“Being a songwriter myself and knowing what copyright has done for me and the sense of pride I have in owning my rights, I would tell any songwriter, ‘Please don’t do it unless you really, really have to,'” he suggested.
Ulvaeus’ compositions extends beyond his work with ABBA: He co-wrote the lyrics for the musicals Mamma Mia!, Chess and Kristina från Duvemåla and co-composed the music for the first two with his fellow ABBA member and songwriting ace Benny Andersson. Ulvaeus and Andersson also worked together on both of the Mamma Mia! films based on ABBA’s pop hits, which the two co-wrote starting in the 1970s. But the competition for songwriters to get paid has only grown “fiercer,” he notes, over the decades.
On April 16, the 76-year-old hitmaker commissioned a study done by MIDiA Research, which has expertise in the music and digital media businesses, called “Rebalancing the Song Economy.” The study argues that songwriters, despite their many revenue streams of performance, sync, mechanicals and streaming royalties, have less diverse income than performing artists because all of their money stems from the song itself. And with the COVID-19 pandemic halting live performances and closing down restaurants, shops and bars that play and sell music, streaming has become the prime source of songwriters’ income but leaves them with pittance. An illustrative model in the “Rebalancing the Song Economy” study that determines streaming growth by measuring actual income growth for the label, the artist, the publisher and the songwriter proves the songwriter does not prevail and, much like the artist, can only measure their growth in hundreds of dollars, compared to the label and publisher’s millions.
“It’s more tempting now because the copyright money was much more for more people, and streaming has, of course, made a huge difference. So I think it’s easier now to do that,” he continued. “You’re so unsecure and you don’t know if someone is paying you money straight away or something, you don’t know what’s going to happen to it. The competition out there is fierce, and it’s much fiercer than it was during the ’70s when Benny Andersson and I could afford to write from 9 to 5 because of royalties.”
Watch the full interview above, and find more on Billboard Pro’s Spotlight on Creators and Copyright.