[This was my weekly column for GlobalNews.ca. – AC]
Call it the revenge of the boomers.
Music publishing is both the new gold rush and a speculative play involving a specific commodity — in this case, the continuing ability of great songs to reliably generate money.
Hold on. Back up. What is music publishing and why is it such a big deal?
It’s … complicated, but what we’re focused on here is the actual music created by an artist — the dots that you can put down on paper as sheet music. In fact, that’s where the term originated 150 years ago. You wrote a song, put it on paper, and then acquired a publisher who would then print out the song on sheet music.
It was then the publisher’s job to flog your song to music stores and performers as sheet music in exchange for a percentage of the overall sales. The artist and the publisher shared the exclusive copyright on the song (quite literally “the right to copy”) and you split the proceeds.
Any performer will tell you that the big money is owning the publishing because anytime the song is used — everything from radio airplay to public performance to someone covering it — you get paid. And you own that copyright for your entire life plus the following 50 years after you shuffle off this mortal coil (up to 95 years in other countries like the U.S.) before it slips into the public domain. That means anyone can use the song for free. Until such time, though, publishing generates money.
So what’s the problem with classic rock possibly impeding the popularity of new music? I’m glad you asked. Keep reading.