‘Somebody That I Used To Know’; a look at royalties

With Gotye hitting #1 on the US charts – the first Aussie artist to do so since Savage Garden – it’s now time for the mainstream media to start furiously claiming “WE’VE ALWAYS LOVED HIM, ALL ALONG WE LOVED HIM”

That’s why you’ll be reading a lot – I mean, a LOT – of think-pieces and feature articles on Wally de Backer in daily newspapers and big magazines in coming weeks. Like this one, from the Herald Sun. Unlike many of the more mainstream media coverage of Gotye and ‘Somebody That I Used To Know,’ it takes an interesting angle, focusing on the Luiz Bonfa guitar sample that forms the quirky, creeping introduction to the track. Bonfa, a Brazilian guitarist, wrote a song in 1967 titled ‘Seville’ (listen here) which Gotye sampled for ‘Somebody.’

The article is largely waffle, basically filling people in on such basics as “there’s this guy called Gotye,” “he made this cool song,” and “yes there are radio stations in this country that don’t just play David Guetta and One Direction.” But among the chaff, comes a tiny grain of wheat, in the form of this pretty stunning revelation.

“Although the snippet used in the song is minimal, Gotye’s Melbourne-based lawyer David Vodicka confirmed the Bonfa estate received a split of royalties rather than a straight fee for use. He did not reveal how the royalties were split, but the Australasian Performing Right Association lists de Backer and Bonfa as joint-writers of the song.”

“Assuming the 8.9 per cent APRA royalty is split jointly, the Bonfa estate’s cut on the 4.5 million copies of the single that have been sold around the world to date could top $300,000.”

So, to secure a two-note contribution from a 35-year-old song from an obscure Brazilian guitarist, Gotye has essentially given up half of the songwriting credit and up to $300,000 – and counting.

Pretty stunning.


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