Thoughts From A Songwriter: Mechanical Rights

If Someone Wants To Cut My Song What Will You Say ?

Seneca,  a first-century Roman philosopher, allegedly said, “Luck is where the crossroads of opportunity and preparation meet.”This could not be more true when it comes to songwriters who tend to be dream chasers.  If you want to be lucky and get some of your songs recorded then you have to start getting prepared for that good luck. Visualize the best possible outcome and have your house in order.  Know the answers to the questions you are gonna be asked.

Let’s say you pitch your song through the mail or an mp3 emailed to independent country artist Susie Wannabe and a week later your phone rings and it is Susie.  She says she loves your song and wants to put it on her new CD so she asks YOU the one question you better have the answer to  “What do I need to do to legally record your song” ?   Oh, “crap” I have no idea is NOT THE RIGHT ANSWER. Keep in mind that it is NOT little Susie Wannabe’s responsibility to know what to do. She didn’t pitch a song to you.  You pitched to her and she wants to cut your song so the ball is in your court.  I have gotten these phone calls and a lot of the time the artist will be going in the studio within the next 72 hours so there is no time for you to educate yourself.  If you don’t know what to do then don’t blame Susie for “Passing” on your song and not risking being able to get her CD pressed because you know less than she does about the process.  If she is very smart she is not going to gamble that you figure out the answer in time.  After all you have had years to figure it out and “oh, “crap” I have no idea is the best you can come up with so far. If you want to be treated as a professional you have to do what professional songwriters do.  Otherwise you are just clogging up the system for everyone.
If you don’t understand what you need to know about the music business go buy you a cheap music business book on  you can even buy them used and learn.  There is absolutely NO WAY TO GET AROUND THIS you gotta learn.  If you don’t want to learn your other option is to give away 1/2 of your earnings to a publisher.  Good luck finding one. See there’s no way.  If you are pitching your songs to Alan Jackson, Carrie Underwood and Movie Producers then you already know how to issue a Mechanical License etc!  If you only have the contacts to pitch to bands in your area or Independent artists you find on FaceBook, MySpace, Reverb Nation etc! these artists are not gonna know how to guide you through the process so YOU HAVE TO KNOW.  You probably can’t find a small time music publisher who will even issue a Mechanical License for you even if you have someone wanting to cut your song because there is normally not enough money involved for them to mess with the paperwork or risk getting sued if you have inadvertently used someone else’s melody. You can’t even tell the artist they can cut your song for FREE and skip the Mechanical License.  Here is how the law is enforced.  When Susie Wannabe shows up at the Pressing Plant to get her thousand copies pressed the first thing they ask Susie for is a Mechanical License for every single song on the CD.  No license then they don’t press, simple as that.  You may have gotten a CD pressed before without a license but are you willing to bet you can do it again ?  Even some of the duplicators who burn a few CD’s are now demanding to see a License first.  No one wants to pay the fines.  Even Artists who write their own songs have to issue themselves a Mechanical License.  It is possible you could figure out a way around the law but it is a whole lot easier to figure out how to come up with a blank Mechanical License form and how to fill it out don’t you think.  Then when you get that phone call from an artist who wants to cut your song you can just ask them the 3 or 4 questions you need to fill out the Mechanical License, tell them how much it costs because you will know and they send you a check or Paypal you the payment and you mail them their Mechanical License. Figure out how to get your hands on a blank copy of a Mechanical License, learn what the statutory Royalty Rate is so you know what to charge the artist and how to explain that to the artist.  Get your ducks in a row so when you get that phone call wanting to cut your song the artist will think they are talking to Warner-Chappell or Sony Music Publishing.  You may not want to deal with this but it is like the guy who says he just wants to drive the truck and ain’t interested in learning how to read a roadmap.  Well we all know no trucking company is gonna let him out there on the highway no matter how good he drives.

Lonnie C. Ratliff

Used with kind permission from Lonnie Ratliff

No Comments to Thoughts From A Songwriter: Mechanical Rights

  1. This is all great info Lonnie.. makes sense also. So many songwriters (and artists) don’t understand
    this sort of thing and you explained it very well. Thanks a bunch. I even learned a few things;..
    and I’ve been around quite a few years as a publisher (and songwriter, of course). Cheers, Judy