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Songwriter groups call on Recording Academy to support campaign against minimum release commitments in publishing deals

By | Published on Tuesday 16 March 2021

Recording Academy

A number of artist and songwriter groups in America have welcomed the launch this weekend of a new Songwriter And Composers Wing of the US Recording Academy. Though they have also called on that new wing to immediately back their campaign against a classic provision in music publishing contracts called the ‘minimum delivery and release commitment’.

The Academy used its big Grammy weekend to announce the launch of a new wing focused specifically on songwriters and composers. “Closely interconnected with the Academy’s existing membership base and ecosystem of music creators”, it said in a statement, “the new, consolidated wing will foster recognition of all genres of songwriters and amplify their unique role in policy discussions that seek fair compensation for creators”.

Academy Chair Harvey Mason added: “The musical process begins with our fellow songwriters and composers, and we’re THRILLED to launch this wing at the Academy that creates a home for music’s storytellers across the country. These creatives are essential to the music community and we look forward to collaborating with our industry colleagues to support, educate and empower the diverse members in these crafts”.

Fellow industry organisations and campaign groups Songwriters Of North America, the Music Artists Coalition, the Black Music Action Coalition and The 100 Percenters have welcomed the launch of the new wing.

In an open letter published by Variety, they write: “On behalf of our respective members, and the songwriter and composer communities, we would like to extend our sincerest thanks and congratulations to the Recording Academy on the establishment of the new Songwriters And Composers Wing. This is a necessary and welcome step toward supporting us in the fight to help songwriters and composers achieve the recognition and fair treatment they dearly deserve”.

They go on: “As you know, the work of songwriters and composers is not only the backbone of our industry; it is the soundtrack to our lives. Despite the pivotal role played by songwriters and composers, they have too often been an afterthought in the music industry. As such, the Recording Academy’s efforts to establish this new arm must be applauded. We welcome you and hope you will join us in the ongoing fight for fairer treatment and pay for songwriters and composers in the new digital music ecosystem”.

In many cases that fight will see the new Academy wing – alongside the likes of SONA, MAC, BMAC and The 100 Percenters – ally with the music publishing community on some key issues around the monies earned by song rights in the US. That will include ongoing calls for the consent decrees that regulate US collecting societies BMI and ASCAP to be reformed, and the current battle in the American courts over the statutory rate for song royalties paid by many streaming services, where several streaming platforms are busy appealing recent reforms that increased the rate received.

However, there are also issues where songwriters are campaigning against the publishers and common practices in the publishing sector. And it is one of those issues raised in the open letter to the Academy. “As a first collective effort with the Songwriters And Composers Wing of the Recording Academy, we are asking you to join us in our campaign towards the swift and comprehensive elimination of the Minimum Delivery And Release Commitment requirement”, they say.

That commitment – usually referred to as the MDRC – is a common term in traditional publishing deals. It means that not only is the songwriter obliged to deliver a certain number of songs to the publisher under the deal, but for a portion of those songs there must be a commercially released recording. A traditional MDRC clause also often said that those recordings must be released by a major record company or a pre-approved larger independent label.

For those songwriters who are also major label-signed artists, that’s a pretty easy requirement to meet. But for other songwriters – who have no direct control over whether or not majors release recordings of their songs – it can keep them locked into publishing contracts long after they have actually delivered the total number of works covered by the deal. The classic MDRC also ignores the increasingly common trend for artists to successfully self-release recordings via their own labels working in partnership with music distributors or label services companies.

The letter to the Recording Academy cites recent statements by one of its signatories – Grammy-winning songwriter and The 100 Percenters founder Tiffany Red – regarding the impact of MDRC clauses. “This archaic provision”, it says, “keeps thousands of songwriters and composers locked into oppressive, never-ending publishing deals. This necessary change must apply to all publishing deals going forward, as well as retroactively”.

There has been some movement on this issue already, including by the majors, the letter notes. “We applaud those publishing companies that have already been leaders in the modernisation of music publishing agreements and have committed themselves to the removal of the MDRC from existing deals, including, but not limited to, Sony Music Publishing, Warner Chappell, Universal, and BMG”, it adds. “But it is past time for all their JV partners and all other publishers to follow their example”.

The letter concludes: “The music industry is evolving, and we look forward to working with this new wing of the Recording Academy to ensure that songwriters and composers are not taken advantage of any longer, but instead are treated with the respect they deserve. We are at your disposal to lend whatever assistance we can in your newly-organised efforts in the fight for the fair treatment of songwriters and composers”.