Note to Gymnastics Canada: Songwriting is a PROFESSION

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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The Chronicle-Herald, the daily newspaper from Halifax, Nova Scotia, ran a story Saturday, November 28, describing a situation where Canada’s national composers’ society (SOCAN) is wanting to be paid for the music used by local gymnastics groups. (See story here.) Gymnastics Canada has refused to pay songwriters for their music, calling SOCAN’s position “immoral.” But in my opinion, SOCAN is in the right.

Yet again, professional songwriters and other composers are placed in the all-too-familiar position of having to explain that, for them, songwriting is a profession. It’s what earns them their bread and butter. They create a product, and people buy that product. And there are guidelines for that product’s use. To use an analogy, buying software created by professional designers requires the purchaser to enter into a licensed agreement with the software company, and there are rules that govern the use of that software. Music, in this instance, is no different.

SOCAN, like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and a host of others, is a performing rights agency. It is through SOCAN that Canadian songwriters are paid. For most, it’s not a bonus; it is, for most, a vital part of how they’re paid. They receive payment for each CD sold (pennies!), and then they are paid a tiny amount for each time that music is broadcast. And yes, as Gymnastics Canada has been told, running your program by using the original work of composers requires payment.

Three things really bother me about this situation. First, take a look at the photo in the article. Do you think that the power company has donated the power that keeps the lights burning for the dancers? Unlikely. What about the mats, the clothing, the blaster? All donated? Possibly, but unlikely. Is the janitor who cleans the room after use asked to donate his/her services? Unlikely. Are they all accused of making a money grab, as SOCAN is? Unlikely.

There’s something else even worse that’s really bothering me about this: Let’s say, for the moment, that you couldn’t afford to buy an item in a store. Would you consider it acceptable to steal it? If you’re questioned about the theft, would you reply, “Well, I thought the price for that was unreasonable, and so of course I stole it.” If neither Gymnastics Canada nor Gymnastics Nova Scotia can afford to buy the music they’re using, the proper course of action is to not use it, to ask for donations, or to negotiate. SOCAN is on the record as saying, “Whatever their issue was financially, we would work with them to ensure that they abided by the copyright law.” The improper course of action is to take it and use it anyway.

And there is a third, even worse aspect to this whole story. Gymnastics Canada is raising an entirely new generation of young people that will now believe that if you can’t afford music, it is perfectly acceptable to steal it. Gymnastics Canada and Gymnastics Nova Scotia have a moral duty to correct this problem, explain to their young members that they were in the wrong, and start paying professional musicians if they want to use their music.
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Gary Ewer has written several e-books designed to get you writing the kind of songs you’ve always known you could write! Click here to read about those e-books.

Posted in Songwriting Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , .

5 Comments

  1. Hey Gary, thanks for the link to the story

    This story breaks my heart. It saddens me because on one side – come on, these are young people learning and pursuing their passions: we should encourage them as much as we can. Standing from a completely creative community point of view: go for it. Use the music. And make your art.

    However, as a musician myself this is an issue that can’t be faced with utopian naivete. As you say, songwriters do need to put food on the table – and making sure that the use of our songs in public performances are properly compensated for is an inherent part of making a living (unless, of course, you are a musician that licenses your work via Creative Commons).

    The matter is simple but not easy, as the industrial efforts of the major labels of late has made the public paradigm assume that all the music people want is money. They’re not to blame, and in a sense they are right. However, the danger is when they assume that *all* music is free – that they don’t need to pay anything in any form when they use it, even for non profit public performances.

    I think that the approach needs to be a personal one. People, especially common people, are starting to get allergic whenever they are approached by an institution – and again, can’t blame them because institutions are known to be corrupt. So try to talk to the users of our music, from a personal standpoint – and involve the artist directly whose music is being used

  2. i think there a is simple solution: if people enjoy the music not must pay. BUT if there money or bussinnes involved must pay.

    Exemple, you can hear my music free on radio, a tv show or dance club. ¿and the listener you dont charge them?

    so ¿why people must pay for download from internet the same song is playing for free on the radio or mtv? Non sense.

    But, ok a tv show use your music and is making money. The network must pay, a people dance with your song in a dance club, Dance club must pay. Same with gyms if people go to make gyms to work out and the gym use your work to make money must pay.

    On radios, tv show alot of musicians go and make a show for free just because “im on tv”. That is steal. That is abuse because they neeed song, music and artist to create content.

    i like the idea people pay 1 dollar for my song but the problem is most of the people dont do it and also cant do it. But for the other hand good (or most) artist are solding out all or most of they show…

    I think that can be a solution to the big problem.

    • Alex, I cannot agree with the principle of “if you enjoy the music, you don’t have to pay.” Why should listening for pleasure mean that the songwriter must give their work away, or charge less? We would never accept that in any other industry. For example, if you use your SUV for work, you must pay $30,000 for it. But if it’s just for fun off-roading, you only have to pay $15,000??

      Gymnastics Canada and Gymnastics Nova Scotia have the right to negotiate if they feel the product is priced too high. What they did wrong was to steal, and as I said, teach a new generation that theft of music is an acceptable response to what is perceived to be an unreasonably high price.

  3. Right with you on that one. Read all the comments left on the website where the story is, though. Everyone already has the attitude that music is free and they’re offended that anyone should have to pay for it. People have never been educated about the business of music, and why would they? That’s why it’s such a difficult point to argue.

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