Country Music Community Raises Over $80,000 For Legendary Songwriter Facing Homelessness

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You may not recognize the name Hugh Prestwood.

But you’ve definitely heard his songs.

A member of the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, Prestwood’s first hit came in 1978 with “Hard Time For Lovers” by Judy Collins.

In 1989, he scored his first #1 with the Randy Travis classic “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart,” and he also had a top 5 hit with “Ghost in This House,” originally recorded by Shenandoah and then later covered by Alison Krauss.

He also wrote “The Song Remembers When” for Trisha Yearwood, and has had songs recorded by Collin Raye, The Judds, John Conlee, Barbara Mandrell, Sammy Kershaw and Crystal Gayle, to name a few.

Prestwood’s songs have also been nominated for three Grammy Awards.

But recently, the legendary songwriter has unfortunately fallen on hard times.

As first reported by Saving Country Music, Prestwood recently created a Go Fund Me page to raise money to help him move from New York to Texas after being told that he had to move out of his Long Island home by the end of March.

According to the Go Fund Me, Prestwood says that he and his wife, Judy, have been living almost entirely on Social Security after changes to the music industry caused his songwriting royalties to dry up in recent years.

Prestwood and his wife sold their home and moved into a rental, and he even sold the copyrights to his music just to stay afloat. But eventually that money ran out too – and now, to make matters worse, their landlord is forcing the couple to move out of their home by March 31 so that it can be turned into a short-term rental property.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Prestwood also suffered a crushed vertebrae in his spine that caused him to have to have two titanium rods inserted and left him almost completely disabled – and unable to pack or lift boxes to move out of his home.

The couple are hoping to move from the expensive Long Island area to the more affordable Texas, where Prestwood and his wife have family. But having no money for the estimated $20,000 in moving expenses, the Prestwoods turned to Go Fund Me to try to raise money for their move.

And the country music community turned out in a big way.

After initially setting the campaign’s goal at $25,000 to cover the move, Prestwood has so far raised over $80,000 in just a week – much of it from some familiar names.

Randy Travis, who gave Prestwood his first #1 hit, donated $2000 to the Go Fund Me. And if you scroll through the list of donors, it’s a practical “who’s who” of the country music industry, with artists like Radney Foster, John Conlee and Chely Wright all donating alongside some of today’s top songwriters like Luke Laird, Craig Wiseman and Josh Osborne, among a ton of other notable names from the country music circle.

Luckily it looks like Prestwood and his wife are going to be able to afford their cross-country move thanks to the generosity of so many people whose lives his music has touched.

But the fact that a songwriter of his fame and stature was forced to sell his copyrights and eventually turn to Go Fund Me to keep from becoming homeless speaks to the seismic shift in the world of country music royalties since the consumption of music turned from physical media and downloads to streaming.

Without getting too much into the nitty gritty of how royalties are calculated and paid out (because it’s almost impossible to explain and would be even more boring to read about), here’s a quick high-level breakdown of the numbers:

Whenever you buy a physical CD or a digital copy of an album, 9.1 cents goes to all of the songwriters on the album. Simple.

But when you stream a song or an album on Spotify, all of the copyright holders get just fractions of a cent – generally somewhere between .003 and .005 cents – and depending on the contract, that’s split between not only the songwriters, but also the artist, the publisher, and the record label.

For some easy numbers, let’s say there are 9 songwriters on an album with 9 songs – one songwriter per song (which is unheard of in today’s mainstream country music). If you buy a physical or digital copy of the album, each songwriter gets 1 cent. But if you stream that same album, each songwriter gets somewhere around .003 cents – and then has to split that with all the other rights holders.

In this scenario, an album that sells a million copies would land the songwriter $10,000. But an album that’s streamed 1 million times would earn ALL of the rights holders around $3,000, to be split amongst the songwriters, artist, record label, publisher, etc.

That’s a big difference.

Now obviously this is a gross oversimplification of the way royalties actually work, and there are a bunch of moving parts that differ between contracts and artists, but you get the idea: Songwriters don’t make near as much as they used to.

The result? A core group of songwriters whose names appear on just about every song on the charts, while the rest fight for a small piece of whatever they can get.

And a legendary songwriter like Prestwood, who had a #1 hit with Randy Travis that’s been streamed almost 10 million times, having to turn to Go Fund Me when times get tough and the royalties dry up.

UPDATE: The Go Fund Me is currently over $102,000.

Luckily for Prestwood, the country music community showed up to help out.

Here’s Prestwood’s #1 single with Randy Travis, “Hard Rock Bottom Of Your Heart.”

And here’s one of my all-time favorite 90s songs, Prestwood’s “Ghost in This House” by Shenandoah.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock