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.

4 thoughts on “Getting Paid and Getting Protected as a Songwriter

  1. Michael Dean Hajas

    This article begs the question “if an infringement occurs, how does SAC position it’s self to aid the artist in litigations against the infringer”? A membership payment suggests an agreed contractual arrangement, whereby there is a “Perception” of actual membership protection. This is true of many agencies collecting membership fees, giving the member the idea that they are “Protected against Intellectual Property Infringement”. Lets remember that CIPO exists as well, and they to charge for “registry of IP”. The position of officer Andrey Tremblay at CIPO is that when push comes to shove “the artist is responsible for policing their own Intellectual Property(s)”. I’m wondering how SAC differentiates it’s self from what is the equivalence of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.? Canada has no teeth when it comes to protecting it’s citizen artists, hence the loss of our Canadian Artist Membership to ASCAP and such. Lets look at the reality of this in the context of Bryan Adams for instance. The Canadian perception is that he is a “Canadian Musician”. Most Canadians don’t realize that he had to give up his affiliation to SOCAN in order to be associated with a larger Guild offering him the kind of protection known World wide by actions taken by FBI. The very mention of FBI has a connotation that carries weight, ability, and consequence vs. the Global perception of RCMP. In fact we have adopted the disclaimer written by and for American Creative Developers in hopes that the illusion of force and consequence will occur if someone assumes Intellectual Property, we don’t have any intention as a Nation of making individuals responsible for stealing or as the newly packaged word states “P2p sharing”. I’ll make sure to mention this behaviour the next time I consume a steak at the Keg and walk out without paying for the service….. “I was only sharing this meal, with the rest of the patrons, or the next time I purchase a new 50 inch LCD TV at Future shop without paying for it……”I only had the intention of sharing the movies we would be watching as a family”… Let’s stop being Politically Correct Canadians and show we have fortitude and moral compass when it comes to decision making and how we choose to “consume Intellectual Properties” of all nature(s). Otherwise it becomes apparent that Social Chaos will follow without the consequences associated with what used to be called “THEFT”.

    In Spirit

    Michael Dean Hajas


    1. Actually….around 50 bucks gets you registered in the US archives….which are far more signicant!!!! And….really….if you can’t enjoy a meal at the Keg or elsewhere without worrying about ridiculous nonsense….then you should give up on a fruitful music career!!! Really….what the hell does a last supper have to do with music???????


  2. Michael Dean Hajas

    Hey ph.

    Registry means absolutely nothing. Without consequence for infringement, 100% ownership means nothing. Interesting that you represent the interests of Canadian artisans, and make reference to a foreign owned and operated organization. Is that because you have no faith in the due process available that SAC and CIPO charge for?

    With regards to “the last supper”. Apparently you have difficulty understanding comparison of sharing. I made reference of P2P sharing in that, when I go to Future Shop or the Keg that instead of paying for the services rendered, that I simply claim that I to was only sharing with friends and family the entertainment value on a new flat screen, or the flavours of a 1 inch thick fillet mignon.

    Interestingly you fail to produce the authentic value of signing communication with your full name. Many of my affiliates that have significance within the music industry are in the same position that I am. We feel that laws are only as good as the policing, and Canada is accepting money from artists without being able to protect. There is nothing different between this act and that of the Mafia, accept that at least the Mafia will leave you alone as long as you make payment.

    Michael Dean Hajas

    Slave 4 Truth


  3. I have a question… If Don ‘warned against [mailing] and online vaults’, why did he turn right around and recommend SongVault?
    Does anyone have any real-life experience with SongVault, and would you recommend it to a friend?
    I fail to see how Songvault is better than other online depositories. I’m not against it, just curious….



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