nothing to sell and, therefore, no money to be made and
  • B) someone is making money from art out there…..most online gripers would bitch about the guy who owns Spotify, or whatever. That’s a whole other chapter about the expectations of the modern-day multiple income stream artist and their model. And yeah, there are artist remuneration inequalities that still need to be addressed, probably by legislation. And a little culture awareness slap upside the head, too…..(music is not free).
  • C) The more you control of you, the more reward you will receive.

The second point is: when business got tightened up and the band came back, bigger than ever, Steven’s ducks were aligned. And when the time came, he liquidated that quacking asset….his songwriting- this is not talking about recordings, just the songs. And what songs!! The Aerosmith recordings themselves were just recently sold in their entirety, along with other deeper catalog, archival and video rights….for a profound amount of money.
He believed in his work and when his time came he was paid fair market value. I’m sure he had little to no idea in the 70’s what the long-term implications were for these kinds of ownership rights…who did?…but I bet it didn’t take long after they started making money that they realized what was not going to them, what was being made and how and why. Ahhh, live and learn. Who knew there was such value today in music made nearly half a century ago?
Well, now we do.

I know many of you reading this, from novice to seasoned, have a stash of what you’ve written, or maybe written and recorded, over the course of your musical adventure. All of it is of value, if it’s accepted by enough people. It could take some time…actually, of course it will take some time! But don’t leave it in the cupboard- believe me, I’ve done it many times…”The next one” is always gonna be the one that’s going to work.

But our POV is often not that of an average fan- who the heck knows what people are going to like?? Well, there are some certain ingredients that certainly contribute to a song being popular but the most important ones are the organic and intrinsic. The ingredients of self, believability. And what songwriter has the perspective of someone outside of them looking in from a completely external source? No one I know.

I laugh at myself…plenty of times…at what I think I know, and even better, what I used to think I knew….that’s a great one. I’m often dumbfounded by what I thought. And think.

All of this applies to the concept of songs, your songs, your recordings, your noodling, your poetry…you name it…being a commodity of the soul but a real-world commodity nonetheless. And each song/recording etc. is part of a larger entity, that being your professional value. Decide to not think of them as simply road under the wheels. They ARE that, and they are documents of how you felt and thought at that time, but they will always be NEW to someone else.

Cherish and nurture the investment. Because if your work subsidizes your life, that means you can work more and therefore do more of what you love. As well as pay your bills.

How cool is that?

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