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Whose Song is it Anyway? Creative Collaborations In The Digital Age

14th June 2005 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm


Keynote: James Ware    Principle Partner, James Ware LLP
    A copyright expert, he was central to the Bobby Valentino/Bluebells Young at Heart case.
Panel: Guy Fletcher Writer & Publisher, MSC plc
  Evelyn Glennie   Artist, writer & educator
  Terry Gregory Session Musician
  David Stopps Artist Manager, FML
  Horace Trubridge Assistant General Secretary – Live, Musician’s Union
Chairman: Keith Harris Keith Harris Music Ltd / MusicTank Chairman / PPL Director


In an industry renowned for it’s egos, session musicians are something of an oddity; often better musicians than the artists who call on their services, few music fans can name even one.  And despite their rarefied status, waivable moral rights deny them the certainty to be credited for their work, and offer them little say over how their performance may be used.

Things improved in 1996 since when all musicians receive payment for broadcasts or public performance of their recorded work.  But no matter how many copies a song sells, session musicians only receive a one-off payment for sales, as the members of the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra whose music formed the hook of the Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony will no doubt testify.

The work of session musicians, producers, arrangers, engineers and remixers can clearly also add to a song’s composition.  Think of the sax break in Jerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, Quincy Jones’ arrangements of some of the Beatles catalogue for Chaka Khan or the legendary West coast sound synonymous with Donald Fagin and Steely Dan. Some high profile cases have illustrated the need to give credit where it’s due Clare Torry recently won an undisclosed sum for providing the vocals for Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig In The Sky, one of the songs on Dark Side Of The Moon, an album which went on to spend 14 years in the US charts. She reportedly only received £30 first time round. Bobby Valentino was likewise successful in his action with the Bluebells’ song, Young at Heart .  His contribution as a session musician was deemed to constitute him being not only the author of the song’s identifying violin solo, but also joint owner of the entire song.

Technological advances are also creating new challenges.  Consider the runaway success of million-selling ring tones and true tones – Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head made more as a ring tone than a single and globally, Informa valued the ring tone market at $US 4bn in 2004.  Whilst such usage provides the writers, publishers (and increasingly labels and featured artists), with a secondary income, session musicians are not so fortunate.  Considered part of the original recording and therefore covered by their session fee, such use of the recording does not constitute secondary use.

This makes Raphael Ravenscroft’s contribution to Baker Street even more relevant. Whether or not he wrote the sax solo, his performance immortalises the song.  As the key identifying theme, its use as a ring tone/true tone should, it could be argued, accrue him income.  And why stop there? Producers, arrangers and engineers are all responsible for the shape, feel and sound of a song. With Baker Street again in mind, should the producer who edited what was originally a 5-minute solo to the now famous introduction, also reap some reward for the ringtone?

Of course a balance needs to be maintained – systems that create undue paperwork are in nobody’s interests.  But given digital advances that nobody could have predicted, is the time right to reassess how those involved in the creative writing and recording process are credited and rewarded?

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