By Simon Napier-Bell

A one-volume insider history of the whole damn music business

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Cheques and the music business

Everyone who’s ever written a successful song, or published one, looks forwards to the second week in April, July, October and December. That’s when the world’s collection societies pay out performance royalties, the largest income a song earns. In the UK that means a cheque from the PRS, in America from ASCAP or BMI, in Germany from GEMA, in France from SACEM, and so on. 

Sometimes the cheque is delightfully large, more often depressingly little, but it’s surprising how in the end it always averages out and keeps on coming. It’s forty-seven years since Vicki Wickham and I wrote the lyric of 'You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me' yet it still earns approximately the same amount every year. Except for the occasional years when it goes back into the charts, it falls into the category of a 'standard' - a defined and reliable income year in year out. 

One of the odd things about it is the number of different publishers who’ve paid us for the other royalty it earns – the mechanical one, for the number of records sold. When we wrote the lyric we signed it with Feldman, a long established British publisher from the end of the 19th century with hits like 'Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag' and 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus'. 

After a couple of years of getting used to the Feldman name at the top of our cheques, the company was sold to Robbins, who only managed three cheques before they in turn got sold to MGM. For the next five years we were paid by MGM who then decided to shut up shop, so CBS took over and put it with their publishing company, April. After three years of happy cheques from April, the company was gobbled up by Koppleman, who barely had time to send out their first one before they were bought by EMI.

EMI stayed around almost eighteen years before losing out to Cherry Lane, who had only just asked for our addresses when they were bought by BMG, from where the song has now moved on to the Spirit Group in the USA and to Kassner Music in the UK. So you see… a great way to get to know the music business, just write a hit song and wait for the cheques.

What Vicki and I did was to write an English lyric. The original was in Italian, with a melody by Pino Donaggio, though there’s little doubt in my mind that he got some help from Dmitri Tomkin.

Pino Donaggio was originally a composer of scores for 'spaghetti westerns' – cowboy films made in southern Italy. His musical hero was Dmitri Tiomkin, who wrote the score for one of Hollywood's greatest ever westerns, High Noon. The melody line of the principal song in High Noon is note for note the same as the first line of the chorus of ‘You Don't Have To Say You Love Me’. It was written 13 years earlier and Donaggio has said publicly it was a score he admired. So there seems little doubt where he got his inspiration. 

Anyway, thanks for that Pino! (And thanks Dmitri, too!) It’s made me and Vicki a good few quid. 

By the way, try it yourself - "Do not forsake me oh my darling on this our wedding day" - "You don't have to say you love me just be close at hand."

Back to project page
Share on social

Top rewards

154 pledges


ebook edition in the three major formats – epub, mobi and PDF

Buy now
£20  + shipping
268 pledges


1st edition hardback

  • your name in the back of