Lanning and the write-price of pop
Dave Lanning meets the people who write the songs in 1967
“Now Listen, Baby.
“I Can Make It If You Can.
“I Can Take It If You Can.”
THE Small Faces will sing these lines during their number “I Can’t Make It” in The Morecambe and Wise Show on Sunday.
Just to print them, as above, costs £1 1s [£1.05 in decimal, £18.50 now allowing for inflation]. When the complete song is sung on television on Saturday the composers and publishers will share a further £53 12s. 7d. [about £53.63, £950] paid by the television company.
There’s money all right in words and music.
And the song-writing season is with us again.
Now, as the evenings draw in, thousands of more active amateurs, are tinkling, one-fingered, at pianos, fiddling with tape, juggling, jiggling and jingling to find that magic permutation of crochets, quavers, that spells … H—I—T.
Dick James is head of Northern Songs, who publish Beatle numbers. His quote: “We get 20 songs a week through the post in summer. Now our mailbag swells to 50 a week.” Multiply that by 400, the approximate number of British publishers.
That is 20,000 hopeful writers each week from now until spring.
You can’t blame them for trying to ring the bell.
Take television this week. Bobby Rydell as well as The Small Faces will sing pop songs in The Morecambe and Wise Show. So will The Dave Clark Five in The Golden Shot. So, probably, will at least one guest in The Eamonn Andrews Show. So will stars on more localised programmes.
Every time someone sings on a fully networked television show, the composers and publishers of that number are paid £53 12s. 7d. by the television company. On local stations a minimum of £6 [£106 allowing for inflation] is shared by the people behind the song.
Ah yes, but how do they keep track of each performance? The writer doesn’t have to bother. It’s done for him by the Performing Right Society. They collect more than £5 million [£88.5m] a year from performances all over the world, even behind the Iron Curtain. Last year from ITV alone they collected £687,950 [£13m].
So you want to be a songwriter? Perry Ford, of The Ivy League, writes about 15 numbers that are recorded each year.
He is one of the elite “in-crowd” among Britain’s song writers. His quote: “My first ever song ‘Someone Else’s Baby,’ in 1960, was a hit for Adam Faith. It just came into my head when I was tinkling the piano.
“The record sold a quarter of a million copies. My cut was £1,500.” [£27,000]
BUT … if someone sings a song by Perry in the Eamonn Andrews Show on Sunday, his share would be £26 16s. 3½d. [about £26.82 in decimal, £475 after inflation]
There are 970 full members of The Song Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, and 890 associate members (the part-time songwriters). A few years ago, the Performing Right Society worked out the average earnings from royalties for a composer was £400 [£7000] a year.
But it is virtually impossible to pin down the “average” in song writing. You can earn a fortune one year (“A Whiter Shade of Pale” could earn £30,000 [£532,000]) and nothing for the next two. Royalties can keep dribbling in for decades.
A high percentage of the songs we hear each week originate from a nucleous of established writers — Perry Ford, Chris Andrews, Graham Gouldman, Les Reed, Mitch Murray, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard (of The Rolling Stones), Tom Springfield.
And, of course, the pop daddies of ’em all, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Round figures become staggering when you investigate their song-writing activities. By the end of the year, they should have completed 120 numbers.
A recent audit showed, since they started five years ago, 2,921 different versions have been recorded, selling 200,000,000 copies at an iceberg cool £20,000,000 [£355m]. And we’re not counting Performing Right Royalties.
In its first 18 months of existence Northern Songs received £289,292 [£5m] in royalties. A quarter of the holdings were sold when the company went public. John and Paul netted £96,875 [£1.7m] each. Tax free — this was before the capital gains tax was introduced.
Dick James, balding, with heavily-rimmed spectacles, sits behind a huge executive desk around the corner from Tin Pan Alley and talks song-writing amicably, but briskly.
“1 wouldn’t buy a song outright. In the past, hard-up writers have sold their interest for a quick fiver and thrown away thousands in royalties Now we work on a shared basis. It gives the business a better reputation.
“No, I don’t think any intentional plagiarism goes on. But be fair: there are only 13 notes for song-writers, amateurs or professionals, to play with. They’ve been permutated for hundreds of years. There are bound to be accidental coincidences.”
But with pop songs, some people, some of the time, just can’t go wrong. No wonder so many people are tinkering with pianos and fiddling with tape recorders now the darker evenings are here.
You’ve heard Dick’s voice at some time or other. You must have, singing the signature tune of ITV’s marathon series Robin Hood. He recorded it in 1955 a month before ITV started and accepted a £100 [£2,610] flat fee. They used the fifth of 37 takes.
Dick said, ruefully: “If I had had a modest royalty, say five bob a performance, I would have made thousands from it. But I did earn £3,000 [£78,000] from record sales of the same number.”