Gotye Sells Millions, But A Dead Brazilian Musician Gets Half
Gotye is sitting on top of the world at the moment with his single ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ reaching #1 on the charts in the United States last week.
The track, which almost didn’t happen after the original duet partner pulled out, has gone #1 in 16 countries, and was helped up the charts in the US after it was performed on primetime television programs American Idol and Glee.
But the huge royalties coming his way from every time the song is sold, streamed, and viewed, aren’t his alone.
No, we’re not talking about Kimbra, although she does receive a performance royalty every time the song is played. The songwriting royalties are also shared between Gotye, aka Wally De Backer, and a man by the name of Luiz Bonfa.
We know what you’re thinking. Who the hell is Luiz Bonfa? Good question. Turns out he’s a Brazilian guitarist and composer who was a pioneer in the country’s jazz scene and before now was best known for a track he wrote for the 1959 film Black Orpheus.
Oh, and he’s also been dead for over a decade.
So how did he score a songwriting credit on one of the biggest songs of the year? According to Gotye, Bonfa was the inspiration for the song after he heard a song the Brazilian wrote called ‘Seville‘.
The distinctive D and C notes from the beginning of ‘Seville’ will be immediately recognised as the distinctive guitar used throughout Gotye’s breakthrough song, something the Aussie star is more than willing to admit he sampled.
“That Luiz Bonfa sample directly prompted the first line of lyrics,” Gotye told Billboard. ”The back and forth left me thinking about these different break-ups and different relationships over the years, and the lyrics flowed from there.”
Although Gotye only used a small sample repeated, his lawyer David Vodicka has revealed to The Age that the songwriter preferred to pay the Bonfa estate a split of the royalties as opposed to paying a fee upfront.
Gotye’s lawyer wouldn’t reveal what the exact royalty split was, but a quick look at APRA’s details on the song reveal that de Backer and Bonfa have been credited as joint-writers.
Assuming that the APRA royalty, 8.9 percent, is split evenly between the two and that the track sells for an average price of $1.20, the Bonfa estate would have collected in excess of $250,000 off the 5 million sales of the track so far.
Not bad for someone who died in 2001 at the ripe old age of 78.
But royalties don’t just stream in from sales of the song. Radio makes a contribution everytime the song is aired, and even every Youtube play of the iconic video clip earns Bonfa and Gotye some money.
How much? Not much. But it doesn’t have to be much when it’s been watched over 190 million times around the world on the popular video website.
Off the back of the popularity of the track, Gotye and Kimbra also recently made an appearance on the popular comedy skit show Saturday Night Live. The duo also performed at the popular Coachella festival last weekend.
Gotye’s US label are now busy trying to decide which track to release as the dreaded follow up from a smash hit, although the choice of ‘Eyes Wide Open’ for SNL is certainly not by accident.
And what does Gotye see in his future? “I’m not sure how far things will roll on with this record and what that will mean for writing new material. I guess I’m just keen to go into a mode of exploring,” he says.
“I wouldn’t really know whether I do more stuff with the Basics or whether I even do another Gotye record until I have a chance to probably withdraw a little bit. More than anything, I feel that I want to prove to myself that I can do stuff that is actually more far reaching, more intelligent and maybe more strange and idiosyncratic.
“If I could quote what I think was the band Ween’s intention for any record that they ever made, it was just to make an average listener go: ‘What the fuck is this?’ That’s a real inspiration for me and something that I will explore more on upcoming recordings.”
With the news that Gotye and Kimbra’s amazing ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ duet has hit the top of the Australian charts and clocked up almost two million Youtube hits, not to mention putting itself in poll position to top the Triple J Hottest 100 in January next year, we thought we’d countdown some of our favourite musical duets. Watch this slideshow »