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Music industry executives: See if you can collect any royalties from me


By Mark Rutledge

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Someone recently messaged me on the internet asking for sheet music to one of my late father’s songs. “The Cross Was His Own” is probably Dad’s most successful gospel composition. Several notable singing groups have recorded it, and the royalty checks might have topped $200 in 45 years.

“When somebody says it’s not about the money,” famous newsman and essayist H.L. Mencken pointed out, “it’s about the money.”

Dad truly never cared about the money. He was just thrilled that people wanted to sing and record his song — and the publishing sharks in charge of his paychecks could smell that.

Even though money wasn’t his motivation, Dad knew when somebody was taking advantage of him. He used to say that the gospel music industry is the worst at not paying songwriters.

“It’s all lifted up to the glory of God,” he said. “But they sure don’t mind grabbing up everything that falls back down.”

A video of my brother, Jeff, and me performing the song made its way onto the internet a few years ago, prompting the recent request for sheet music. Those who might seek and find that performance online should focus most of their listening on my brother’s excellent harmony singing.

Jeff is the one with the music degree and the trained voice. And he is rightly the one who received the bulk of Dad’s musical encouragement.

It’s true that Dad used to tell me I should cultivate my singing voice. But what he meant was that I should “plow it under.”

And he occasionally would offer me tender words of uplifting motivation, such as: “Son, if you’ll sing a little closer to this window, I’ll help you out.”

The sheet music request prompted me to finally replicate the only fragile original that my mother has left. Published in 1975, it’s a treasured family heirloom. And despite the dire warning printed at the bottom, I made several copies, both digital and hard.

“WARNING!” it shouts in bold uppercase letters, stretched to an imposing point size. “Any kind of reproductions of this music, or any arrangements thereof, in whole or in part, is dishonest and is strictly prohibited by the copyright law. …”

Now that is funny. Especially considering what I learned from my sister after I emailed a copy of the sheet music to each of my siblings.

Martha shared with me a lengthy string of email exchanges she had with the music publishing company nearly 20 years ago. In them, she asserted that Dad had received no royalties on the song since about 1982.

The company executives called out by my sister assured her that Dad’s account was being updated and that a long-overdue payment was forthcoming. But no check would arrive. She was passed from executive to executive and told that her father’s address had been lost or that previous account managers were to blame.

My sister does not give up easily, however, and a check for $54.06 was finally coughed up in 2002. I guess they lost the address again after that.

Maybe they’ll find my address and bill me for my “dishonest” recordings and “arrangements thereof.” And perhaps I’m in for a legal brawl having admitted publicly to reproducing the sheet music.

Bring it on, you unholy hoarders of infinitesimal fortunes. I’ll be in the ally — with my big sister.

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutledge@reflector.com or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.