For What It’s Worth

We’ve just had a quotation to do some garden improvements; New lawn, edging, a few easy to maintain plants and some cleaning up. Their estimated costs were in excess of our first house in Chiswick plus an additional twenty percent for Vat!

I suppose this problem has never really changed. From the original days where songwriters would sell their whole copyright of a song for a tenner, simply to survive, to the times of publishers coming to the rescue with advances against royalties only to discover you’ve inadvertently sold your entire catalogue and your sensitive, poverty-stricken soul.

Negotiating with your builder, plumber or decorator is quite straightforward.

They don’t deliberate or ask what you could afford. You never visit a restaurant and try to bargain with the menu prices or get into a lengthy chat about the affordability of a cheeky pint. Sadly, the music business holds no such guarantees. Our very dedicated Musician’s Union has from the beginning of time established rates for session musicians ranging from studio, theatre, live, cruises, orchestras and any size of band. But despite many efforts these are hard to impose and so often musicians are asked to play for nothing, for the experience, for the showreel, for fun, accompanied by the never-ending excuses of why there is no budget.

I remember fondly working for a production company in Soho. I was charged with writing jingles for many brands and clients.  When anyone would call and ask how much something would cost, my producer would always say “Sorry, my composer won’t get out of bed for less than…….” (Insert modest fee). It was an easy fix particularly when you had someone negotiating on your behalf. The rates were often set in stone and composer, musicians and singers each received their just desserts. (Pause for imaginary gag about a custard commercial!)

The real difficulty comes when people don’t understand what you do. “You compose music?” they ask, like I’ve made it up. “That must be nice”. It would all go swimmingly until they mention anything to do with money:” You can’t possibly charge for doing that!?”

It’s the never-ending question:” How much would it cost to write this, compose that, record that song, produce this piece for TV”. It’s often known as the ‘How long is the invisible piece of string’-question.

The more I do the more difficult it is to answer. Not because it is asked but it’s often the assumption that whatever you say it will produce a gasp and shocked reaction that you could possibly charge anything beyond a few shillings especially when you’re doing something you love. Meanwhile, everyone else doing a ‘proper’ job will get paid quite normally and regularly.

I remember vividly getting a call from the BBC. Would I be interested in writing the music for a new series that involved opening and closing titles as well as some incidental themes? Instinctively I accepted.

What’s your budget?”’ I asked.

“Oh, we don’t have any money for music so no budget”. I laughed genuinely convinced they were joking. They weren’t joking. “Our executive producer says that you’ll get your money from the broadcast royalties”.

“What Royalties?”. It’s going to be broadcast on line”. Clearly the ignorant twelve-year-old executive had imagined a world that didn’t exist.  And all of the money had gone on the familiar and famous that were appearing in said production. I did manage to squeeze something that eventually came close to a budget and enabled me to write something for them, but certainly with conditions where I firmly told them what they would get for the price.

It’s now become the most common question:” How can I make money in this business?”

My reply is the same. Treat it like a business. Otherwise, it’s a hobby. Learn the rules so your copyright is properly protected. Be bold in charging what you’re worth and not what people will assume you’re worth.

Explain to the uninitiated about royalty returns, broadcast royalties, PRS and mechanical royalties and how, since streaming, these pretty much don’t exist anymore.

Don’t be afraid of taking all you’ve learned to be part of the music business and constantly find new ways to reinvent yourself.

Be a professional and charge accordingly.

For what it’s worth? Absolutely, because, as they say in the commercial: “YOU’RE worth it!”