Why You Should Never Sell Full Rights to Your Songs

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Other than street performers who get to keep all the money they collect in their hat, very few songwriters and composures get to retain the rights to their work. Labels emerged as a way to promote and distribute and artist’s music on a regional then national and international scope.

In return, they required music creators to give up a certain percentage of their intellectual property. Years ago performers had very few options because the way the industry was structured it was extremely difficult to become successful without a label because they controlled distribution.

As a result of their monopoly, over the years there have been many cases of labels demanding most or all of the song rights in order for an artist or band to get a record deal. And the performers were desperate enough for success that they agreed. Then later, once they became successful, the performers would sue to get out of their contracts but still would not recoup any money. So there is a very good reason why you should never sell full rights to your songs: the label and publisher will get rich while you continue to scrape by.

In no other field is an artist expected to give up rights as they are in the music business. Even in book publishing, where authors may initially give up 85% of their initial sales royalties to a publisher, after 10 years ALL the rights revert back to the author. That is not the case in the music industry. So the best way to have rights to your songs ten years down the road is to not sign them away to begin with.

While the traditional music labels continue to ask for a lion’s share of the rights when signing new acts, smaller independents are offering performers more favorable deals. For example, a new label named Polyphonic lets its artists keep their copyright and will share profits from touring and recording 50-50 with the artist.

The catch is: in exchange for retaining the copyright, the band has to be hands-on in its promotion and marketing. Polyphonic gives bands $300,000 in seed money to record their songs and plan tour dates. The primary target are bands will smaller but solid fan bases who can sell 80,000 – 100,000 units – a small amount of sales by major label standards but for a business model like Polyphonic a nice business for it and the performers.


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