This Article Originally Published November 2001
by Jeffrey & Todd Brabec
Everyone knows that hit albums, chart singles, movies, television series and commercials are the major moneymakers for songwriters and recording artists. But there's a lot more to the music industry and how you earn money than just the more obvious "big ticket" items. Three of the many other areas that generate income (sometimes substantial) are the use of songs with commemorative plates and other collectibles, as part of musical telephones and as performed by mechanical singing fish.
Limited Edition Collectibles
The commemorative plate, rendering, statue, sculpture or other collectible (such as a hand painted porcelain egg) represent a growing market and opportunity for songwriters and music publishers since many of these items include a digital music or musical voice chip which allows the buyer to play a particular song which in some way relates to the subject matter of the collectible.
The price of these collectibles range from $50 to over $200 and, when music is used, the collectible usually relates in some manner to a particular solo performer or group (e.g., Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, etc.) or to a motion picture which has a well known musical theme or song score (e.g., The Wizard Of Oz).
Some examples of this genre are a crystal domed porcelain sculpture of the Beatles that plays "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," Frank Sinatra hand painted dolls containing excerpts of the singer performing "Witchcraft" and "My Way,"a porcelain clear domed sculpture of Marilyn Monroe that containsa digital sound chip of the actress singing "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend", a crystal-clear domed structure of Elvis Presley with Graceland in the background that plays "Love Me Tender", a Dorothy from The Wizard Of Oz musical portrait doll that features an excerpt from Judy Garland's classic version of "Over The Rainbow" and an heirloom collector plate featuring Patsy Cline singing her hit "Crazy."
When a music publisher licenses a composition to the company producing the collectible, the term of rights is usually for a limited period, (e.g., for 7 years) or for a set period with an option (e.g., 4 years with an option on the part of the collectible company to extend the term of the license for an additional 3 years). The per collectible royalty is many times based on the U.S. statutory rate for sales in the United States (but such can be negotiated higher) with a larger royalty for sales in countries outside the United States since the mechanical rate in foreign countries is usually higher han that in the United States (e.g., 13 to 15). One can also negotiate a graduated rate in the United States to reflect increases in the statutory rate or upon commencement of the option period (e.g., 7.55 during the initial period and 9 for the option period).
There are a number of special telephones on the market which play your favorite song in place of the normal ring when someone calls. One such example is a singing Elvis Presley telephone which has a replica of Elvis in a gold lam suit holding a guitar on the base of the telephone. When the phone rings, the replica begins to dance while the song "Hound Dog" is heard. There is also a demo button which you can push to see and hear the performance without waiting for someone to call. Another example is an Elvis phone which plays "Jailhouse Rock". Since this type of use is an audio reproduction, licensing is many times handled on the basis of the statutory mechanical rate per composition per telephone but such rates can be negotiated higher.
Another interesting use of music is in connection with the mechanical fish that turns its head and sings a well known song. One example is a big mouth bass mounted on a wall plaque which sings such compositions as the Bobby McFerrin written "Don't Worry, Be Happy" and the more appropriate "Take Me To The River". There are a number of variations in this area but most are currently battery operated which can be activated either by a motion sensor or by a manually operated push button. Licenses are many times issued at the statutory mechanical rate or higher for the territory of the United States with increased rates for a worldwide license.
Considering that thousands of these items are sold every year, the royalties earned can sometimes be as good as a gold record.
This article is based on information contained in the new, revised paperback edition of the book "Music, Money, And Success: The Insider's Guide To Making Money In The Music Industry" written by Jeffrey Brabec and Todd Brabec (Published by Schirmer Trade Books/Music Sales/435 pages). Click Here to buy this book.