You may have heard two opposing points of view about how fairly EDM producers and DJs treat the performers and composers who end up on their hit records.
Put on a simple level, people who create music that leads to any kind of hit deserve songwriting credit and a share of profits.
There were well-publicized cases, however, about Milli Vanilli and C+C Music Factory for fronting their acts with people lip-synching to other singers' vocals on some tracks.
Today's charts often feature names such as Aviici, David Guetta, Disclosure, Clean Bandit, Naughty Boy and others who are DJs and producers, not composers or performers. However, Sam Smith, Jess Glynne, Aloe Blakk, Pharrell Williams and others have launched their careers as a result of their vocals on songs such as Rather Be, La La La, Get Lucky and other chart toppers.
Who Gets The Credit?
How much an original singer-songwriter can expect to earn before they have a properly produced potential hit song ready for release seems to be an area that musicians, executives and producers find it hard to agree on.
Surely, it all comes down to risk. Radio One DJ John Peel was well known for playing new artists on his radio show, quite a few of whom then went on to successful careers. Not even John Peel could predict every hit or miss, but Radio One airplay made a difference. What the act did next would determine their forthcoming careers.
Back in the 1990s when record company executives controlled the budgets and the recording decisions about acts signed to their label, studio producers and certain DJs were working behind the scenes, often at their own risk, to break in new unknown performers.
Before the Internet made releasing and distributing a song open to anyone with a computer, record companies would control the output of bands, singers and songwriters. However, DJs such as Frankie Knuckles, DJ Sammy and Fatboy Slim played their own productions amongst other records when they played a set.
Therefore DJs and producers have always, in some capacity, played an important role in unleashing chart toppers and club anthems.
Composers and performers too often have unrealistic expectations about their worth, until they have made a definitive arrangement and recording of their songs by a good producer. This is akin to trying to sell a beautiful table with a leg missing.
Jess Glynne, who sung on Clean Bandit's chart topper Rather Be has got her own song out. Sam Smith and Pharrell Williams have topped the charts with their own songs and won awards in their own right. Now La La La is introduced as featuring Sam Smith.
Meanwhile, some still unknown artists who felt shafted by producers and DJs are still chasing their profit share through the courts, which must inevitably damage any musical career they might have had.
Any successful musician would probably talk, if they choose to be truthful, about what they went through before their big break. You can surely name a few One Hit Wonders, who were unable to follow up a catchy pop song with anything else that caught the public's attention. Charity shop bargain bins are often full of flop albums that were enthusiastically invested in by over-excited music executives.
Get It In Writing
If your songs or performance are used by a named DJ or producer with a string of hits behind them, it would be best to have an agreement that you can use the recording as your calling card (with the producer or DJ backing your word). After all, a true talent scout has spotted your potential. That is the “big break” that alludes many artists.
Before you sign over your work to a big name, why not ask whether you can use your input to promote your forthcoming career? Maybe ask their opinion on more of your material? The hardest part for any musician is making decisions on their own material. What to spend money on recording? What to release? What to put on the album? As a rubbish song will turn off many potential listeners.
Therefore, ensure that any work you do that contributes to someone else's success isn't a waste of your time, by first making an agreement between you and the producer/DJ you are working for that you can use their recording to promote yourself. If they are denying you were involved in the recording YOU must learn for next time. If you don't sue, there probably will be a next time.
Any artist who works for free and doesn't ensure they get any kind of recognition for their work is an idiot. We all have to be responsible for our own lives and careers and not rely on other people.
Guest Post: Sophie Sweatman writes publicity material for artists promoted by Matchbox Recordings and writes music news for a variety of music news blogs and websites.