I love writing songs. I have since I was very young. And I have weathered unimaginable odds to get to a place where I can actually make a living at it.
When I was just starting out, I played in a band, traveling and writing songs on the side. I’ll never forget one gig in New Mexico, where we played twelve nights in a row, from 8pm to 2am every night.
On the last night, we went to the owner’s office to get paid. He had a couple of bouncers in there with him and a pistol laid out on the desk, and he said, “I ain’t paying you boys.” There was nothing we could do about it. And that's when I first realized where I sat in the food chain.
But I stuck with it. Because I loved it. And when I finally made it to Nashville in the 1990s, I saw hundreds of professional songwriters making some kind of living creating music.
The laws that govern music licensing were written before streaming even existed. They don’t make sense in today’s world, and yet no one in Washington is doing anything to change them.
It used to be if you were willing to work hard and be tenacious enough, there was a chance of making a living at it. But it's become harder and harder to do. The rise of streaming has changed everything. And the number of professional songwriters is dropping every day.
The truth is, the ONLY way to have any success as a songwriter today is if you have a hit on terrestrial radio. There is virtually no other way to make any kind of meaningful royalty. And the odds of having a hit single are incredibly small.
Pay attention, and you’ll notice that the few streaming success stories you hear always involve a songwriter who is also performing his or her work.
The vast majority of songwriters are NOT performers or recording artists – it’s an entirely different ballgame for us.
Last year, two fellow songwriters and I were fortunate enough to have a #1 hit song, “We Are Tonight,” performed by Billy Currington. In my fourth quarter ASCAP statement I saw that song received 6 million plays on Pandora; I got $120. On Spotify, it had 5 million plays; I got $129. There were 500,000 plays on YouTube, and I got $5.
I couldn’t help but think of that club owner years ago in New Mexico... The big streaming companies may not threaten us with guns. But make no mistake, they are taking advantage of songwriters, paying us virtually nothing for the very product their entire business is built upon. I can't think of another business that is so unfairly out of balance.
Why? Because they can. The laws that govern music licensing were written before streaming even existed. They don’t make sense in today’s world, and yet no one in Washington is doing anything to change them.
I’m no expert on Washington, but I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines patiently waiting for change. I can’t stand by and watch while outdated music licensing laws help streaming companies put songwriters out of business.
I didn't get into music to get rich. I've only ever wanted to make enough money that I could continue to do what I love. But without meaningful music licensing reform, even that will be just a pipe dream… As will the truly American art form of songwriting.
Marc Beeson is an award-winning songwriter based in Nashville, Tennessee. His songwriting credits include cuts by Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton and Lady Antebellum, as well as Billy Currington's recent #1 single, "We Are Tonight.”