music morsels scott turner May 2006 

Reversion Clauses

Scott Turner
I happened to be involved in a conversation the other day regarding reversion clauses in songwriting contracts. I really sat back and listened to the parties who were in the discussion. One was a successful major artist; another a fairly new writer who was just beginning to test the deep waters of the music business; the third, a seasoned contract writer with many hits to his credit; and finally, an owner of a well-known publishing company. All of the people had been in the business for perhaps fifteen years except for the new writer and myself who had 45 years to date. And I'm still learning new things every day.

My only contribution to the conversation was that there was a time in the industry when we worked on quotas and, to explain it further, I said that in the 60's, I had 14 or more artists to produce and each artist had four album releases per year. Every album had 12 songs so I was producing 48 songs per year, per artist or a grand total of 672 songs or more per year. I almost had time to eat and sleep. Then I sat back and listened.

The artist said that he had one CD released around every 24-36 months with 10 songs on the CD. And he also owned his own publishing company with his manager with 6 seasoned writers under contract. He was also a writer himself.

The publisher said that he sadly had to let five writers go who were under contract because of the difficulty in landing cuts. Because of the exorbitant costs involved in production costs today (some of the projects cost upwards of $180,000). My album costs averaged about $12,000 and the costs are charged against the artists' royalties (that's kind of like owning a Ferrari and never getting to drive it) so in order to recoup, the artists are recording songs from their own firms, but, naturally, out of courtesy, they contact writers who have written hits for them in the past to see what they've got, or the artist or his producer has close ties to a publishing firm or firms with heavy writers. The seasoned writer said "Hallelujah" to that!!

Then the new writer said, "What about reversion clauses?" That artist reiterated that he's got a new CD that's just been released. He has the next one cut and ready to go (due to personal appearances) and that one won't see the light of day for perhaps 48 months. Then he said, "Nobody is going to hold a gun to my head and say you WILL record this song within 24 months...Hell, I'll just cut one from my own company." I believe that the artist was implying that (in some cases) he (the artist) wants a split-publishing deal and a reversion clause nixes that. The publisher nodded and said, "Yes, that happens constantly and to nail a cut for my writers, I must comply."

Keep in mind that these words were not coming from me. I was but a listener, but I did add one comment - If a publisher believes in a song and constantly shows it and gets one 'no' after another, a reputable publisher will release the song back to the writer. But then I caught myself and said, "OOPS!! Randy Goodrum, a great songwriter, had 19 turndowns on "You Needed Me" before Anne Murray recorded it. But in that case, Randy was the publisher."

Many successful writers open their own publishing companies, many times in conjunction with their former firms who got them there to begin with. Then there was a writer here who strived for seven years and couldn't get arrested. Eventually, he lucked out and landed a gigantic hit. He told me that he had to change his phone number three times!! Thank goodness he had a vast catalogue.

In my next column, I'll show you why the recording industry is a penny business as an economy expert showed us, in depth, and you'll see where all the money goes.
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