Why We Wrote This Guide
We composed this guide to share with you the work, resources, and goals of the Songwriters of North America (SONA). We hope this guide will help you understand what SONA advocates for and how SONA is actively helping Songwriters across North America.
Who Is This Guide For
- Songwriters who feel they are not receiving fair pay and want to contribute to the songwriting community
- Anyone who may be interested in music advocacy groups and songwriter’s rights
- History of SONA
- SONA’s Misson and Goals
- SONA’s Work and Resources
- Membership and Volunteering
History of SONA
Songwriting partners Kay Henley and Michelle Lewis founded Songwriters of North America (SONA) in January of 2015 in response to the licensing rates paid to music creators by digital streaming companies like Pandora and Spotify. As songwriters themselves Kay and Michelle found the licensing rates set by digital streaming companies “abysmal” and unfair. Kay and Michelle felt it essential to form a collective of songwriters to spearhead the multitude of issues that all songwriters face in the new digital music economy. With the help of Dina LaPolt, an entertainment attorney and activist, Kay and Michelle created SONA, a grassroots advocacy organization, to educate, strategize and mobilize the songwriter community. SONA is a collective of experienced songwriters and volunteers that work with other songwriters, composers, publishers, lawyers, business managers, and institutions to create a music economy where songwriters and composers have the necessary support. SINCE 2015 SONA has established itself as a prominent voice and lobbyist for songwriter’s rights and education.
SONA’s Mission and Goals
Some independent artists are unsigned and therefore do not belong to any labels. While there may be a lesser instance of success with unsigned artists, many have attained comparable levels of fame, wealth, and success. The development of the internet and social media made widespread success much more attainable for unsigned artists. These tools allow artists to reach larger audiences than was previously possible without the help of a label. Today, stars such as Jason Isbell, Zoë Keating, Noname, and Thundercat have all reached market success, while never signing with a record label.
SONA was formed to fight for the rights of songwriters. These rights mainly include
- Songwriter’s right to fair pay in the age of digital media
- Songwriter’s right to speak out and give a collective voice to the songwriting community
- In lieu of a union to uphold the standards of safety and equality in our workplaces, where music is created
As a songwriter-run organization, SONA assembles passionate songwriters and creative-rights legal professionals to advocate and lobby for the rights listed above. SONA breaks down its mission as an advocacy group into three categories: Educate, Mobilize, and Strategize.
In the face of the rapidly changing music industry, SONA believes songwriters must now have the ability to advocate for themselves rather than relying on publishers, agents, and PROs to ensure they are being treated fairly. To educate songwriters and help them navigate the music economy on their SONA hosts “Back to School” nights and guest speaker salons where songwriters can learn from experienced musicians and industry professionals. Along with in-person seminars, SONA boasts a multitude of other learning resources.
SONA is actively uniting songwriters and creative-right legal minds to fight against and eventually work with digital streaming services to ensure songwriters are treated fairly in return for their creative works. SONA mobilization efforts include meeting with congressional leaders and executives from all parts of the music industry and taking legal action/lobbying congress for songwriter’s rights.
SONA is working with a variety of other advocacy groups to ultimately ensure that songwriters have the final and definitive say on how their work is used and at what price. SONA is creating strategies for songwriters so that they may survive and eventually change the current government regulations that dictate how songwriters receive compensation for their work.
SONA’s Work and Resources
SONA played an influential role in the lobbying for and eventual passing of the Music Modernization Act in 2018. SONA also sued the Justice Department after, “The Justice Department ruled that companies like Ascap and BMI must own 100 percent of the rights to the songs in their catalog; they would not be able to offer songs with multiple writers who have agreements with different companies to radio or digital services on a compulsory basis.” SONA claimed this ruling violated the fifth amendment as they perceived it to strip them of property rights without due process.
Along with legal action and lobbying, SONA provides various additional resources in pursuit of the fair treatment of songwriters. SONA puts on Advocacy Bootcamps, or ABCs, where professional songwriters on our Board will lead a custom ”Convo and Q&A” with songwriter attendees. SONA also has regular events and guest speakers, here is a link to their event calendar.
SONA also has several informative videos on their website with detailed explanations of important music rights concepts such as neighboring rights and sound royalties. Paired with informative videos, SONA provides important music rights definitions and external learning sources on their website.
Membership and Volunteering
Becoming a member of SONA allows you to meet a multitude of other songwriters, provides access to SONA’s exclusive events, and introduces you to a community of people “fighting to maintain the value of songs in the new digital marketplace.” SONA offers several terms of membership levels with varying membership fees and features. Membership fees vary from $25-$500 annually depending on which membership tier best suits your interest. Here is a link to their membership page. You can sign up as a member on SONA’s membership portal.
SONA also has a multitude of volunteer and donation opportunities . Volunteers make up a large portion of SONA’s advocators and contribute to their organization in a variety of ways. In fact, SONA was completely volunteer-run for its first five years of existence. Volunteer categories include administration, social media, advocacy, events, fundraising, and more. SONA also accepts direct donations on their donation site.
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