This page is aimed at songwriters, mainly American songwriters who are often the losers in the world of record mechanicals.
So what are mechanicals? Well, if we imagine that we are going to make musical boxes, and use 'Blue suede shoes' as the music, then it's obvious that someone should be paid for the copyright. In this instance, it would be Carl Perkins (because he wrote it), probably via his publisher. With me so far? Good. Now, a CD is, in law, a music box when it is being played on your CD player, in just the same way that a vinyl record on a phonograph is a music box, or even a piano roll on a pianola. As we move into the digital era, mechanicals and performance money (not in the USA) are even generated by mp3 downloads and streaming. So how is this money generated and administered?
Here in the UK and Europe, it's administered via the local mechanicals collection society, and the record company by law has to take out a licence from the national body when they press (or re-press) a record, or when they sell an MP3 on the internet. The record company has to fill out an application form, and list all of the songtitles, the writers and the copyright owners of the songs (usually the publishers). Download and streaming websites are required to make returns of this information to those bodies. Here in the UK, it's the MCPS a.k.a. PRS For Music and in France it's SDRM, in Germany GEMA, etc. To not take out a licence is a civil and criminal offence under the Copyright Act in the UK, with similar legislation in the rest of Western Europe. All pretty dry and dusty stuff so far, huh? Stick around, it gets more interesting.....
For our US readers, please remember that this money is nothing to do with BMI or ASCAP, and even if you're a publisher member, you may still have to deal with Harry Fox or make a deal with the label. Your publishing company will not be recognised outside of the USA, unless it is a member of the mechanicals organisation of the country where the record is made. Here comes the interesting bit.
In Western Europe there is an agreed mechanical rate, sometimes known as the 'customary mechanical rate', and it is 8.5% of the dealer price, or a similar percentage of the download or streaming price. Now let's imagine that you've just made a record and written all of the songs on it. A UK label will release it. The selling price of a CD here is around 15 Dollars US, which makes the dealer price (exclusive of taxes) around Ten and 8.5% of this is nearly a Dollar a record. A thousand records is nearly 1,000 Dollars! A thousand downloads of one song may be around 85 Dollars, and for a full album may be over 800 Dollars. Not bad, huh? In the download world, this is much harder to predict, but it's still well worth having. In fact, it's probably more than you'll get for performing on the record! Obviously, if you only write half of the songs, you only get half of the money, etc. How do you get this money?
Here's the snag. If your song is not registered with the mechanicals society, then you get nothing. In the UK, the songs are classified as 'copyright control' (a misnomer if there ever was one!), and the record company does not have to pay the 8.5% for CDs. Well, let's be honest, they're not unhappy about that, and they're not gonna fall over themselves to tell the writers, either. This doesn't just apply to 'unknowns'. We've seen this on songs by the likes of Chris Isaak and Iris Dement (and LOTS more!). Country by country in Western Europe the system has subtle changes, but basically the record label pays, even if the songs are unregistered, and the money that is unclaimed after a period of time is lost. This is what happens in the UK for download mechanicals. So what's to be done?
Obviously, you've got to get your songs on the database of the mechanicals society in question. In the digital domain, this becomes ever more important. Don't rely on your record label to do the job when it comes to mechanicals..... You've got to get that nice lady on the left to type it into a mechanicals collection society database. However, only a member of that society can register it (or another mechanicals collection society from another country that is recognised). This is the job of your music publisher, who obviously wants a split. Even so, it's still worth your while to do something about this. Of COURSE, Nervous is a music publisher, and YES, we can get money for you. It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to realise that certain record labels here in the UK are not exactly happy about your being able to read things like this, and they may come up with all sorts of excuses why you shouldn't sign your songs to a UK publisher, but we've yet to hear one that doesn't involve them having financial benefit from non-registration.
It would be nice to think that you could always deal with record labels who are not involved with dubious releases and bootlegs, but regrettably on the rockin' scene, this ain't always so... This kind of person is quite used to trying to dodge the authorities (records pressed in countries that have slack copyright legislation), and doesn't like to leave traces, and therefore he rarely re-presses records, so you'll soon be another forgotten deletion as soon as his original press has been sold (or usually traded to avoid the need for invoices...).
Here's something to think about isn't it? If you find yourself in this position, contact us. Obviously if a record has been released and 'copyright control' is written on the label, we can go back over the situation and STILL get your money if it's within the statute of limitations (three to six years depending upon circumstance). It gets better. Because we're a member of MCPS, we can collect from any other mechanicals society in the civilised world either directly or via our sub-publishers.
All of this need have no bearing on any arrangements that you might (or might not) have made for performing rights. In any event, we can handle that, too, being a member of the UK PRS, and we're even a member of ASCAP (and BMI) so we can cover the major earners for you!
Let's be honest, what we can do for you, any major publisher can do. Here's the difference. We'll be looking at all of the Rockin' releases, listening to the radio, reading fanzine record reviews and chasing up all those small pressing runs in other countries because, since we're involved in this music, we know what's goin' on in it. The 'big boys' just couldn't give a damn!
© Roy Willams for Nervous Records
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