Well of course she didn’t make any money out of this

Still, this week’s comments by Lily Allen may finally confirm that any aspiring rock guitarists or pop singers might as well pack away their dreams and find a proper job.

“Everyone assumes I made millions from the John Lewis ad. I probably made £8,000,” said the singer, whose cover of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know made it to Number One last year. It was played incessantly on the radio, and – of course – the television, as the soundtrack to John Lewis’s Christmas advert, featuring an animated love story between a bear and a hare.

The cash, in the UK at least, is still where it always has been. In the songwriting. The songwriters got £51 from the BBC every time that track was played on the radio and more (although it could have been a lump sum) for the TV plays. Including regionals perhaps 10 BBC radio stations? Each plays the number one 5 times a day? £2,500 a day does add up.

As an example, from the first Oasis album each band member got £1 million (old estimate). Noel, the songwriter, got £7 million. It goes on too. Each live gig the band ends up paying the songwriter again a cut of the fees. And 4% of all record sales.

It’s always been so. Lennon and McCartney made vastly more than Harrison and Starr. Jagger/Richards hugely more than the rest.

And given that the skill and talent is in the songwriting perhaps this is as it should be? easy enough to find someone who can sing and dance as those Simon Cowell shows make obvious.

33 comments on “Well of course she didn’t make any money out of this

  1. I’ve read that Telegraph piece twice and commented on it but to be honest I don’t really have a clue what point the writer is trying to make other than that you can produce mediocre pop songs and, despite falling sales, still make a very comfortable living by turning up to parties, fashion shows and promotions and/or giving your name to some crappy range of perfumes, makeup or clothes. Poor Lily. Food banks take note.

  2. Funny how things change. In Stendhal’s biography of Rossini, he notes how librettists were a poorly-paid afterthought

  3. So, Gary Berlow made all the money from Take That…and they say there’s no justice anymore.

  4. Two stories:

    1. I am reliably informed Mick Jagger only started writing once he’d been shown where all the money was going.

    2. Upon receiving a Brit award about 25 years ago (no I don’t know why either) Tony Wilson toasted “the songwriters and the producers”.

  5. “…easy enough to find someone who can sing and dance as those Simon Cowell shows make obvious.”

    *skeptical look*

  6. I know a lot of people who like fashion models. Even one or two who like Kate Moss.

    Strangely none of them think it is odd that the real money goes to the person who designs the clothes, not the clothes horse that looks good wearing them.

  7. “Poor Lily.”

    She’s always grated on me as her noise is far greater than her signal, and her entitlement is really showing. Then again, if you’re born to a movie producer and successful actor and get raised by a successful TV comedian you might think your limited talents deserve better.

    £8K for turning up to a studio and recording the vocals for one track? With no promotional work. What’s that, a day’s work, maybe? There’s a lot of session musicians that would have been a lot more grateful for that much money and being able to have a No 1 single to their name.

  8. She sometimes does the cricket teas at Cranham, a few miles from me.

    Her husband is in the team there. In an area of beautiful and characterful cricket grounds, Cranham’s is eclipsed IMO only by Sheepscombe. If you’re ever in the area, and you like old England, both are worth a stroll to, and then a stroll back to the Black Horse or the Butcher’s Arms.

    Anyway, Lily is apparently very nice and ‘down-to-earth’, though why she shouldn’t be I’m not sure.

    Can’t say I care for her music all that much.

    Her dad is a colossal arse, though he throws good parties down at Minch (I’m told).

  9. > And given that the skill and talent is in the songwriting perhaps this is as it should be?

    Depends how you define songwriting. As the KLF pointed out, music copyright law was written by white Europeans in the 19th Century, so songwriting is legally 50% vocal melody, 50% lyrics; had it been written by black Americans in the 20th Century, it would be 10% vocal melody, 10% lyrics, 80% groove, and Bo Didley would have been one of the world’s richest men. Which he arguably deserved to be.

    I’ve always taken the attitude that everyone involved in the creation of a record should get an equal cut, because someone might only contribute nothing more than “How about we get the bass to stay on F in the third verse” but that little detail could absolutely make the record — and frequently has. Seriously, the piano part of Lady Madonna isn’t really a part of the song? Or the bassline of Billy Jean? Does anyone believe that? And Moby shouldn’t own any rights at all to Go? Ridiculous.

    There are certainly examples of vocalists whose contributions so change a record that they should be regarded as composition, not mere performance. A lot of the timing changes that are regarded as mere phrasing in fact constitute the difference between a good and a mediocre record. And of course a lot of a good vocalist’s phrasing becomes definitive, being copied by everyone who ever performs that song, despite the fact that none of those rhythmic subtleties were in the notes written by the composer.

    If you want to hear how revolutionary phrasing can be, listen to a jobbing cover band play Sweet Child Of Mine: the guitarist, being good, invariably plays the guitar riff on the beat and thereby utterly ruins the whole thing.

    Queen gave up on basing songwriting royalties on who actually wrote which bits and switched to a straight 25/25/25/25 split regardless towards the end of their career and said it revolutionised their quality control and they wished they’d done it decades earlier.

    Whoever arranged Lily Allen’s Somewhere Only We Know changed the song considerably, putting stuff in there that Keane certainly weren’t responsible for and arguably therefore shouldnt get paid for. I think, when people assume she got rich off it, that’s because they can hear that — people wouldn’t tend make the same assumption about some pub-style session singer belting out a staid cover of Satisfaction for an ad, after all. The law is an ass.

  10. @Squander Two

    No-one forced Lily Allen to record that particular song. She knew what she was getting into.

    Likewise, no-one forced Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler to join The Jam.

    They could have said, it’s thirds or nothing Paul, which Paul could have accepted. Or he could have found someone else, and Buckler and Foxton would now be cabbies, rather than musicians trading on the songs written by someone else.

    I saw From The Jam at Stroud Town Hall a week or two back. All Jam songs, bar one, and that was what the crowd wanted to hear.

    For – good as Foxton is as a bassist – it really was Weller’s songs that defined the band.

  11. V interesting comment, Squander Two. I’ve often, sort of, thought as much myself, without ever being able to explain it to myself nearly so well.

    I liked Lily Allen’s version of the Keane song, shamelessly manipulative though the ad it accompanied was. There’s a case to be made that it’s better than the original, which is rare for a cover version.

  12. @Iron Man. Tony Wilson accepting a Brit Award, that would have been for the best video clip for New Order’s True Faith.

  13. @ Ed Lud

    ‘There’s a case to be made that it’s better than the original, which is rare for a cover version.’

    I think it’s a better version, M’Lud, but it obviously wouldn’t have existed without the original.

    It’s a matter of taste, but lots of covers are widely thought to be better than the originals.

    Doesn’t mean that the cover artist should be paid more than the originatior – as above, the cover artist knows what he or she is getting into, and is quite within his/her rights to go off and write his/her own tunes.

  14. Interested, for sure. I yield to no one in my respect for the right of individuals to contract with one another, or not, as they see fit. On the vexed question of IP rights, I’ve yet to make up my mind.

    There’s a fascinating programme on R3 on Saturday morning, it’s called CD Review, which has a feature called Building a Library – you’re probably familiar with it. To my mind it’s fascinating because somebody who knows what they’re talking about takes you through a lot of different performances of the same music so you can hear the differences side by side, and start to understand why they might matter. So you’ve got this original piece, probably annotated by the composer who tells subsequent performers how he wants the piece played, yet it can give rise to dozens of different interpretations. For me, it’s one of, if not the, key distinction between ‘classical’ music and the contemporary stuff: the latter is designed for the first person to perform it, the former is inherently of universal application to anyone with the skill to play the notes. Putting aside questions of IP, value can be added (or taken away) to the 96th ever recording of Bach’s B Minor Mass by a conductor’s interpretation. But if you take, ooh, I dunno, David Bowie’s Space Oddity, can it ever really be improved upon by someone else? Sure, my example is subject to personal taste – but my point is, we can probably all think of a piece of contemporary music which simply shouldn’t be tampered with because it’s personal to the performer, his voice, his time. ‘Tampering’ with the B Minor Mass, OTOH, is what it’s there for – till the end of time. I’m not really engaging with the legal and policy questions (obviously!), just making a point about the different things that different musical types bring to different kinds of music.

  15. And I can’t really concentrate on work at the moment: I’m sitting in a room next to the Temple Church while the organist lets rip next door! It’s sublime.

  16. > No-one forced Lily Allen to record that particular song. She knew what she was getting into.

    Not sure that has anything much to do with my point, but hey.

    > For – good as Foxton is as a bassist – it really was Weller’s songs that defined the band.

    Two things. Firstly, Weller’s songs were, for the most part, based on rhythms and patterns created by black Americans. The argument is not that he should pay Foxton and Buckler for their contributions so much that they should all have paid the Motown and Stax session bands. And Bo Diddley. Everyone but The Levellers should have been paying Bo Diddley.

    Secondly, the studio process simply is not that a songwriter comes in with a complete song and everyone plays every note they’re told to (with one or two notable exceptions: Michael Jackson did indeed write near-enough every note played by every musician on his records). That’s what orchestras do; it is not what bands do. Playing in a band is a collaborative process. Weller’s songs are informed by what the rest of the band did in the studio; the versions the fans know and love are highly unlikely to be the same as the raw versions he took into the studio. Or do you really think they’d be the same if Rick Buckler had played bossa nova on them all?

    Apart from anything else, if it’s just Weller’s songwriting, how comes The Jam, The Style Council, and his solo stuff sound different?

    Finally (yeah, I know I said two things, sorry), The Jam are just one example. Even if it were true that, in their case, it’s all vocal melody and lyrics and the rest of the band contributed nothing of note, that only makes the income distribution fair in their case by luck, as the law applies that same standard to absolutely everyone regardless. Listen to BT’s stuff, for instance: you’d have to be stark staring mad to claim that the real talent lies in the vocal melody and lyrics and the rest is just icing.

  17. Edward,

    > For me, it’s one of, if not the, key distinction between ‘classical’ music and the contemporary stuff: the latter is designed for the first person to perform it, the former is inherently of universal application to anyone with the skill to play the notes.

    Sorry, but that’s utter nonsense. Quite apart from the existence of definitive cover versions (Joe Cocker’s A Little Help From My Friends, for instance), this is simply not how a lot of pop songwriting is done. Umbrella was offered to Mary J Blige before Rhianna; Ingrid Michaelson sold Parachute to Cheryl Cole first then only later decided to do her own (far superior) version. Songs are written on spec and do the rounds until they get picked up and recorded in such a way as to make it sound like they were designed for the performer, when they weren’t. I think you’re getting confused between songwriting and production here — and you’d be right to say that, in classical music, production adds virtually nothing, it’s just there to record the performance, whilst in popular music, it’s definitive.

    > Putting aside questions of IP, value can be added (or taken away) to the 96th ever recording of Bach’s B Minor Mass by a conductor’s interpretation. But if you take, ooh, I dunno, David Bowie’s Space Oddity, can it ever really be improved upon by someone else?

    Bad example, because it’s such a quirky record and so tied up in the performer’s identity, but, one day, someone will improve on it, yes. Trevor Horn said the handclaps on it were shamefully bad — and he was right: ever since I heard him point that out, I can’t listen to it without noticing and laughing at them. So that’s one area ripe for improvement, right there.

    But most songs aren’t so unique to the performer. Sticking with Bowie, the definitive version of Hello Spaceboy is the Pet Shop Boys’ remix of it, not the version on the album.

  18. S2,

    “Apart from anything else, if it’s just Weller’s songwriting, how comes The Jam, The Style Council, and his solo stuff sound different?”

    But Dirty Mind sounds different to Sign of the Times even though Prince did almost all the work on both. Sgt Peppers sounds very different to With The Beatles.

  19. @Squander Two

    Not sure that has anything much to do with my point, but hey.

    I thought your point was that the law is an ass because it’s not fair to Lily Allen because she created a different version of the original but is not properly rewarded for so doing. If your point was just that the law is an ass because you say it is, then I misunderstood you.

    Everyone but The Levellers should have been paying Bo Diddley.

    Right. And who should Bo Diddley have been paying? This is exactly why we copyright the song, not the style.

    Secondly, the studio process simply is not that a songwriter comes in with a complete song… Playing in a band is a collaborative process… Or do you really think they’d be the same if Rick Buckler had played bossa nova on them all?

    No, but I didn’t say that.

    I understand the collaborative aspect, obviously, but collaborating over what? A song.

    My point is that almost any session musician could have played drums on any Jam track. Rick Buckler was lucky it was him, but he was entirely unnecessary (as Rick Buckler) to the whole process.

    I very much doubt – very, very much doubt – that Buckler did anything other than what he was told by Weller.

    That said, was Keith Moon vital to The Who? He certainly added a lot. The question for the songwriters in the band was, ‘Do we like Keith’s drumming enough to reward him as an integral part of the process?’

    The question for Keith was, ‘Are they rewarding me sufficientrly for my input?’

    The law is irrelevant, ass or no.

    Apart from anything else, if it’s just Weller’s songwriting, how comes The Jam, The Style Council, and his solo stuff sound different?

    This is a ridiculous question, as you know.

    The Jam are just one example. Even if it were true that, in their case, it’s all vocal melody and lyrics and the rest of the band contributed nothing of note,

    I didn’t say that. I said the individuals did nothing no-one else couldn’t have done, whereas no-one else could have written Man in the Corner Shop.

  20. Squander Two, I don’t deny that some covers are better than the original (e.g. my remark on Lily Allen, above), nor even that contemporary songs sometimes do the rounds before a particular performer picks them up. But the B Minor Mass will never be unique to one orchestra and choir, nor will Finlandia, Betthoven’s 9th etc. etc. etc. – much as one might prefer, for unimpeachable reasons, a particular performance or recording. Space Oddity struck me as a *good* example of the point, precisely *because* it is so idiosyncratic. But I do wish you hadn’t mentioned that thing about the hand-clapping.

  21. Edward,

    > Space Oddity struck me as a *good* example of the point, precisely *because* it is so idiosyncratic.

    Yes, it’s a good example of the point, but the point doesn’t generalise very well, precisely because most pop songs aren’t so idiosyncratic.

    > But I do wish you hadn’t mentioned that thing about the hand-clapping.

    I wish Trevor Horn hadn’t mentioned the hand-clapping.

    Interested,

    > I thought your point was that the law is an ass because it’s not fair to Lily Allen because she created a different version of the original but is not properly rewarded for so doing. If your point was just that the law is an ass because you say it is, then I misunderstood you.

    Ha ha ha ha ha. Very good.

    I could say that the criminalisation of brothels is wrong, and you could reply that any prostitutes arrested under said law knew what they were getting into. I could say that Howard Marks’s punishment was too severe, and you could reply that he knew what he was getting into. Yes, he did, but it doesn’t follow from that that no-one may ever criticise or change the laws under which he was punished. Obviously.

    I hold no brief for Lily Allen, who is quite annoying, but the fact is that there’s plenty in that record that Keane didn’t write, and it seems unfair to pay them 100% of the royalties for something they wrote less than 100% of.

    > And who should Bo Diddley have been paying? This is exactly why we copyright the song, not the style.

    OK, so (as, again, the KLF pointed out) anyone who wishes to may take and copy the bassline from Billy Jean, royalty-free. And S Club 7 did, and a huge lucrative hit on the back of it. It’s a very distinctive melody, but, because it’s in the bass register and isn’t a vocal melody, it is discounted from music copyright law. It’s not just “style”: it’s a melody, and a bloody good one, that makes fortunes. Music copyright law says its composition is worthless whilst one split-second recording of Michael Jackson going “Oo!” is so expensive that using it would involve giving up almost all your royalties. The law is an ass.

  22. Gosh a whole thread devoted to the spoils of the music industry and no one mentioned Led Zeppelin.

  23. Baker Street: is it a classic because of the bits Gerry Rafferty wrote, or because of that sax solo? Would that be as awesome as it is without the production? Take that out, it’s pretty mundane frankly.

  24. @Squander Two

    ‘I could say that the criminalisation of brothels is wrong, and you could reply that any prostitutes arrested under said law knew what they were getting into. I could say that Howard Marks’s punishment was too severe, and you could reply that he knew what he was getting into. Yes, he did, but it doesn’t follow from that that no-one may ever criticise or change the laws under which he was punished. Obviously.’

    I didn’t say it did follow. Criticise away.

    I was just saying that Lily Allen freely entered into an agreement to re-record someone else’s song, knowing the terms, so why am I bothered that she didn’t make much cash from it?

    Likewise, Howard Marks knew the risks he ran – and the rewards.

    Brothels are a slightly odder example – unless you’re trying to show that people can criticise law on moral grounds, in which case, I know they can (and they should).

    But to extend your brothel example, I suppose Lily Allen is the prostitute complaining that she earns too little from her work, and must give the majority of her take to the madam (Keane).

    It’s surely entirely possible to say to Lily, ‘Look, love, you said you’d work for £50 a time, if you don’t like it, get lost!’ without getting into the wider issue of whether brothels should be legal.

  25. @Ian B

    Would they have been able to make it without the pies from the caff round the corner to sustain them during all those late night sessions?

    Trivial and facetious, I know, but they must draw the line somewhere.

    Good to see you back, by the way. Was wondering where you were a week or so back.

  26. > It’s surely entirely possible to say to Lily, ‘Look, love, you said you’d work for £50 a time, if you don’t like it, get lost!’ without getting into the wider issue of whether brothels should be legal.

    Tim’s post raised the general case before I commented on it.

  27. > Baker Street: is it a classic because of the bits Gerry Rafferty wrote, or because of that sax solo?

    That sax solo is a very good example of the absurdity of it all: its melody is the hook; without it, the song is nothing. See also Careless Whisper. Sax players are screwed by the law.

  28. In the 1980s the main source of income for musicians was record sales. Concerts were devices to promote the LP and (as I recall it) you paid a comparatively modest amount to see headlining acts. Of course that changed. A panic about taping was succeeded by one about downloading. The result is that legal downloads are fairly cheap and CDs cost about the same as they ever did. Yet the cost of seeing a concert has gone up dramatically. Thus the situation has reverted to what it was before recorded music took off.

    Consequently, I’m not at all surprised that Lily’s record did not earn her a great amount. She will have been paid better than a session musician and the plus for her is that she got 24/7 promotion during the busy season following a long hiatus when many people might have forgotten her.

    Here job frankly is to be an aspirational model for young women who imagine themselves to be a little quirky and left field. ie those who are not WAG wannabes but not daring enough to emulate Lady Gaga. That’s why she gets paid for appearances, gets free clothes and make-up.

  29. So you’ve got this original piece, probably annotated by the composer who tells subsequent performers how he wants the piece played, yet it can give rise to dozens of different interpretations.

    That’s one of the advantages of playing bluegrass music: there is little room for interpretation, so everyone is pretty much in agreement about how it will be played. There are few arguments over style, versions, etc.

    The other beauty is that it matters not one not how many instruments are going at once, or how many you have of each relative to others. If you’re in the middle of a bluegrass number, any random banjo player can enter the room and jump in where he wants; provided he knows the song, he’ll be able to play along, and be welcome.

  30. Oh, and there was one Lily Allen song which was effectively her half-singing half-talking in a Lahndon accent about some utter drivel; I heard that, asked someone who it was, and avoided her ever since. How she got a career in music at all was a mystery to me, until somebody on this thread pointed out she has famous parents.

  31. “Funny how things change. In Stendhal’s biography of Rossini, he notes how librettists were a poorly-paid afterthought”

    Quite right too! Especially in Italian Opera, since all they have to do is rhyme words ending in -a, -e, -I and occasionally -o. Oh, and stick in a rhyme of amor with cor every other verse.

    No, the real skill of librettists is to cram in several more lyrical sylables than there are musical ones to test the singer’s phrasing then, on the next line, to reverse the procedure in order to test her coloratura skills.

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