Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Beware of Duplicating Your Titles, A Cautionary Tale

I learned an interesting lesson about performance royalties and publishing last week that I want to share with my friends and students.  The lesson is:

Make certain your cues have unique names!


When I say your titles need to be "unique," I don't mean that they have to be completely original   - which would be impossible - just make sure you have never used the title before.

Let me explain.

Way back in the 90's, I wrote the theme and music for an NBC series called, "The Jeff Foxworthy Show."  Just for fun, here's that theme:

There were 24 episodes and countless cues on that show.  I had a blast exercising my "redneck muscle" like only a jew from Chicago, with no previous country music experience, can exercise.

For the sake of this story, you also need to know that for every cue I composed for the show, I had a split publishing deal with the producers, Brillstein - Grey Entertainment.  Therefore, the cue sheets all listed both my publishing company and their company as publisher to the music.

Flash forward to this last BMI Statement, where I see that one of my recent library cues was licensed to a program called "NFL on Fox."  The cue was called "Eve of Battle" - a quasi generic title that I have actually used a few times - to my own detriment, I have learned.

Turns out, while I was composing for "The Jeff Foxworthy Show," I also named one of the anonymous cues in one of the scenes, "Eve of Battle" - and promptly, I forgot about that.

So what happens?

The new "Eve of Battle" appears on "NFL on Fox," and despite the fact that the cue sheet properly credits only my publishing company with ownership, the computer system at BMI sees:

  • The title, "Eve of Battle"
  • My name as composer 
  • My publishing company as publisher
  • The system assumes that it should add Brillstein-Grey Entertainment to the cue sheet as an additional publisher.
From BMI's point of view, this action of adding Brillstein-Grey to my cue makes perfect sense.  Imagine how many times a song with a specific songwriter and publisher split gets listed on a cue sheet, and either a writer or publisher is left off by accident.  Of course BMI has software that looks for this and corrects the error - even if there isn't really an error.

I had now created a real mess for myself.  In an effort to clear things up, I sent a few e-mails and had a phone call with the ever vigilant Ray Yee of BMI.  Upon explaining my error, he told me how to fix the problem:

First, register a new title for the cue with the correct publishing credit.
Next, contact the producer of "NFL on Fox" and tell them of the new title.
Finally:  Beg the producer to use the new title in the future - hoping they use it again, and again, and again...

And what of the "One that got away?"  The cue that already aired and was paid incorrectly?

Well, I could insist on having a corrected cue sheet filed with the new title and the correct publishing split,  but the truth is, the amount of money lost was completely insignificant when compared to the value of the relationship with the producer, and the time it would take to have someone create the updated sheet.  In his case, I decided to just let it go.

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