– Tax Relief for Songwriters Gains Support

No way am I saying anything negative about this: An article in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal (free feature) explores a provision in tax legislation currently making its way through Congress that would provide relief to songwriters.


Country music is cool these days — and now Congress may make it more profitable for the people behind the lyrics. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, prodded by members of the country-music industry, added a provision to pending tax legislation that would lower taxes for songwriters.

The lawmakers propose to change a section of U.S. tax law — written before singer Garth Brooks was born — that would tax songwriters’ handiwork as capital gains rather than ordinary income as under current law.

“This is just such a glaring injustice,” says Bart Herbison, executive director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International. The association, which represents about 30,000 songwriters, says members’ average songwriting income of just $4,700 a year makes more advantageous tax treatment only fair.

At issue is a 1950s era provision that treats the sale of creative works as “income” (taxed at up to 35%) rather than as the sale of a capital asset and thus subject to capital gains tax (taxed at 15%). The songwriters want to have the treatment of “catalog sales” changed to capital gains. (The royalties collected on radio play or the sale of a recorded songs are not at issue.)

One thing, however. Readers of this blog won’t be surprised when I dismiss the meaningless statistic about “the average songwriter having an income of $4,700.” If there are 30,000 songwriters (and frankly, I think I know that many personally, so I figure there are a lot more than that), I’m amazed the average annual income is not $470. Talk about your long tails. How many hit songs are recorded every year? I have no idea, but there aren’t enough hits for the revenues to be spread out over 30,000 songwriters with any significance after the writers at the top of the pyramid take their share.

That said, I live in Nashville and if I ever want to get good service in a restaurant, there’s no way I’m ever going to suggest this isn’t a really swell idea.

Update: Upon further reflection, I’ve decided to advocate that an amendment be placed on the tax bill requiring whoever wrote the song Honky Tonk Badonkadonk to have his taxes doubled rather than cut.

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2 thoughts on “ – Tax Relief for Songwriters Gains Support

  1. You’ve got to be kidding me. No offense to all songwriters I know, but surely there are more pressing things for Congress to be doing. Surely.

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