Online music thieves can't interfere with the hundreds of songwriters Hanna Rochelle Schmieder has on her payroll.
Her company, Lyric Culture, prints famous song lyrics on high-end jeans and T-shirts — and pays artists for the privilege.
"My goal is to save the music business," says Schmieder, herself a singer-songwriter. "This is about generating new revenue streams for musicians ... The record companies take a piece of the tour and the merchandise, but they can't take a piece of this."
Legendary and lesser-known songwriters earn equal royalties for each lyric-covered item Schmieder's company sells. John Lennon and Paul McCartney make money for every "Let it Be" or "Can't Buy Me Love" T-shirt sold; and when someone buys the groovy red-and-pink top inspired by Gloria Gaynor's disco anthem "I Will Survive," writers Frederick Perren and Dino Fekaris get paid.
Schmieder made deals with all the major music-publishing houses, licensing rights to hits by the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin and countless other artists. Schmieder selects T-shirt-worthy tracks, then Lyric Culture's creative team interprets each song with original, hand-drawn designs. The famous lyrics are scattered inside and outside each pricey piece.
"I can't believe I'm entrusted with the legacy of the most famous words in the world," says the willowy blonde Schmieder, dressed top to toe in her designs.
Lyric Culture jeans, scarves, T-shirts, belt buckles and leather jackets sell for $75 to $625 at boutiques and specialty stores. Lyrix, the company's youth collection — which features T-shirts and hoodies with designs inspired by Miley Cyrus and "American Idol" — sells for $23 to $55 at Macy's and other department stores. Artist royalties range from 50 cents to $20 per item.
Schmieder, 31, accidentally created her company two years ago during a languid moment in the recording studio. She was writing songs on her jeans in plain old permanent pen when entrepreneurial inspiration struck.
"That was the lightbulb moment," she says. "I realized I could help musicians generate new revenue without feeling like they're selling out."
Songwriter and producer Antonina Armato — who has penned tunes for Miley Cyrus, Vanessa Hudgens and the Jonas Brothers — loved the Lyric Culture concept before Schmieder approached her about licensing her songs. Schmieder's company "supports the dreams and the aspirations and the art," Armato says. "It's almost like she's giving a scholarship to these people who are being creative."
Entertainment attorney Jay Cooper, who specializes in music and copyright issues at Greenberg Traurig, says that while most musicians make their money through sales and performances of songs, licensing income is a welcome boon — especially in an industry that's seen billion-dollar losses because of illegal downloads.
"It by itself is not going to save the music industry, but it's certainly a nice plus," he says. "No matter how successful you've been, the business depends on continuing success."
Printing lyrics on T-shirts and jeans is a harmless way for musicians to make extra money for work already done, he says.
"There's very little downside for artists," said Evan Serpick, associate editor at Rolling Stone. "They're happy to have every source of revenue they can get."