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Visibility Is Viability

“Hey, where are my royalties?” A friend and co-writer recently said, after I performed one of our songs on a live show at a songwriter’s festival. While he was quite kidding, it has become the joke of the music industry, but it is one of the LEADING questions of all content creators. “WHERE ARE OUR ROYALTIES?” The truth, is no one seems to know, or the formulas explaining it are so complicated, the issues regarding technology change so blindingly fast, it is nearly impossible to keep up with it. The realities are pretty much what I heard in the late 90’s by a “tech guy” talking about the upcoming future for songwriters, GONE, GONE, GONE, and probably NEVER COMING BACK. Might as well get used to it.

Getting into “music for the money” has always been an iffy proposition at best. There is a reason there is a term “STARVING ARTIST”. And today that extends probably farther than most of us would wish to admit. While there are always going to be those “pinnacle artists”, those Taylor Swift’s, Ga Ga’s, Jay Z’s, Beyoncé, etc. on the top of the pyramid. And every year there will be some that come and most that go lasting a few months or so basking in the glory of “overnight success” Then becoming an answer to a trivia question, “Whatever happened to…?” There will always be “niche” artists, those that find a way to monetize what they do in local, regional, or even National (OR INTERNATIONAL) basis on their own, with active fan bases, merchandizing, touring, downloads, social networking, commercial tie ins. Someone always seems to find a new way to say something old. Might as well be YOU.

But for the most part, we have entered the “FREE MUSIC” century. With literally millions of artists, writers, poets, authors, inventors, people that do creative works (somewhere 30-50 million worldwide) with BILLIONS of songs, videos, uploaded yearly. And as far as I’ve ever heard, YOU CAN’T COLLECT ON FREE! It now takes HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF STREAMS OR PLAYS TO EVEN REGISTER! And sometimes, even WITH those, people are not making fortunes!

So that brings me back to my friend’s question, Which I answered with a question: “WHERE ARE YOUR ROYALTIES?” What I meant was HOW MUCH PRODUCT WAS HE PERSONALLY SELLING?” You see, far too many writers, and artists seem to believe there is some “good royalty fairy” that floats down and magically deposits money in some creative account. No one seems to understand that before you RECEIVE ANYTHING, YOU HAVE TO EARN SOMETHING!” Or as a very good friend of mine put it, “BEFORE YOU GET A ROYALTY CHECK, YOU FIRST MUST GET A REALITY CHECK!!!” (That’s, my favorite saying)

How are we paid as songwriters? Basically it comes down to two ways:

PERFORMANCES, or when a song is played (SIGNIFICANTLY) on Terrestrial radio (AM/FM), major motion pictures ,television or commercials, wide spread plays or “STREAMS” on the Internet. Web sites, YOU TUBE, FACEBOOK, the endless social networks, (that PAY LISCENCING FEES or remunerate those writers and artists). Or: MECHANICALS. Sells of PHYSICAL PRODUCT. CD’s, LEGAL DOWNLOADS, something you PHYSICALLY GET.


So guess what eager songwriters, artists, singers, wanna-be’s, if you get SOMEONE to PAY YOU for what you do, YOU MAKE MONEY. If you don’t, YOU DON’T. If you have something SEEN and HEARD EVERYWHERE, on radio, commercials, television, YOU TUBE AND FACEBOOK BLOWING UP, being EVERYWHERE, you might make money. If not, well….. Don’t expect to be rich because your song got played on a college station somewhere in Idaho. Many smaller and secondary stations don’t even report what they play. Or if somebody “LIKES YOU” on Facebook. Those don’t pay money either. And since most writers/artists SELL PRODUCT in the literal TENS OF COPIES, they are not getting rich. But don’t worry, there are many hit writers, enormously successful people with big hits, not making a ton either. The “FREE MUSIC ERA” hits us all equally.

And in an increasing climate of ENDLESS SUPPLY and CHOICES for the public, people are less likely to PAY for music It is everywhere, so why pay for it? We are all ENTITLED NOW! We want what we want and we want it RIGHT NOW, and we WANT IT FOR FREE!!!! This is mirrored by society. We all want everything FREE. Education. Health care, housing, food, you name it, WE DESERVE IT!

Well, welcome to REALITY. Most of the time, we DON’T. What does that mean for people trying to figure all this out?

NUMBER ONE: DON’T DO IT FOR THE MONEY! If you are trying to do this for financial rewards, you are in the wrong business. NUMBER TWO: DO YOUR HOMEWORK. If you are trying to do this as a writer, or artist, LEARN as much as you can about this business. Go to workshops, check out informational video on YOU TUBE, take courses, and GET IN THE GAME. Support your local songwriters groups, join web sites. Go support local and regional artists, BUY CDS’!!!!!! Help someone else and it comes back to you. You may not get rich, but you will be doing good and be keeping things alive. Or HIRE A PRIVATE CONSULTANT or COACH. Of course, I have a personal stake in this, because I AM a personal coach, mentor and consultant. But if you need help, there are many of us out there to help. All you gotta do is ask.

Good luck.

MARC-ALAN BARNETTE is a private singer songwriter/consultant/mentor based in Nashville since 1988. He has had songs recorded by SHELBY LYNNE, DAVID BALL, JOHN BERRY AND FRANKIE BALLARD, and countless others. He has been a music business, songwriting and performance coach and mentor, and is considered one of the most knowledgeable people in Nashville for new and experienced people to find their NEXT STEP in the craft and the industry of writing, performing and networking.For more information, contact MAB at

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