April 2020

Sheena in Scotland asks whether it makes sense to sell the full copyright to your songs. My response would be a deeply qualified maybe. For starters, let’s talk about what kinds of rights you might be able to sell. If you’ve got recordings, you can obviously sell or stream your tunes and get paid for that, though not very much unless you’ve got a mega-hit on your hands (and when you do, you probably won’t be seeking advice from the Lyrics Doctor!). If you’ve got lyrics and/or music, you can sell a license—either single-use or extended—to companies or groups that might want to use your composition in an ad, TV show, movie, bar mitzvah, or second wedding. These options allow you to retain control over the song and sell it to others at a later date—giving you continued influence over how it’s used. And finally, you can transfer the entire copyright to another party for a fixed sum, and you’ll never see another nickel.

So which, if any, of these options make sense? It’s obviously better to retain control of your work as long as possible, so in that sense you’re better off licensing a song if that’s on the table. But if someone is offering you hundreds or even thousands of dollars for full rights, it might be hard to turn down. In the unlikely event you find yourself in that situation, you’ll certainly want to ask the buyer what he or she intends to do with the song, and ensure that you get credit as the writer, which would allow you to capitalize on whatever recognition your work might receive.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Most of us are in this because we love words and music and storytelling and the joy of creating something new and different. And success stories in this business, while real and occasionally impressive, are rare. So almost all of us will never earn a penny from selling our songs. That said, we all have dreams, and there are legions of Charlatans lurking on the internet who have a very strong interest in separating us from our money. These people know that our love of music and our desire to gain recognition can be a very powerful wedge in that process. So my advice is: Beware of offers that are too good to be true, because they probably are. And even offers that seem OK are most often going to add up to nothing. If the initial cost, though, isn’t too high and you’ve got some extra cash you don’t mind losing, it might be worth a try. It’s definitely more fun than a trip to the casino.

The best thing, of course, is to simply collect ideas and write and write and write. And if you’re not a musician, either learn some guitar, piano, or ukulele or find someone who is interested in collaborating. A good place to start is with one of the myriad songwriting groups on Facebook. Those are usually global communities (such as the forum that spawned this magazine), and they can lead to interesting projects that span countries, cultures, and time zones. But it’s often more fun and productive to shop locally. Almost every town has a pub with an open mic where you can find like-minded souls who might be interested in co-writing. And l have formed several bands with people I found on Craigslist, which have always produced interesting and enjoyable collaborations. The key is to keep writing and singing and telling your stories. If that someday turns into money, that’s great. But the real fun is making music.

Happy SongwRxiting!
The Lyrics Doctor