Baby, Baby, Where Did Our Royalties Go?
I’m a songwriter. That’s how I’ve made a living. More than 40 years ago, when I was 20 years old, I walked into Berry Gordy Jr.'s Motown recording studio in Detroit and signed on as an artist, producer and songwriter.
I began writing with Brian Holland. As Motown grew, Brian’s brother, Eddie, joined us to meet the demand for new songs. Together, we pioneered an innovative approach to producing music that gave birth to what the world now calls the Motown sound.
Berry had worked on the Ford assembly line, and that’s how he ran Motown Records. Everybody punched a clock, and finished songs were critiqued in “quality control” meetings.
With an in-house band, an in-house studio and in-house songwriting-production teams, Motown became the most successful production line in the history of pop music -- turning out one hit song after another. In 1964-67, we had a run of 13 No. 1 hits for the Supremes.
Like Henry Ford, who made cars for ordinary people, we wrote songs to reach out to the average person. The public embraced our approach -- as did recording artists. In addition to the Supremes and the Four Tops, numerous artists recorded our songs, from Martha and the Vandellas and Marvin Gaye to the Who, the Beatles, Aerosmith and countless others.
It is gratifying to have so many great artists record our songs. It is even more gratifying to see my two sons starting out in the music business. I like to think that they take inspiration from their father’s success.
For a kid growing up in 1950s Detroit, setting out to become a songwriter was tough enough. But today’s youth face a different set of challenges from an entirely new source. Some call it using the Internet to “share” songs.
I call it plain stealing.
There have been a lot of lawsuits about this, and I’m involved in one of them. I feel very strongly that writers and artists are being robbed of their livelihoods; it’s why I got involved in a lawsuit on behalf of writers and copyright owners like me. But lawsuits alone don’t solve these problems. It’s about fairness and the future of American music.
For almost a century, songs have been subject to a compulsory license that allows anyone to record a song after its initial release by paying a royalty to the copyright owner for each copy of the recording that is made. The rate is now 8 cents. That law was expressly extended seven years ago to cover Internet downloads.
I’ve seen people put a dollar, or even five dollars, in the guitar case of a sidewalk singer. So why not pay 8 cents to inspire a new generation of songwriters so that they too can succeed? If not, why would talented young folks like my sons risk pursuing careers as songwriters?
A number of Web sites -- EMusic, FullAudio, Listen and Streamwaves, to name just a few -- have rejected the “get it free” mantra and are offering music on a licensed basis that compensates the creators. By patronizing those sites rather than the unlicensed sites, people can rest assured that the creators of the songs they love are being properly compensated.
The courts have said: “Stop! In the name of the law.” But more than that is needed to save the future of music. For music lovers who may be tempted to download music without paying, I appeal to you: “Stop! In the Name of Love” -- so that the people who work every day to make music can keep making the music we all love.