Theater things that don’t make sense: Vol. 6. Publishing isn’t only for books.

The R&H library is for sale.  Asking price is a cool $250 mil.

Why so much?

It is industry standard that when a Producer signs a deal with a team of authors to produce their musical, the Composer and Lyricist hang on to a collection of rights in a paragraph that goes something like this:

The Producer or Bookwriter shall not be entitled to receive any percentage or share of any monies or proceeds derived by Composer and Lyricist from the publication, mechanical reproduction, synchronization and small-performing rights of the separate music and lyrics contained in the Play as written by the Composer and Lyricist, or any rights in or to such separate music and lyrics as are customarily granted to music publishers or from any use of whatsoever kind and nature of the separate musical compositions in the Play for motion picture, radio and television purposes or otherwise, all of which Composer and Lyricist shall be entitled to receive and retain, without accounting for or paying any share thereof to Producer or Bookwriter and the copyrights and all renewals and extensions thereof shall be in the name of and solely for the benefit of Composer and Lyricist.

In other words, the Producer (and when I say Producer, please understand that I really mean the Show and more importantly its investors, which the Producer represents) sees no financial benefit from published song books, from songs used in commercials, from songs on albums of other artists, from muzak in elevators, etc.

As you can see from the R&H price tag, this bundle of rights can be quite valuable.

I don’t know the origin of this industry standard, but I suspect that it has roots in an era when musical theater tunes were more of an accepted part of popular culture and it was more common to hear these tunes on the radio, on records, and on television.  The songs had a life of their own away from the show.  Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, etc. didn’t need a show to get a song out to the world.

Today most composers/lyricists do.

Shouldn’t shows share in some of these monies, since the show and its investors (most of which probably did not recoup their investment) were responsible for helping to introduce that show and therefore its music to the world?

Does it make sense to you that a flop musical which lost almost its entire investment had a song featured on a popular television show, and made the composer and lyricist thousands and thousands of dollars in royalties, but the investors never saw a penny?  Guess where the producers of that TV show first heard that song?  They saw the musical.  (True story)

I don’t think anyone can argue that the production of a 10 million
dollar musical assists greatly in the marketing of that musical’s songs.

The show and its investors make those songs more valuable, therefore
the show and its investors should be entitled to some portion of those
royalties, just like stock and amateur or movie rights, but in a
smaller percentage, say 25%, 20%, or even 10%, depending on the
songwriting team.

Doesn’t the production of the musical make those songs at least 10% more valuable than no production at all?

The Composer or Lyricist would pay an agent 10% for negotiating a deal for these songs, why wouldn’t they pay the show that helped publicize them in the first place?  (Or better, it’s customary for stock and amateur licensing houses to pay commissions to agents, why not push for the publishing house to pay the show a commission or finder’s fee so the composer lyricist doesn’t pay a penny?)

Before I start getting letters from the Dramatists Guild about how I’m just another producer looking to line my projects, here’s what I propose:

The Show and its Investors get a portion of these publishing proceeds ONLY if the Show hasn’t recouped its investment.  Once the show recoups?  100% goes to the Composers and Lyricists.

Doesn’t that seem fair?

I’m not trying to line pockets.  All that I want to do is get my money back to my investors as fast as possible.  With our unfortunately high “industry standard” failure rate, so many investors see recoupment as a major success.

Getting investors their money back is like a government giving a tax rebate.  You give it back so that they’ll give it back to you, through reinvestment.

And that benefits all of us, Composers and Lyricists, included.

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.