Getting Paid and Getting Protected as a Songwriter

I recently attended the Registering Your Music – Copyrights & Royalties Information Session” in Edmonton and Calgary and met up with Singer/ songwriter Erica Viegas, who I had previously met at the CCMAs last year.   Here is her take on the evening’s discussions. (Don Quarles)

On March 1st, 2011, the Alberta Music Industry Association treated its Edmonton members to a session on Copyrights & Royalties lead by Wayne Saunders, Industry Relations Executive of SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada), and Don Quarles, Executive Director of the Songwriters Association of Canada.

While most of the musicians in the crowd were already members of SOCAN, the evening proved to be a great information piece, and introduction for many on the benefits provided by the SAC.

Once you put music to lyrics, you are a songwriter…whether you play an instrument or record a rough vocal line into your phone. As a songwriter, protecting your creation, and getting proper compensation for your art is important. Don told the story of an artist who finished a gig at a club and was asked to pay the bill for the food he ate that night. The artist retaliated that he wouldn’t pay anything until he was compensated for his music, which spurred on the movement to support songwriters in getting due royalties for their work.

While most independent artists would struggle to pay their bills through radio royalties, the majority of our efforts lie in live performances.  Many are unaware that we can claim performance royalties through SOCAN for every live show we do at a licensed facility. Membership to SOCAN is free, and a minimum of $100 in royalties is given out for every show with tickets over $6 each. Make sure to keep your posters or proofs of performance and fill your royalty forms out online. You could be missing out on some extra funding available to you. Wayne’s advice was to submit for all the shows that you play and let SOCAN investigate the venue for licensing on your behalf in order to keep the relationships you have in these venues as strong as possible.  The same goes for performances on television or radio, as stations do not always send in their cue sheets.

What about making sure your music is copyrighted? Technically the minute you have a record of something, written or recorded, the piece is yours. To make things more official, most of us have been mailing the song to ourselves through dated registered mail and not opening it.  However, Don advised against this technique and using online vaults, as both may have troubles standing up in court. The SAC has a Song Vault service, which seals and copyrights your songs with a barcode and proof of registration certificate. While SAC membership runs at about $60 a year, it also includes opportunities for song assessment by industry professionals, chances to pitch your music to Film/ TV, an online member community, regional writer groups, workshops, and more. Looking for ways to provide the most service to their members, the SAC does their best to find ways to compensate you for creating your songs.

Though every musician has their career struggles and triumphs, it’s always good to be reminded that there are agencies passionate about helping us along our way!

Erica Viegas, a singer/songwriter from Edmonton, AB, released her first EP, Where My Heart Goes, last year. She has been performing at festivals, theatres, and venues across western Canada and continues to enjoy the feeling of connection that comes from sharing her music.