Rap Coalition

A HOW-TO RESOURCE FOR RAP ARTISTS, PRODUCERS, & DJs. Since knowledge is power, here is your best defense to succeed in the urban music industry...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Extremely important letters to Bob Lefsetz, weighing in on the royalty controversy:

Dear Bob
Ellen Shipley here.
Recording Artist in the late 1970's-1984; hit songwriter ("Heaven is Is A Place on Earth".......)
Survivor of the monstrous music business for 30 years. One of Dave Marsh's best friends. Mother of two kids, three dogs.
Married to veteran keyboard player (as they like to describe him) Ralph Schuckett.
It's all there---google away!

I thought I was through. Sold part of my catalogue in 2007 to feel clean.
Not getting paid again.

I like your style. This is what I have to say....If you're interested in this piece of the rotting music business pie, let me know.

It's time to tell the story of the Music Publishers who have ripped off the songwriters for years
and the songwriters who have buried their collective heads in a PC bubble in order to keep getting covers...
The audits, the sell-outs, the fear..... All the dirty little secrets..song writers feeling forced to give their publishing away to Recording Artists
(who think its a privilege for you to have a song on their record --so bow down, eat dirt and give them part of your royalties or you won't get your song recorded);
to managers who think you"re lucky to have them and they should be rewarded beyond the percentage they already take; to heads of publishing companies who want to make as much money as they can whether they actually work for you getting covers on records or they sit round taking the credit anyway even if they did nothing.
The Big Time lawyers who play golf or footsie or whatever with the Big Time Publishers that you need to hire so you can get your own money from the company that somehow doesn't want to give it to you.
although the money is yours and they have no right to keep it. Oh--they always have kids at the same private school---cute.
The endless games you learn to play; the lack of fighting spirit on the part of the song writers;
the lack of a song writing community; the lack of any "power" on the part of the song writers as they are taught to believe they are totally dispensable, replaceable,
("if you don't behave we'll use someone else's song on the record") ---low man on the proverbial music totem pole. Wow! Really??? Go write your own shit
which some artists inevitably do although they can't write. Which reminds me---do you iknow the one about the song writer who has to sit with the
recording artist who can't write at all but hold his/her hand and then give them credit as a writer of the song even though THEY CAN'T WRITE???
Swallow that. Quietly.

Yeah. I know. I'm venting.
I was angry 30 years ago when a DJ at a radio station told me to blow him or he wouldn't play my song on his station; when my Record Company A&R guy
wouldn't stop eating his Chinese food and talk to me about my record even though I flew 3,000 miles for the appointment; when, when when........
I'm going to stop now. I'm not having a pity party. I'm having a "someone tell the fucking truth, already" celebration because it's time...

Let me know if you are interested in this chapter.

I am going to meditate now that someone at one of those BIG PUBLISHING COMPANIES will send me a check.


Ellen Shipley


I'm Andre Pessis. I've had 16 hit songs including songs recorded by Huey Lewis, MR Big, Waylon Jennings, Bonnie Raitt, Tim McGraw, Southern Pacific and others.

I would like to add to Ellen's list.

How about the practice of record companies forcing songwriters to help pay for Indie promoters on singles with the threat that they will never get another cut with that label if they don't?

Or how about the fact that record companies make it a policy to withhold a percentage of songwriter and publisher royalties and won't pay unless audited which forces the songwriter and publisher to pay Harry Fox a percentage in order to Audit?

What about producers who take a big chunk of publishing to play your song for the very artist that they are supposed to find material for?

What about the policy of putting your song on hold and asking you not to play your song for other artists without any payment or guarantee of a cut, yet in the movie industry, writers are given a fee for an option?

Sometimes these holds last so long the song is no longer "current".
Years ago Rod Stewarts people asked my then publisher Bug Music for 100% of the publishing for a songof mine that he wanted to cut. When Bug asked them - How will we make anything?, they were told to take part of the writers share of royalties.

And finally, what about the practice of big companies paying a producer a hefty fee to place a song on the record of an artist whether or not it's the best song for that project.

The music business has always been corrupt but the art itself saves us time and time again and so we adapt by developing Rhino hide in order to get paid for what we are truly in love with and good at. Big sigh.

Andre Pessis


Dear Bob,

Ellen is obviously telling it accurately. I can't imagine her comments if she lived through the music business of the 50's and 60's. I'm not being negative but one always has the option of saying no, I know a number of successful people who did, Ray Charles, Bryan Adams, Don Henley, Diane Warren, Kara Dio Guardi, James Taylor, Quincy Jones, Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, Jimmie Buffett, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, and The Dixie Chicks off the top of my head. I also know some good publishers who worked with and for writers, a bunch of artists who were grateful for a good song, a few decent attorneys who cared about their clients and a couple of managers with talent and integrity but mostly she is right.

The business or what's left of it is littered with the trash that greed
always leaves behind. That's the good thing about where we are heading now. The artist can be self sufficient and offer their work directly to the fans.

Maybe between Ellen's 2 kids, 3 dogs and Ralph she has some good music percolating in there that she kept safe because of her horrendous people experiences. I don't blame her a bit if she has it and keeps it safe.

But she has the gift of creating music and no one can take that away
from her whether she shares it or not.

Joel Sill



Thanks for printing the letter from Ellen.

Regarding publishing, song-writing, producing, real talent, and generosity;
I'm a songwriter. I have some cuts and two big hits. I believe in songs first. Not shredding, blowing, rapping, hyping, hybrid cosmetic/movie/tv/clothing lines. Songs. What will make me hit the rewind button? An amazing song. Still today. A great song is the only thing that matters.

I work with David Lasley, an amazing singer/writer who currently is on tour singing with James Taylor.

David's songs have been hits for Bonnie Raitt, Boz Scaggs, Anita Baker, etc. Endless cuts. Genius writer, sweetheart of a guy. I have learned the most important lesson from him. Hold on to your publishing. Own your content.

David's gave "You Bring Me Joy" to his publishing company as one of the songs to fulfill his agreement of ten songs a year. He felt strong about it. They passed. He runs into Anita Baker, gives her the song personally, she records it. Top ten hit behind Rapture, the big single.


The publishing company creates an amendment that states from now on, if we pass on a submitted song, WE STILL OWN IT. Basically, this means they can pass on everything you submit, own it, and not pay you. You would actually be in breach if at the end of your year, there were no "hits" submitted, and they wouldn't have to pay you. All because they couldn't admit they were unable to detect a great song.

Years later, a huge diva singer tracks David down and says I want to record "You Bring Me Joy." David is honored and says sure. But first, they want him to sign a new agreement making them co-writers! They say it's a risk for them. He says "It's already been a hit!" And passes.

I remember hearing the diva's album without David's cut and by then it didn't matter about the material. Her package was so established that the songs, (all B and C quality) were unimportant. But what happens is, all her imitators do this very thing and the watering down of songs continues.

Own your content.

He is consistently writing, lives to do it. He is the only writer in LA I have ever met who will refer other writers to a project if he doesn't have a song that fits what is being looked for. NO ONE does this. He was part of a song-writing community that no longer exists. Before the hype. Before producers started saying, "I am getting cowriter share of every song because I'm the producer." Not because they were writers, but because they could.

He actually believes in and supports the art of song-writing. He'll call from the road and say "check out the bridge on Joni's tune from Hissing of Summer Lawns. Use it as a template and write one like that."

Bob, you need to find him and interview him. Ask him how Bonnie came to record "Ain't Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again" from Nick of Time. Amazing story!

Ellen is exactly right. I have sat with a no singing, no writing, talentless hack who looks like Brad Pitt, written the song completely for him and at the end heard him say, "I really loved writing with you!"

Now, I'm a New Yorker, and we don't buy into bull shit. So I responded, " I don't mind making a deal that says we co wrote this, but right now, shake my hand and admit you had nothing to do with writing this. Look me in the eye and admit it, and I'll sign an agreement and keep my mouth shut for life." "Oh man! dawg! Why you gotta be like that? It's all good!"


I wrote a song for a medium sized career artist looking to blowup. This tune was killing. Her husband/manager said, "we have to have cowrite on this." Which was a compliment. They believed in the song. He actually mentioned (or dangled the carrot) the idea of the song being the album title and tour name! So I said fine, as long as I get a percentage of the gross of t-shirts, hats, tour swag etc with "our" song title on it.

They passed. I wonder why.

Artists will never admit to being exhausted from a long tour, with no new song ideas, and having a demanding label that wants a followup album. They will give a "newbie" a chance and will suddenly be a co-writer on a song. If the newbie disagrees? "I'll have to pass on your song. My audience needs to think I am writing." And that's actually better than most artists, who talk to you through their managers and do the good cop - bad cop thing.

New music is supposed to be different from what's on the radio now. Not an imitation. It has all crumbled in and caved on itself out of greed. But it's not only the execs at the labels. The producers. They all want to be Quincy! Who was a musician first and foremost.

Geoff Emerick, Phil Ramone, etc, they all say the same thing. We let the artist do their job. We encourage, but they are the writer/singers. We only document, and get the best performance out of them.

Today producers manipulate. They correct performances. They cut and paste.

It started in the 90's. Labels signed "artists" on age and looks alone, and producers had a much bigger hand in the final outcome. Send the artist to the Beverly Hills Car Wash for a nip and tuck, auto tune their voice, and play all the instruments yourself on a computer. It's the man behind the fucking curtain. And it killed it. For all of us. Lip synching in "concert." Non-singers getting Grammy's for singing! Madonna can't sing but she is adored for "reinventing herself." Uhm, no. She is hiding behind the reinvention. Paula was auto tuned on her albums. Now she judges singers on TV. Barely.

Black Eyed Peas "Where Is The Love" is a great pop song. The new one? A fucking cheerleading nursery rhyme. A safe, lame ass song with no feeling. Why can't they come up with another batch of great songs? Because they're busy being all that ya'all! Ya feel me?

Elton John, Stevie Wonder, they came up with so many great fucking songs in a 7 year span, it boggles the mind. They loved the craft of song-writing. Elton or Stevie could not get signed today. BTW Elton partied and fucked his way through two continents! Bein all that!

At a NARAS event a few years back, Andy Johns spoke about recording Led Zep. At the end of the night he said, "We witnessed the beginning of the end. One of the execs from Atlantic walked into Jimmy Page's studio and tried to hang. Page kicked him out. He yelled "Do I come in to your office and tell you what to do?" Humiliated, the execs mumbled to each other, "we have to find talent that listens to what WE say." "It has long been coming down the pike", said Johns.

Great songs are still the most important part of this. Satellite, internet, independent concerts, house concerts, small venues. Artists, honor your individuality! Joni Mitchell says in order to be considered hip, you have to be willing to be considered being thought of as unhip. Songwriters, believe in yourselves! And hold onto your content!

Name and email withheld.


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