I wrote a blog a couple of years back (Giving Your Song Multiple Personalities) about the topic of song retitling. The practice of giving a song two or more names has been going on for a long time and has always got a bad rap from some quarters in this industry. If anything, the negative dialogue has only gotten shriller in recent years, so I thought it a good time to revisit the subject and expand on it a little.
I admit I’m pretty passionate about protecting the interests of the independent artist, and maybe that’s clouded my ability somewhat to see the forest for the trees on this particular subject. But I believe that, while retitling does have pitfalls, it also has its place, and as this business evolves I see the indie artist-writer needing to utilize it even more in order to survive.
In my earlier blog I discussed one type of circumstance in which it could well make sense to consider retitling a song. That involves working with an end user who refuses to use the song track unless the artist is willing to hand over their song publishing. For example, it is not unheard of for a music supervisor to ask for (or demand) a piece of the publishing of an indie artist-writer’s song they plan to use, and in such circumstance they will sometimes accept a retitled version (or even suggest that the owner retitle it) in order to give the artist a comfort zone around signing over ownership. While it is true that some music supervisors shy away from using retitled works, that’s in no small part because of the dubious practices of some music libraries that handle retitled material. They don’t necessarily view independent writers, or all music libraries for that matter, in the same negative light.
Here are some more circumstances where artists who write their own material can potentially use retitling to their advantage, retaining some control over what happens to their songs and maintaining certain publishing revenues for themselves that they don’t feel others deserve:
1) working with music libraries that can legitimately offer increased opportunities for placements, but that insist on a piece of the publishing;
2) working with Web-based licensing services that need sufficient controlling rights to facilitate getting placement deals done but that don’t warrant sharing in publishing revenues derived from usages they have no hand in getting;
3) licensing tracks of material already registered with a mechanical and/or performing rights organization (i.e., a “collective”) to niche companies that, for whatever reason, are not prepared to deal with any licensing collectives;
4) when the song is already registered with one or more collectives, placing a non-registered re-titled version on websites that provide visitors opportunities to discover, listen to and perhaps download music by new and unsigned artists, but which only accept material under a Creative Commons type of license arrangement. Be sure to inform the site that it is a retitled version of a previously registered song; if they accept it, make sure that fact is written into your CC agreement or you have some other form of written proof that you did inform them, in case they do run into a problem with a collective in their country;
5) obtaining publishing representation with smaller publishing outfits that are willing to work with the writer on a less than all-or-nothing basis. They are the sort of upstart players in this business that are often eager to work with relatively obscure writers who the more established publishers won’t even lend an ear to, let alone sign. At the same time, the writer may feel the need for a comfort zone around getting into bed with such a company, wanting to protect some of the publishing revenue sources they already have and retaining an ability to continue to actively promote and place their songs themselves. Retitling can go a long ways toward serving this need.
Let’s be real here: none of the bigger publishers or established hit writers need the kind of opportunities outlined in the above list, and most could care a hoot about the fortunes of the uncharted artist-writer who aspires to make a living with their craft. Unfortunately, based on some of the negative rhetoric emanating from some of the collectives out there, when it comes to the benefits of retitling it would seem that certain such organizations that claim to represent the best interests of all their writers and song owners really don’t care much either. It makes one wonder whose interests those particular collectives are likely to prioritize when it comes to other matters that may affect one class of member differently from another.
Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give some of the naysayers out there their due. Under certain circumstances, there can indeed be negative ramifications for having given your song more than one name. Retitling shouldn’t be undertaken without forethought and acting prudently after the fact. It also wouldn’t hurt to discuss your intention beforehand with any collective you belong to, if only to hear their side of the story and perhaps pick up some helpful advice you can apply when retitling.
After retitling a song or signing rights to a retitling company like a music library, inform any party that later wants to use (or acquire publishing rights to) the song under its original title that there is an alternate-named version out there. To not do so is irresponsible, both to that other party and yourself. If they find out later that you kept this from them, it could be a disaster for your relationship, not to mention your reputation.