Why You’re Not a Staff Songwriter

In the current economy, more and more music publishers are ridding themselves of the staff songwriter in favor of single song agreements (SSA’s), according to a recent article in the Nashville Business Journal.

The proliferation of such deals could shape the earnings potential and career development of Music City’s thousands of songwriters, who have long been considered the backbone of one of Nashville’s most vital industries.

The way a staff deal works is this. You (the songwriter) agree that they (the publisher) own half of everything and anything you write. In exchange, the publisher will shop and exploit (an industry term void of its typical negative connotation outside of the industry) your copyright and pay you a draw (basically, an advance payment on your future royalties). If you’re fortunate enough to have a good publisher, they also are involved in the development of your craft and increasing your professional network by setting up co-writing appointments and giving you professional credibility.

What’s the impact of this trend away from staff writers? Often when a writer signs with a publishing company, he brings his catalog of many songs to the deal. If all of those songs have already been assigned one by one to other publishers over the years, what does that do to his negotiating position?  If anything, this trend seems to emphasize the importance of taking personal responsibility for your own career and development. It is, perhaps more than ever, up to you.

If you are a writer, how are you navigating the current publishing landscape?


About Jonathan Riggs

Singer, actor, songwriter, and entrepreneur. And I like vanilla bean.
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