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How lyricists are being paid

My fast and maybe slightly cryptic answer: just like composers.

The comprehensive answer:
Composers and (not necessarily) lyricists are the creators of songs that musicians play (i.e. perform or record). Musicians may create their own songs, of course, like singer-songwriters, for example. They then assume different roles that are treated differently in the business world. Primarily musicians receive fees for their performances, and make a profit from sales of CDs, DVDs. Creators license their works and receive royalties. This is handled by PROs (performing rights organizations). Whenever songs are performed, produced on CD, or played on the radio licence fees are due that are distributed among the creators by the PROs in proportion to their parts in creating the songs.

From the business or licensing perspective there is no difference between covering songs or playing one's own. In the latter case the musician simply plays two different roles, he is performer as well as creator. As performer he gets his fee, as creator he gets his royalties.

Hobby lyricists sometimes try to sell their works. That is not exactly how things work in real life. What exactly do they think they are selling? Maybe some are willing to wave their ownership as creator of a text? They would be hugely dissapointed if their song (well, just its lyrics) becomes a huge hit - while somebody else claims its ownership. On the other hand, what would be the use for the musician should the song just go under in the mass? He would have paid for something that is not used. Neither scenario seems fair, does it? Professional songwriters (staff writers) may get down payments from publishers or a guaranty amount, but basically they are still being paid from licenses.

Should a musician have read this post this far, yes, you presume correctly that musicians never pay for using songs. An exception would be if you produce and market your own CDs - in that case you have to pay license fees just like a label. Maybe, effectively, you would even have to pay yourself.

What does my creative commons license mean in this context? Nothing much, actually. If you do business as described (perform songs publicly, have CDs produced, are being played on the radio...) everything is supposed to work as mentioned. The songs will have to be registered with a PRO in that case. Should my songwriting partner, the composer, not (wish to) be a member of a PRO, I can look after this. Normally, the composer would register songs. Should you want to just use my lyrics for hobby music productions that you intend to publish on the internet (non-commercially) you simply may do so. You need not ask. That's the only difference my licensing model provides. Nearly all my lyrics - all that are published here or in my collections - are non-exclusive, too, so you need not even bother if there are songs being used commercially that use the same lyrics. As soon as your music is being performed and might actually make some money, you will want to become a member of your country's PRO in your own best interest (contact me if you have any questions).


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