This Week in Self-Publishing: Licensing Lyrics, Part 2

Money earned (total): $6,909

Money spent (total): $150

Money earned (this week): $0

Money spent (this week): $0

EDITOR’S NOTE: I actually wrote this on Thursday night, after two glasses of wine, because I knew today would feel miserable. If my WINE PROSE makes you smile, all the better.

So I spent part of this week going back over every lyric I quoted in The Biographies of Ordinary People: Vol. 1: 1989–2000 and rewriting most of the sections to eliminate the lyrics.

I thought about eliminating all of the lyrics (or at least all of the ones that aren’t in public domain, because I can have my girls sing Henry Purcell as much as I want), but that felt like cheating. I said I would try to license some lyrics, and I’m going to do it. Because I want to learn how.

I started with lyrics from Tied to the Tracks, which is a super deep cut, but it’s a real musical that my high school put on back in the day, and it was really easy to contact Pioneer Drama Service and ask how I could quote from the show. (They haven’t gotten back to me yet, but it was easy.)

Then I tried Samuel Barber’s “Sure on this Shining Night,” which is the American art song that takes its lyrics from a 1934 poem by James Agee. I’m not sure about Agee, but the copyright on the Barber song is held by Hal Leonard, and they actually have a form for novelists like myself, along with a caveat:

but please do not proceed to the form unless you can provide all of the following information: publication title, publisher, publication date, the excerpt and/or complete lyrics as they are to appear in your publication, the territory of distribution, number of copies to be printed and suggested retail price

Here’s what this means for me. I can’t request permission from Hal Leonard until I figure out my publication date, which is fine, but I’ll also need to figure out the suggested retail price of both the ebook ($3.99) and the print book (TBD depending on how much it costs to print the book).

Which, in the world of self-publishing, means I’m going to have to create a polished print layout and send it to CreateSpace as if that were the final draft. Once I figure out how much it’ll cost CreateSpace to print the book and how much I want to add on top of that for myself, then I’ll have the suggested retail price to give to Hal Leonard—but if they don’t want to give me the permission, or if they say it’s going to cost me more than I want to pay, I’ll have to rewrite the text (without the lyric) and reupload it to CreateSpace and blah blah blah.

Not to mention that “number of copies to be printed” is not how print on demand works. But I’ve heard from other self-publishers that you just fudge a number. ONE THOUSAND COPIES! And then if you sell more, you go back and tell them you sold more, and then they probably say “give me more money.”

It’s enough to make me not want to quote “Sure on this Shining Night” and have Jackie practice “Sebben Crudele” instead. (“Sebben Crudele” isn’t actually the right choice here, because she needs to be singing something that makes her think of her mother, but I’m sure one of those 24 Italian Songs and Arias will solve that problem. Anything written in 1700 would be great.)

Then I tried to figure out who owned the copyright on “Sing, Sing, Sing,” written by Louis Prima in 1936, and that is hard. There are a lot of band arrangements under copyright by sheet music company J.W. Pepper, but none of those arrangements clarify whether they own the copyright on the original song. I could email J.W. Pepper and just ask… or rewrite the section so it doesn’t include the lyric. (Y’all know how “Sing, Sing, Sing” goes, right?)

Lastly, there’s “My Little Buttercup,” written for the 1986 movie The Three Amigos. Where do I even start with this? IMDb gave me a whole list of production companies and distributors, and sure, I could go contact HBO or whatever, but I might have better luck reaching out to Randy Newman, who wrote the song and who has a website with a contact form. He (or his assistant) could at least point me in the right direction.

For whatever reason, I am terrified of asking Randy Newman. I should just do it and get it over with. He’s just a guy who wrote a lot of songs that I know, and he probably won’t even read it himself, so…… DO IT! But not today. Because of the inauguration.

I’ve published choral music myself (long story), which means my copyright is owned by a publishing house, and if someone wanted to quote my music in a book, they’d have to figure out which publishing house owned it—and it might not be the one they think, because the publisher who originally published the music has since merged with a larger publishing house, and my copyright got transferred.

Which is a long way of saying that the one good thing about self-publishing The Biographies of Ordinary People is that if anyone wants to quote it in one of their books, they’ll only have to contact me.

And they shouldn’t be terrified of doing that.

 

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