Songwriters Who Did Not Write their Songs

It’s no secret in the music business that the bigger star you are, the more song royalties you get by claiming “authorship” of a hit song written by a committee of lyricists and composers. You can force yourself into an author share of the profits because, by recording a song, you can make it popular enough that everyone will get paid.  Giving you a little something for something you did not write — instead of guaranteeing an even split of nothing for the actual authors — is one surefire way to win in any business dyad.

Chuck Berry has been accused of not writing his own hit songs that he claims ownership of — because, some argue, the songs are written in chords that are more common on a piano than a guitar.  If you don’t write a lot of music to begin with, having to transpose musical keys from one instrument to another in your head during composition of a song is nigh impossible.  You’d write the song in the familiar, and easier to play, key signatures of the instrument you use to perform.

Johnnie Johnson, one of Chuck Berry’s longtime sidemen and the man who inspired Berry’s classic “Johnnie B. Goode,” filed suit against Berry in a St. Louis Federal District Court on Nov. 29.

The multi-count suit alleges that Johnson and Berry were equal collaborators on early rock classics like “Roll Over Beethoven,” “No Particular Place to Go” and “Sweet Little Sixteen,” to name a few. Johnson claims that Berry registered the copyrights to the songs in his name alone, and therefore was the sole recipient of royalties from those songs. Johnson’s suit also seeks public recognition for his songwriting role on the fifty songs he claims to have written with Berry.


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The New Writer’s Ruse: The Bemused Will Not Work for Hire

The bane of any hopeful professional author — one who writes for money to feed a family and a future fortunate — is the old “Work for Hire” kludge-as-cudgel and it is wielded against unwitting amateur authors, and even published, working, authors, by publishing houses as a “proper payment system” that is both fair to each side and an early warning windfall for the writer.  Unfortunately, none of that is true.

Publishers love to force writers into Work for Hire contracts because the benefit is all on their side of the dyad, and while initial risks are shared, the goal of good fortune tomorrow is not.

I warned of this impending trend way back on September 7, 2007 in my article: “Work For Hire is a Bad Idea” —

If you get royalties you are in partnership with your publisher.  If you are “Work For Hire” you’re used up when you’re done writing.

Publishers live to exploit that hungry author desire for fast money now — and in the process of the “Work For Hire” hiring — the author not only loses a potential profit bonanza, but also sells out their self-respect, self-worth, and fellow authors.

Continue reading → The New Writer’s Ruse: The Bemused Will Not Work for Hire