Royalties – How you’re getting f*cked and 10 ways to deal with it

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Eminem and his manager Paul Rosenberg
(They’re getting your royalties)

Royalties are incredibly complicated (Read Ari’s excellent summary), and like many other businesses – “complicate to profit” is the name of the game. Layers of outdated laws have built-up over the years but the outcome is still the same. Big labels and big-name artists dominate the market and receive the lion’s share of music revenues. The “rub” is that Eminem is getting a chunk of your royalty checks, payed pro-rata from a billion dollar black box accumulated over decades. This black box generates massive income from compounding interest, consisting of payments due to songwriters they could not reach or account for. There is no rush to properly track down the right holders or to show true transparency because that would endanger the black box money machine. This isn’t an act of malice, just simply business as usual , built on the back of an archaic system that desperately needs modernization. The system is broken and we’re going to examine why and what you can do about it.

Currently, there is no system in place that tracks performance royalties at clubs and festivals. It’s manually logged and sent to PROs like BMI and ASCAP, dependent on an honor system. You submit your setlist of originals and often get less than $1 per play. There is no content ID system that fingerprints the content and verifies the source. The royalties are largely paid out to the top 300 grossing concerts, and 99% of the remaining songwriting community is left in the cold. The blanket fee paid every month to ASCAP and BMI is largely pro-rated to the top grossing artists and publishers regardless of their actual performance play numbers. Payment leftover or unaccounted for is placed into the black box. Keep in mind I’m talking about strictly performance royalties in N. America. European laws are much more fair to working musicians.

Thankfully an array of new services are launching to help deal with the problem of performance royalties – products like Pioneer’s Kuvo, DJ Monitor, Muzooka, and Paperchain are creating systems to track and properly identify music played in venues and allow artists to receive proper compensation. They are still in the early stages, but there are several ways you can get organized and hit the ground running right now.

1. Register with a PRO like BMI/ASCAP and SoundExchange or equivalent service in your country, and register your works and all alternate titles (including remixes – see below). SoundExchange represents artists and labels, while BMI and ASCAP represent songwriters and publishers.

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2. Stop using paper contracts and start using DocuSign / Adobe Sign to digitize all your contracts. Keep copies of these contracts in the cloud.

3. Get the metadata right *before* you send out promos. Fill out all possible fields. Labels should include writer’s split percentages & PROs in the composer field, attach correct artwork, label name, and include a contact in the comment section. Use Mixed In Key 8 tag editing features for this, and then reload your tags within Rekordbox / Serator / Traktor / Denon Engine-Prime


4. Make sure edits, mashups, and remixes are re-tagged w/ all artists and original song names. This will be the most difficult type of file to track but Shazam can sometimes ID both layers of a mashup.

5. Check for WAVs that are missing metadata and convert them to AIFF, since WAVs will not retain metadata or artwork.

6. Make sure your label or distributor is sending music to scanning services like Mediabase, Pandora, Shazam, and DJ-Monitor, or your songs won’t be identified for airplay or royalties. Most distributors take care of this, but it’s good to double check.

7. Fill out your BMI / ASCAP Live performance reporting form for every single show. 97% of all artists forget to do this.

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8. Manually export your playlists from Rekordbox, Serato, Traktor, and Denon Engine-Prime after performances. Clean up the metadata before exporting, and submit to 1001trackstats and Muzooka


9. Use Pioneer’s Kuvo system, which requires an ethernet gateway device (installed for free) at the venue. This will likely be integrated into all mixers in the future to live and retroactive club play. Right now it’s only available on the $6k DJM Tour1 mixer). Create a Kuvo profile and install the file on your USB key


Pioneer DJM-Tour1

10. Start a Notice of Intent (NOI) search w/ SoundExchange and export a spreadsheet of songs stuck in limbo due to missing account address info. There are currently 60 million songs in their “lost and found.” database! This is a loophole used by tech companies to save hundreds of millions of $$$. Make sure you’re payable information is current on all your accounts – biz manager, address, bank account direct deposit.

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Getting paid is a matter of being organized and having your shit together. If your songs aren’t properly tagged and logged into databases, you won’t see a dime. It also takes a village. Bringing performance royalties out of the stone-age requires multiple companies and platforms working together to create one rich data stream that supports a healthy ecosystem. Just the data alone might be more valuable than the actual payments. If you have real data on where your music is played, and who is playing it – that data can help build a story and momentum for airplay and club play, help you plan tours, and see where to focus your efforts. Expect to see a major change in the future with how music performance data is gathered and shared. Payments will hopefully be distributed more fairly so the average musician can make a living that isn’t so dependent on touring. Hope these tips help, and good luck!

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