Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Randall D. Wixen, The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing

I recently found myself in the position of having written and performed a song which is being streamed from various websites such as Myspace, Facebook and right here on Tuned In To Music as well as being offered for sale at sites like iTunes, Zune, Rhapsody and lala.  This circumstance immediately raises questions about copyright, ownership and publishing of the song.  I knew nothing about any of this and turned to Wixen’s The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing for help.  It was a good and lucky move on my part.

The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing is exactly what the title says it is; a brief, straightforward introduction to the world of music publishing, ownership and copyright.  It’s written for a musician or songwriter who has no legal background.  Rather than take the condescending tone of someone speaking to a five year old that specialists sometimes adopt when talking to someone outside their field of expertise, Wixen  assumed his readers are intelligent adults and writes to them in plain English.  Legal jargon is necessary, of course, but when he introduces it, Wixen clearly and simply explains what the term means.  The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing is well written and easy to understand.

The book begins with the basic distinction between a songwriter and a music publisher (which is not exactly what I thought it was) and moves on to explain the basic types of income that can be derived from music for both songwriters and publishers.  The three main categories Wixen presents are mechanical licenses (income derived from physically  reproducing copies of your song on a CD, for example), performance licenses (income derived from playing your song on the radio, over the internet, as background music in a restaurant or club and so on), and synchronization licenses (income derived from your song being used in a film or TV show).  He also includes an additional chapter on other types of use that can produce income such as having your song used in a commercial, in a video game or as a ringtone.

For each type of income Wixen explains where the money comes from, how it gets to you, and how it is divided up between the songwriter and the publisher.  He also introduces some of the many different types and variants of license contracts that can be offered under each of the main categories of income.

One of the things that becomes clear as you read the book is that the music industry not only has at their disposal a bewildering array of possible ways to rip off and fuck over musicians, but they are constantly coming up with new and insidious ways to not pay you for your music.  Although he points out common ways the music industry rips people off, Wixen does not present a rant against the notoriously rapacious music business.  However, it doesn’t take much thought to see ways in which musicians who aren’t aware of even the basics of music ownership and publishing (which is a fairly large proportion of musicians who are interested in the music, not the legalities) can and almost always do get cold-bloodedly ripped off.

It is fairly common for people who illegally download music to point to the unmitigated greed of the big music companies that has resulted in decades of customers being charged ludicrous amounts for legal music formats (e.g., CDs).  “The record companies have been ripping us off for years and turnaround is only fair play.” They have a point.  However, illegal downloading not only rips off the record companies, it rips off the musicians who make the music in the first place.  Reading The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing may open people’s eyes to the fact that the musicians are getting screwed from both sides; they get it from the music companies who are paying them a fraction of what they’re supposed to and from the fans who aren’t paying them anything at all.  When the musicians are multimillionaires like Jay-Z or Bruce Springsteen the income lost from illegal downloading is inconsequential.  When the musicians aren’t famous and are trying to make it on their own, the lost income can mean the difference between having a career in music and having a career at McDonalds.

I read The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing from the point of view of a songwriter who has no expectations to ever make any money from music and had no knowledge whatsoever about copyright, ownership and publishing.  I found the book to be tremendously helpful.  It pretty much answered every question I had.  How do I secure the copyright for my song? (I had it as soon as I put the song up on the web), do I have to make application to the US Copyright Office? (not necessary but a good idea anyway), am I a songwriter or a music publisher? (both if I want to receive all of the income my music generates, if it generates any at all), should I join ASCAP or BMI? (yes, choose one, I chose ASCAP).  More advanced topics that would be of interest to established musicians are also discussed in the book but they are of no relevance to me at this point and I can’t comment on whether they would be valuable to musicians operating at a more advanced professional level.

If you are a musician with little or no knowledge about the money part of the music business, The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing is a clear, fast and easy way to get an introduction.  The knowledge that can be gained here can save you a lot of heartache and frustration later.


04/09/2010 - Posted by | book reviews, music, music business | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks a lot for sharing this with all of us you really realize what you’re speaking about! Bookmarked. Kindly additionally seek advice from my website =). We could have a link exchange arrangement among us

    Comment by sound engineer|beats|instrumentals|music studio | 10/02/2012 | Reply

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