Most people are surprised to learn that when you purchase printed music, the majority of the money does not go to the composer who wrote the music. I started publishing music with a reputable publishing house about 15 years ago. Since that time, my music has sold about 100,000 copies around the world. At roughly $2 a score, you would think that I would be doing OK with a portion of roughly $200,000.00 in my bank account. The problem is, the standard contract right now gives the composer 8% of the retail cost. Some contracts make it sound nicer by calling it 16% of wholesale, but the money is the same. When I started out, it was 10% of retail. I imagine that in the next 10 years, they will shave off another 2%.
Recently, a group in China with 50 singers bought something I wrote. They spent roughly $100.00. Since I make about 16¢ per copy, I will eventually receive a whopping $8.00 for the music that I wrote. What happens to the other $92? Everyone up the chain gets a cut. The retailer takes 50%, so now we are down to $46. Of that, Hal Leonard will want some. J.W. Pepper will want some. Some money has to go to the publishing house. They usually throw a few dollars to the editor and the copyist. In the end, the composer gets a rather small portion. The entire model is exploitative and unfair to composers. It is designed to maximize corporate profits, and quite frankly, I find it immoral.
The most egregious example of the problem came up a few years ago when we were doing one of the first iterations of my website www.kurtknecht.com. We wanted to be able to sell music from the website, so we looked up a third party site that would serve as a distributor. If a user listened to a piece of music on my website, they could click on a link which would take them to the third party site and they could order it. My wife set up the account under her name. To our surprise, her end of the cut was 15% of the retail price. I was making 8% of retail, and she was making nearly twice that. Music that I wrote was making more money for my wife than it was for me!
At MusicSpoke, we are working to develop a new model of promoting and selling music where the profits go to the composer that actually created the work. This is not only better for the composer, it is better for the performer. Without the overhead of a gigantic, profit-driven corporation, the selling price can be lower while the composer still makes much more than the traditional method. The performer can rest assured that their money is going to the composer instead of a CEO. Everybody wins. So visit the site, sign up, and receive updates, articles, and limited beta invitations.