Anything about Elvis
More than 30 Million visitors can't be wrong

The Publishing deal-Elvis and the Colonel were right

Fri Jul 15, 2005 2:01 pm

The arrangement that Elvis and the Colonel had where songwriters had to give up half the publishing rights on their songs is almost always painted as a near criminal arrangement. While in the long run the practice may have been self-destructive, speaking not in terms of composer royalties but strict publishing royalties it was more than justified.

After "Heartbreak Hotel" and "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" an Elvis Presley cut was the best thing that possibly could happen to a songwriter. An Elvis Presley cut guaranteed things you could get nowhere else in the business. There was a guarantee up until the mid-60s of at least one million sales on a song chosen as a single. When you factor in worldwide sales every track was guaranteed to reach that level. Elvis was the only performer to GUARANTEE on his records in that era. The potential for a single cut was in the multi-multi-millions.

On the same level, the records were guaranteed massive airplay on a wordlwide basis.

An Elvis cut also brought great potential. There was the potential a particular song could be performed on television and in movies. Further there was the potential of remakes. As Elvis songs these were the most listened to songs in America in their day. Artists like Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson and Jerry Lee Lewis all incprporated Elvis songs into their catalogues back in the day and in later years the number boomed. These artists were exposed to these songs due to their interest in Elvis and when they remade the songs they were remaking Elvis not the songwriters.

As a performer, Elvis was according to industry standards only entitled to relatively paltry royalties on the sales of his records. Yet in a realistic sense why should be deprived of revenue from all these other sources when he is creating the economic climate to make these avenues viable sources of income. Does it seem outrageous to anyone that they could slap together an "Elvis Presley Songbook" for karaoke or in sheet music and Elvis wouldn't get a dime if he didn't have a piece of the publishing?

Later on when more peformers moved big numbers and Elvis could no longer make the same guarantees he made in the 1950s then he should have changed strictly for survival practice. Still, a Presley cut even in 1970 carried certain guarantees only by now there was new one- commercial legs. Maybe the numbers weren't as gaudy as there were in the '50s there but an Elvis cut was still a boom to a writer. So even though they had to change because the changes in the industry made writers more likely to gamble, they still had legs to stand on. Although good material was important, Elvis and his performance style was a much bigger part of the equation. Look at "Suspicious Minds" which caused so much controversy over the publishing when it was recorded. This song had sat for a year and done nothing. Elvis made it a #1 hit and a pop standard.

I just get upset when writers and songwriters get all high and mighty by the publishing issue. They were not entitled to 100 percent publishing rights by any moral circumstance. It was just an arbitrary industry standard.

Again, I just have to make clear that this does not refer to legitimate composer royalties just overall publishing.

Fri Jul 15, 2005 2:38 pm

LTB/Steve -

Wasn't it Otis Blackwell who said:

"50% of a hit is better than 100% of nothing !"

[Or words to that effect].

But I bet he would have preferred 100% of a hit !

Whichever way you look at it, Elvis & his team stole royalties properly due to the songwriters, who were over a barrel.

This practice came back to bite them, of course, as Elvis was starved of good material in the later years, when songwriters sent their better stuff elsewhere.

Fri Jul 15, 2005 3:18 pm

Did Elvis retain the publishing rights to his songs after the infamous "73" deal with RCA?

JEFF d
Elvis fan

Fri Jul 15, 2005 3:31 pm

JEFF d wrote:Did Elvis retain the publishing rights to his songs after the infamous "73" deal with RCA?

JEFF d
Elvis fan


Yes he did and they are still a valuable part of EPE. Priscilla ended up owning 5 % of the companies after the divorce and I think Elvis sold parts of the companies back to Aberbachs(?) in 1967 when he needed cash but at the time of his death he still owned a part of those companies. Those publishing rights are very profitable. Freddie Bienstock who used to run the companies and owned a part of them and in fact still owns publishing companies is worth hundreds of millions dollars. Of course he made a ton of money when he decided to finance an unknown Irish band in the 80's. When the band released Joshua Tree they got their money back many times over.


Here's FAQ from EPE:

"MUSIC PUBLISHING

Totally separate from the ownership of Elvis's recordings is the ownership of the songs themselves. Elvis recorded over 700 songs. Elvis, through his own publishing companies (Elvis Presley Music, Gladys Music, Whitehaven Music, Elvis Music, Inc.) was part owner (typically half or third) of a great many of the songs he recorded and even some songs he did not record. Hill & Range Music, owned by brothers Julian and Jean Aberbach, was his publishing partner for the most part. Typically, in the deals made with the publishing companies, the composers retain a share. The publishing companies manage the material.

Elvis did not sell his publishing interests. EPE still holds those interests and they are one of our major assets. Thus, the 1973 deal regarding Elvis's artist's royalties had no effect on his publisher's royalties. Elvis continued to get (EPE still gets) his publisher's royalties on sales of recordings of songs he had publishing interest in, no matter what date they were recorded. Elvis also recorded many songs that he did not have publishing interest in. Once in a while, per the contracts signed in Elvis's lifetime, his publishing interests expire on some songs."

Fri Jul 15, 2005 3:56 pm

JEFF d wrote:Did Elvis retain the publishing rights to his songs after the infamous "73" deal with RCA?

JEFF d
Elvis fan


Jeff -
Yes he did. The rights that were sold to RCA were his rights as a recording artist (part of what's called mechanical royalties). This deal had no effect on his publishing rights/royalties.
For example when, under the new deal RCA released the tv advertised Elvis' Greatest Hits in 1973 and it sold 2 million units (or whatever) Elvis received no royalties as the recording artist for this record. However, he (or rather his publishing companies) would receive royalties for songs on the album that were 'owned' by his published companies. (By 'owned' I mean under legal control.)
Elvis' publishing companies would also receive what is called performance royalties on any material under their control for uses such as radio play, juke box play, film and t.v. play, and sheet music publishing.
All of this explains why Parker wanted the publishing on songs that Elvis would record. It's extremely lucrative!

Fri Jul 15, 2005 4:18 pm

Colin- I'm not talking songwriting composition royalties. I'm talking publishing. I feel when it's Elvis who is making the hit, Elvis deserves a piece of the pie. When Mark James gets royalties off a songwriting book or a karaoke tape with Elvis' name on it and he gets money off it and Elvis doesn't that to me is stealing. When Dwight Yoakham remakes "Suspicious Minds" as part of an Elvis tribute and Elvis' estate doesn't see a dime that's stealing. Even when a normal remake of the song is done. As I pointed out, that song was doing nothing when Elvis got it.

Fri Jul 15, 2005 5:03 pm

Which ever way you look at it, the writers were being ripped off. Without the song material they provided there would have been no tv shows, no films and no tours......and no carreer.

I will admit though that some aspects of publishing are slightly dodgy, like The Animals version of "The House Of The Rising Sun", and the "good fortune" of Alan Price.

Fri Jul 15, 2005 5:29 pm

LTB -

You wrote:
Colin- I'm not talking songwriting composition royalties. I'm talking publishing.


Call it what you will.

Otis Blackwell, Mae Axton, Tommy Durden etc all gave up a slice of the royalties due to them.

Or Elvis simply wouldn't be releasing their song.

It's blackmail & it stinks.

The practice of showing Elvis name as part-composer ceased early on.

But the taking of a slice of the royalties didn't !

Fri Jul 15, 2005 5:38 pm

It didn't stink. He deserved the extra royalties because he made the hits. It's only fair. It is only a quirk of the business. Like the payola scandal, if performers like DJs were paid fairly you might have a more compelling case. Unfortunately, the system was rigged by the writers and publishers in an era before performance became the center of popular music.

Fri Jul 15, 2005 5:44 pm

But it wasn't Parker who instituted these 'cut-in' publishing deals. It was a common practice at the time, and remains so in some circles of the music industry (country music for example).

Giving Elvis a bogus writer's credit so he could reap some of the writer's piece of the publishing royalties was wrong. However, negotiating with writers for a higher piece of the publishing royalties can be construed as being greedy, but it's not necessarily unethical, and certainly not illegal. Personally, if I'm a writer I'd rather have 30% royalty of a million selling single rather than holding out for 50% - and wind up with 100% of nothing!

Fri Jul 15, 2005 5:53 pm

likethebike wrote:Colin- I'm not talking songwriting composition royalties. I'm talking publishing. I feel when it's Elvis who is making the hit, Elvis deserves a piece of the pie. When Mark James gets royalties off a songwriting book or a karaoke tape with Elvis' name on it and he gets money off it and Elvis doesn't that to me is stealing. When Dwight Yoakham remakes "Suspicious Minds" as part of an Elvis tribute and Elvis' estate doesn't see a dime that's stealing. Even when a normal remake of the song is done. As I pointed out, that song was doing nothing when Elvis got it.


LTB-
If Elvis owns the publishing, then he is of course entitled to a piece of the action. But if he doesn't own it then he's simply not entitled to any period. It's not a question of right or wrong, it's a question of legality.

Fri Jul 15, 2005 6:08 pm

Cool, thanks for the replies everyone! I never really understood how he (seemed to me) still get paid for his songs. When I knew he sold his back cataloge in 1973. The publishing rights never crossed my mind, so at least Parker did do some good for Elvis in this regard, but somehow I would guess that Parker still got even more monies from the publishing than Elvis. Even though I dont know that as fact, but it wouldn't surprise me!

JEFF d
Elvis fan

Fri Jul 15, 2005 7:07 pm

According to some sources Parker figured they'd pretty much gotten all the mileage out of the back catalogue that they were likely to get. The success of the tv advertised greatest hits album must've cause him to swallow his cigar! Not only because of the album's success, but also because RCA got over on him and exploited an avenue he hadn't thought of. The success of the Legendary Performer series also must've had Parker kickin' himself.

Sat Jul 16, 2005 12:22 am

Colin is right. It was BLACKMAIL and it STANK.

For those who think it was right - how would you like to give half your salary back for the gratitude of having a job!


It is to Elvis credit that he at least stopped his name being used as a composer - he didn't think it was right.

Sat Jul 16, 2005 12:43 am

It gets done all the time. Work for hire arrangements are not uncommon. Say someone builds a house, a framework. However, another person furnishes it, adds onto it, remodels and restyles it and then finally sells it for way over its original value. Are you telling me that the person who does all that extra work only deserves a commission on the house?

I'm not talking about composer royalties and by this I mean the royalties that a composer would collect for writing a song similar to what performers receive. I am talking about above and beyond, the ownership of the song.

The writers were most definitely not over a barrel. The potential loss for them was the benefit of the Presley cut. Boo hoo. This has to be the most oddball form of blackmail ever. Gosh they were terrorist. Let's see we'll give you millions in sales and airplay if you give us half-ownership of the piece. If you don't, we'll record something else. You can go to Bobby Vee or Rod Lauren and take your chances. Blackmail implies some sort of force was in place. There was no force here.

Elvis was not stealing the benefit he was giving it. They were taking from him. I get a kick that no one is upset that Elvis' name and performance are being exploited. His power made the difference. And it's not like Elvis was asking for a disproportionate cut. 50/50 is fair. Leiber and Stoller had no problem with the situation. They split with Elvis over artistic differences.

Yet the industry history has been so slanted in favor of the songwriter that this item has been written about in such slanted terms. What's amazing is that no one ever cries for the performer whose average terms with the record company is far more scandalous. The record company winds up owning the masters despite the fact that the artist pays for their production and promotion through their royalties. If a songwriter were ever greeted with such highway robbery you'd never hear the end of it.

Sat Jul 16, 2005 10:24 am

Let's not forget that many of Elvis' greatest hit songs were written FOR Elvis.

Starting with Heartbreak Hotel, and of course through the movie years.

Most of Elvis' hit songs from 1956-1966 were written specifically for Elvis, by writers who were fully aware of Parker's publishing requirement. And they were sent to Elvis with a demo in his style.

Instead of thinking only of the "50% of a hit or 100% of nothing" concept, look from a slightly different angle and realize, in 1957, that Elvis was going to release a single and then another and another, and wouldn't you like to be the writer of an Elvis single and have 50% ownership? A OR B side (the sales royalty for the songwriter is the same!).

Pat Boone's hit "Don't Forbid Me" was offered to Elvis first, and Elvis rejected it. List the others that became hits after being rejected by Elvis? There are several, and 100s more songs that were recorded and became B-side or album filler from name artists and had reasonable sales. Those "non-Elvis" songs might not exist at all except for Elvis.

Sat Jul 16, 2005 1:22 pm

"The writers were most definitely not over a barrel. The potential loss for them was the benefit of the Presley cut. Boo hoo. This has to be the most oddball form of blackmail ever. Gosh they were terrorist. Let's see we'll give you millions in sales and airplay if you give us half-ownership of the piece. If you don't, we'll record something else. You can go to Bobby Vee or Rod Lauren and take your chances. Blackmail implies some sort of force was in place. There was no force here. "

[/quote]


Terrorist ????? boo hoo ???.......rubbish arguement mate. This practice was`nt right because the songs were the ownership of the writer, full stop. Just the fact that this practice was`nt working as much towards the end tells you everything you need to know. Your talking like Elvis was hard done by!

Sat Jul 16, 2005 2:05 pm

ohnono -

You wrote:
Let's not forget that many of Elvis' greatest hit songs were written FOR Elvis.

Starting with Heartbreak Hotel, and of course through the movie years.


You quoted the wrong song for your example !

Mae & Tommy only offered Heartbreak Hotel to Elvis after The Wilburn Brothers turned it down !

Hardly written for him.

Sat Jul 16, 2005 10:09 pm

Ouch!