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Musical Telephones and Singing Fish: Making Money In Music

By Todd Brabec, ASCAP Executive VP of Membership and Jeff Brabec

Everyone knows the hit albums, chart singles, movies, television series and commercials are the big money makers for songwriters and recording artists. But there’s a lot more to the music industry than just the obvious big ticket items.

Two of the many other areas that generate income are the use of songs with musical telephones and as sung by mechanical singing fish.

Musical Telephones: There are a number of special telephones on the market which play your favorite song in place of the normal ring when someone calls. One such example is a singing Elvis Presley telephone which has a replica of Elvis in a gold lamé suit holding a guitar on the base of the telephone. When the phone rings, the replica begins to dance while the song "Hound Dog" is heard. There is also a demo button which you can push to see and hear the performance without waiting for someone to call. Another example is an Elvis phone which plays "Jailhouse Rock". Since this type of use is an audio reproduction, licensing is many times handled on the basis of the statutory mechanical rate per composition per telephone but such rates can be negotiated higher.

Singing Fish: Another interesting use of music is in connection with the mechanical fish that turns its head and sings a well known song. One example is a big mouth bass mounted on a wall plaque which sings such compositions as the Bobby McFerrin written "Don’t Worry, Be Happy" and the more appropriate "Take Me To The River". There are a number of variations in this area but most are currently battery operated which can be activated either by a motion sensor or by a manually operated push button. Licenses are many times issued at the statutory mechanical rate or higher for the territory of the United States with increased rates for a worldwide license

Considering that thousands of these items are sold each year, the royalties earned can sometimes be as good as a gold record.

© 2007 Todd Brabec, Jeff Brabec
For more information, check out the book Music, Money and Success: The Insider's Guide To Making Money In The Music Business (Schirmer Trade Books/Music Sales/502 pages) available for sale at, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Music Sales Group and

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