I don’t know what it is about Rihanna but she just makes some killer tracks. She is so versatile. She can go from being extremely emotional, to straight ghetto, to party hopping, all in one album. Black people love her; white people love her; everybody loves some Rihanna. And now I realize why.
The thing about Rihanna is not the she has musical Attention Deficit Disorder and can’t decide whether she is in Disturbia or Finding Love in a Hopeless Place. Rihanna, plain and simple, is open minded. No, I don’t mean half naked pictures on Instagram- open. I mean in her music choice. When it comes to music, Rihanna is like you and me. Most of us don’t listen to just one genre of music and apparently neither does Rihanna. Most of the songs that she comes out with are not written by her. Other people make songs and present them to her and then she takes her pick. She didn’t write Umbrella; she didn’t write Diamonds and she didn’t write Disturbia. Chris Brown actually wrote Disturbia for himself, but decided to give it to Riri. And he was right to do so because that song was one of the best things to ever come out of that relationship.
This business of songwriting has been around for a while and apparently is a pretty lucrative business to be a part of. The key players involved in songwriting are the songwriter, the recording artist, and of course the music publisher. But what is this business really about and would it be beneficial in a society like Nigeria’s?
A Songwriter is typically a person who writes the portion of a song that can actually be copyrighted. In the United States, those parts are generally the lyrics and melody. Hence, an off the chain guitar or drum solo does not entitle such musician to any songwriter royalties unless he or she is also credited with contributing lyrics or melody to the song. At the end of the day the recipients of songwriter royalties are determined by the names listed when the song is registered with the US Copyright Office. Producers and band members who only play instruments can enter into agreements with writers stating in effect that their contributions to the track are enough to constitute co-authorship of the track. (Basically the track could not have existed without the beat or the drums). A prime example of this sort of agreement exists between members of popular group U2, which entitles all of its members (including the drummer) to writer’s royalties on all of U2’s music.
Brandy’s popular 90s track “You Don’t Know Me” was written by Rodney “Darkchild” Jenkins amongst various others. Jenkins also produced the track, meaning that he was responsible for that oh-so-catchy beat that many an Igbinedion Secondary School girl found herself drumming on a locker in her junior school days. The beat was so popular that you could just be humming it to yourself and some random person would join in from the other end of the corridor. As far as I am concerned, that song was the beat. But what if Jenkins had not co-written that track? That would be a perfect scenario where a contract between the writers and Jenkins would have been more than appropriate to entitle a producer like Jenkins to songwriter’s royalties.
Hint hint, wink wink, cough cough…Nigerian producers. A lot of you (producers) don’t just make beats; you actually help out with the hook too. In fact some of you provide rappers with beats that already have the hooks in them. For all intents and purposes you co-wrote that track and might want to consider drafting some documentation to that effect so that you can get a little side action in your bank accounts. Take American producer Benny Blanco for example, he has produced tracks like Trey Songz’s Heart Attack, and Wiz Kalifa’s roll up. He also wrote and produced Rihanna’s Diamonds, Katy Perry’s California Girls, and Gym Class Heroes’ Ass Back Home (I LOVE this song!!!!). His net worth is rumored to be about $10 million so feel free to make him your new idol.
Publishers sign publishing contracts with individual authors promising to represent the work of a composer or lyricist and promote its use. In return, the publisher holds part of the copyright to this work and becomes a right holder entitled to royalties. Record labels sign contracts with Recording Artists allowing them to become the owner of a Recording Artist’s master tapes of recordings. Most record labels today also function as music publishers, funding the writing and recording of songs, and paying copyright remunerations to produce CDs from recordings of songs.
The Recording Artist
The recording artist is the one you idolize, the Rihannas and the Beyoncés, the Katy Perries and the Maroon 5s. Sometimes, as you well know, recording artists can be a band of collective individuals. These are the people you accuse of being members of the Illuminati. The Recording Artist is the person that actually performs the music on the recording regardless of if they actually wrote the song or not. It’s important to make this distinction because not everyone writes their own music (trust me that’s a good thing a lot of times).
If you record a cover, you will be the Recording Artist, but not the Songwriter. Remember, The Dream wrote Umbrella, Rihanna recorded it.
In Nigeria, it would seem that a lot of artists pride themselves on writing their own music. In fact I was once shunned for mentioning the possibility of having someone write a track for another artist. I was told musicians make melodies and if you can’t then you’re not a musician. That would explain some of the below par crap that comes out of our industry from time to time. It would also explain why some of the most beautiful songs have the cheesiest lines in there from time to time (NO WRITERS!!). Singing another person’s song does not make you less of a performing artist. In fact you should be flattered that another person wrote a song and you came to mind to deliver such art to the world.
Some people have really good melodies stuck in there somewhere but just can’t sing (LYNXXX!!) to save a life. Yes ladies, Lynxxx no sabi sing. But if you hear him dishing out melodies like it’s plantain on Sunday you will actually be impressed. I guess it comes from his heart but just doesn’t come out of his throat the right way.
I was once approached by a friend on BBM swearing for all intents and purposes that he had the perfect song for Banky W to record. I asked him to send it to me so I could see what I could do. I had this whole elaborate plan of making it my ringtone and just making my phone ring while he was around so as to raise some curiosity in the crooner’s mind. But what I received was just…disappointing. It was a mere voice note of my friend howling his heart out like a cat on a hot tin roof. It just sounded painful. He didn’t even try to go into the studio and actually pull that thing together. That is NOT how you function as a songwriter. Ask Tiwa, she’ll tell you.
Tiwa Savage is signed to Sony/ATV as a songwriter. She’s written for the likes of Monica and Fantasia Barrino. But I highly doubt Sony would present a song to Rihanna as a voice note. When a songwriter or songwriting team makes a track to be presented to an artist, they want it to sound as close to the end product as possible so as to attract the artist’s attention. It’s much easier to fall in love with Umbrella being sung by a not so great singer on its original beat than just hearing that not so great singer sing it acapella (I don’t even think a guitar sef could help). Speaking of Rihanna, rumor has it that when she first heard Diamonds she actually started dancing in the studio. Was she dancing to a voice note?
Songwriting is a pretty lucrative business in a properly functioning musical society. It may not be as lucrative in Nigeria considering the current operating model in the Nigerian entertainment industry but remember that Nigerian artists can be found on Spotify and Pandora these days so you stand a chance of making money outside of Nigeria. So for those of you like me who still want to lead a somewhat normal life but have a deep love for music, you should consider songwriting. Not only will you have the opportunity to work with various heavyweights in the industry but you should be entitled to at least half of the royalties on each song you write.
Royalties are pretty complicated and require a more in depth analysis that is not included in this article. Expect an explanation on “how royalties are paid to recording artists and songwriters” from me next week.
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