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My First Day of School

Last week I attended my first day of school. Let me clarify.

“Professor” Sterling (sounds weird, right?) met with a small group of students on Saturday morning (yikes!) for the first of fourteen weekly 3-hour classes (double yikes) that will constitute the Music Publishing course for the spring semester at Dallas Baptist University. My job is to impart to these young people a practical, working knowledge of the mysterious and ever-changing world of owning, exploiting, and administering music copyrights.

When you put it that way, it just sounds like so much fun!

I did this once before, in 2003-04, at Belmont University in Nashville. Much like then, I am once again filling in for a professor, who is temporarily away. Prepping my notes for the class has been something of a wake-up call – because so much has changed. In 2004, Napster was in the news. Today Napster is a largely forgotten footnote. In 2004, CDs were king, and the industry was only beginning to develop language to deal with the concept of streaming.  Today, CDs are hard to find, and streaming is everywhere. Only last year, major legislation was passed to rectify the imbalance between streaming revenues and streaming payouts. Of course, within weeks of its passage, the Music Modernization Act was challenged in court.

It is really hard for this dinosaur of a songwriter to keep up, folks.

But some things never change. And it’s those immutable principles I most hope to impress upon my students. Here’s an incomplete list. I figure it will grow some as the semester unfolds. But these things mattered in the past, they matter today, and they will matter twenty years from now:

  1. The music business starts with songs. Without songwriters, there is no music business.
  2. The music business is a people business. Relationships are important. So don’t be a conniving jerk.
  3. As long as there is music, there will be those who would profit from it without compensating those who created it and own it. If you want to survive, avoid these people.
  4. Whenever possible, work with people more talented than yourself.
  5. Be generous with the credit.
  6. Music publishers want talented songwriters, who are willing to work hard.
  7. Songwriters want music publishers who are honest and do their job well.
  8. The music business is a “pennies” business. Income is sporadic. Learn to deal with that.
  9. You may live longer than you think. (see: Keith Richards) So take care of yourself. Stop smoking. Floss daily.
  10. Do good work. It may last longer than you do.

From the looks of this list, I may be an “easy A.”

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