Songwriter - Staff Writers

Staff Writers

Songwriters signed to an exclusive songwriting agreement with a publisher are known as "staff writers". Being a staff writer effectively means that during the term of a songwriter's contract with a publisher, all their songs are automatically published by the company to which they signed, and can not be published elsewhere.

In the Nashville country music scene, there is a strong staff writer culture where contracted writers work normal "9-to-5" hours at the publishing office and are paid a regular salary. This salary is in effect the writer's 'draw', an advance for future earnings paid on a monthly basis so they are able to live on it. The copyright of the songs written during the term of the agreement is owned by the publisher for a designated period, after which the copyright can be reclaimed. In an interview with HitQuarters, songwriter Dave Berg extolled the benefits of the set-up: "I was able to concentrate on writing the whole time and have always had enough money to live on."

Staff writers are common across the whole industry, but without the more office-like working arrangements favored in Nashville. All the major publishers employ writers under contract. A staff writer contract with a publisher is a natural first step for any professional songwriting career, with some writers outgrowing the set-up once they achieve a degree of success and a desire for greater independence. Songwriter Allan Eshuijs described his staff writer contract at Universal Music Publishing as a "starter deal", the success from which eventually allowed him to found his own publishing company so that he could "keep as much as possible and say how it’s going to be done."

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