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Who should you join? (In order to make sure you are paid everything you are entitled to)

Aside from the distributors and retailers of music, there are a huge number of societies, organisations and companies that collect and distribute the many other revenue streams in the music industry.

Some of them are the source of the revenue, like in the case of “Collective Management Organisations” (CMOs) in the areas of Performing Rights and Neighbouring rights, others are middle-men who collect from the various sources and then distribute to their members.

So which should you join?

This all depends on what revenue you are entitled to, which depends on what roles you performed and what agreements are in place with the rightsholders, or if you are a rightsholder yourself.

Writer/Composer

If you write your own songs then you are the rightsholder of the composition copyright sometimes loosely referred to as “the songwriting”. If you contributed to the composition of the music or the lyrics to the songs then you may also be* entitled to some of the songwriting revenue.

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*NOTE: There are circumstances where you may feel that you contributed but won’t actually be entitled to a share. Traditionally, the copyright that protected a song just covered the melody (sometimes referred to as the “top line”) and the lyrics. It doesn’t cover drum patterns, basslines or chord progressions (unless they are demonstrably unique), although quite often with modern music it is accepted that all the audible elements could be considered integral to the song.
It’s definitely a good idea to confirm, in writing if possible, if you will be credited as a writer and what your share will be.

Performing Rights

If you are credited as a writer/composer then you will need to join a performing rights organisation (PRO). They collect license fees from broadcasters and other businesses that use music in their business, as per the laws of that territory, and distribute the revenue to publishers and/or the songwriters.

This revenue includes; live performances, radio play, in-store playlists, background music, telephone hold music, jukeboxes, gym classes, in-flight entertainment, previews on music retailers such as iTunes and plays streaming sites like Spotify (most of the revenue from streaming goes to the owner of the sound recording, but a small portion is paid to the writers via a PRO).

There is usually at least one such organisation in each country, and most of them have bilateral deals with each other which means that you only need to join one in order to collect all the revenue due to you from all over the world, in fact you are only permitted to join one society at a time, you can resign your membership at one society and join another but there will be notice periods to adhere to, usually around a year. You don’t have to be a resident or citizen of that country in order to join a society there, you can join whichever is the most practical.

Things to consider when choosing which PRO to join

Where is your music played the most?

Aside from your location, this should probably be the primary deciding factor. If you have a strong following in a particular territory it may be a good idea to join a society in that country, this will mean you get the money sooner, by at least one payment period (between 3 and 12 months depending on how frequently that society distributes revenue). If you are just starting out and do not know yet where most of your following will be then it probably is best to start with your local one, unless you have a better option, you can change later if really needed.

How efficient is the society?

The task of gathering and processing all the data required to effectively distribute performing rights revenue is enormous. The revenue from hundreds of thousands of license holders has to be accurately divided between tens of thousands of rightsholders who collectively own the rights to millions of songs. Many of the license holders provide detailed reports on every second of music they play and songwriters also report usage, the reports then need to be matched to the registered works, meanwhile, more reports are coming in and new works are being registered.

Some of these societies are large organisations with specially designed computer systems and hundreds of staff working full time to collect and distribute the revenue, others are quite small with more limited resources. How efficiently they operate will have a major impact on the speed and accuracy of your payments.

The larger more established societies like PRS for Music (in the UK) are also a driving force in the industry and are often instrumental in getting new laws passed and negotiating new licenses to better protect and remunerate writers and more recently they teamed up with GEMA (Germany) and STIM (Sweden) to create ICE Services who just last year agreed on a landmark multi-territory license with Facebook. This should also be a major factor as the better your society is at negotiating licenses, the more money you are likely to receive.

Most of the societies have plenty of information on their websites about their size, their history and current initiatives they are involved in, the functionality of their website can also be an indication of how good their systems may be.

How easy is it to communicate with the PRO?

What timezone are you in, compared to the PRO? What languages can you communicate with them in?

From time to time it may be necessary to contact your PRO by phone, in which case the time-zone is crucial, even if you will be communicating via email you are more likely to get responses in a timely fashion if they are in a similar time zone. It’s also obviously better if they can speak the same language as you, often at the European societies such as GEMA the staff are sometimes multi-lingual so this is less of an issue.

Mechanicals

If songs you wrote are available on physical formats then you will also be entitled to “mechanicals”. This is a license fee paid by the owner of the sound recording to the owners of the composition copyright to make physical copies of the song. If you are the only one making physical copies of your tracks then you can grant yourself a waiver to avoid having to effectively pay yourself the money via the collection society.
If other people record and release covers of your songs, or your songs are featured on a compilation album then you will need to join a mechanical copyright society to collect this revenue, quite often they are merged, or at least work in alliance, with a local PRO making joining easier and they usually share song data.

Publishing

Joining a PRO doesn’t replace the need for a publisher or publishing administrator as not all PROs can collect all of the revenue relating to the composition copyright and they don’t perform other tasks a publisher would such as pitching your songs for “sync” (when a song is used in a tv show, movie, advert or computer game it is said to have been synchronised, for the producers of the new works to own the copyright they need to obtain a sync license and this is usually administered by a publisher), some PROs do offer track clearing and sync licensing services for TV, Movie and Advert producers.

Similarly, having a publisher doesn’t remove the need to join a PRO as most societies account to the writers and publishers separately.

There are a number of publishing administrators and sync agents offering their services online, or you can look for a more traditional publishing deal.

If you collaborate with other artists on your music it may be a good idea to join a PRO as a publisher (as well as a writer), this will enable you to register songs and contributions by other people as well as your own. By signing the publishing rights of other people’s contributions to your songs you will have 100% control overall, making negotiating syncs easier.

Record Label/Recording Rights Holder

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If you own your sound recordings (sometimes referred to as “master rights” or simply “masters”) then as well as the direct revenue from selling the music and streaming you are also entitled to revenue derived from the recording rights, this is known as “neighbouring rights” as it only exists in conjunction with the composition rights.

Neighbouring rights societies collect license fees on behalf of the owners of sound recordings (recording rightsholders) and any audible contributors (performers).

This should not be confused with Mechanicals, which is collected from the manufacture of physical copies and paid by the recording rights holder to the composers, neighbouring rights is paid to the recording rights holder from businesses that use recorded music.

In addition to the license issued by PROs, businesses in most countries** are also required to have another license if the music they play is from recordings rather than performed live, this has caused a little bit of friction in some countries where businesses don’t see the difference between the two licenses and feel like they are being charged twice for the same thing. As a result in some countries, the performing rights and neighbouring rights societies have joined to together to issue a joint license to businesses while remaining separate to their members. An example of this is the PPL/PRS joint venture The Music License in the UK.

This revenue includes; radio play, in-store playlists, background music, telephone hold music, jukeboxes, gym classes, in-flight entertainment. Basically, most things that you would get money from a PRO for with the exception of movies, adverts and certain TV programs.

Which one of these to join is slightly more complex, the same considerations for which PRO to join also apply to choosing a neighbouring rights society as well, the main difference is that it is possible to join more than one, in fact, you could even join every single one as long as the mandate at each one didn’t conflict with another. In other words, as long as they aren’t trying to collect the same money in the same place. It’s even possible to have worldwide mandates as a rightsholder member but limit the scope of collections at a song level, I’ll cover this and other more advanced aspects of neighbouring rights in a dedicated article.

**The laws around this are consistent around Europe thanks to the Rome Convention however in the USA and other countries that didn’t sign the Rome Convention the laws have a narrower scope for remuneration.

The advantages of joining multiple societies

You will get paid sooner

Each society has their own payment schedule and will generally pay their members and other societies at the same time, the society receiving the money will then pay their members in the next payment window, usually about 3-6 months later. By being a direct member of a society you don’t have this delay in receiving payments.

You will get paid more

All the societies can collect internationally for you, but they will deduct a commission for doing this, anything between 7% and 20% depending on the country being collected from and the society doing the collecting, by collecting your revenue directly you will no longer have this amount deducted and your payments will instantly increase.
Also, some societies favour their own members when distributing the so-called “grey money” or “black box money”, basically the revenue they don’t have enough data on to allocate, so being a direct member could get you a larger share of this revenue and further increase your payments

You will get paid more often

Each society has different payment schedules, so by joining more than one society, you will be spreading your payments across the year. Instead of a few lump sums, you may end up getting more regular payments which may help cash flow.

Performer (on a sound recording)

If you make an audible contribution to a sound recording then you are considered a performer and are entitled to a share of the neighbouring rights royalties.

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In which case you need to join a neighbouring rights society as a performer. In some countries, like the U.K., the recording rightsholders and performers are both looked after by the same organisation, PPL. If you own the recordings and perform on them you will need to join twice, once as a recording rightsholder and again as a performer. In some countries, like France, the rightsholders and performers are taken care of by different societies, in fact, they have two societies for recording rightsholders and another two for performers. The two rightsholder societies perform the same role so its a case of choosing one over the other, there is no need to join both. The performer societies, on the other hand, take care of different types of performers.

There are two main divisions between performers, they can be either “featured” or “non-featured”. Featured artists/performers are the artists whose name appear in, or alongside, the artist name or in the song title on the release. Non-featured artists are the session musicians and other studio personnel that made an audible contribution, programmers and sometimes producers but not engineers or mixers.

Back to the two performer societies in France I mentioned, one looks after featured performers (ADAMI) and the other looks after non-featured (SPEDIDAM). Likewise in the USA, there is SoundExchange for featured performers and AFM & SAG AFTRA for non-featured.

Remixers, producers and programmers are all considered to be non-featured (unless you have an agreement in place with the rightsholders and/or featured artists), so if you release your own music and do production or remixes for other people make sure you join a society that collects for both types of performer or you need to join two societies.

Joining the dots…

…so to summarise

  • If you write music/lyrics then you need to join a PRO (performing rights society) as a writer.
  • Do you own the master rights to any recordings? Then you need to join a Recording Rights CMO (collective management organisation)/Neighbouring Rights Society as a “recording rightsholder”
  • If you make any “audible contribution” to sound recordings then you need to join a Recording Rights CMO (collective management organisation)/Neighbouring Rights Society as a performer.
  • When your songs are performed live you will receive payments from a PRO
  • When recordings of your songs are played in public or broadcast on TV or radio you will receive payments from both a PRO and a recordings rights CMO

For most musicians and independent artists, registering with the right organisations and managing works is a confusing, complicated and time consuming task.

Not many people relish the task, so Traxploitation offers registration and administration services. We can act as your representative for performing rights, neighbouring rights and publishing.

Contact us on info@traxploitation.com for a free consultation.

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The Truth About Spotify. Part 3.

What Not To Do

As the modern music industry is in constant change, with many of the platforms and resources we now rely on in their infancy, it’s necessary to always try new ways of succeeding. However, it’s important we all understand how the model works, its merits, as well as its shortcomings as failing to do so, can be disastrous. So here are a few things to think about when distributing your music.

1. Don’t underestimate the value of being present on all platforms, including Spotify.

I see lots of independent artists stating they are ”boycotting” Spotify and won’t be putting their music on the platform, their reasoning behind this is usually either simply their view that the royalty rates aren’t equitable or that Spotify is an evil corporate giant intent on exploiting musicians and keeping all the profits or a mixture of both.

Unless you have an alternative method of reaching this audience, then withholding your tracks from Spotify is a little illogical. Two of the highest profile artists who had well-reported negative views of Spotify (Taylor Swift and Radiohead) have both since done u-turns. When negotiating her contract, Taylor Swift even made Universal Music Group include an agreement to pay their artists a greater share of the money raised from the sale of their Spotify stock and the dividends from the remaining stock regardless of whether or not their existing contract gives them this right.

Other artists think they can bypass the streaming platform without harming their income, or even make more money without them. “What about Adele?” I hear you shout… didn’t she snub Spotify and still go on to sell huge numbers of CDs despite some people in the industry saying she was making a mistake and one particularly brutal writer calling her “dumb and uneducated” for overlooking Spotify? Doesn’t that prove you don’t need to put your music on Spotify?

Sort of….maybe….but probably no, not really.

At the time it was thought that her risk paid off, she sold 1.7 million physical copies and one music business publication declared it a victory based on that figure alone, stating there was “literally zero chance” she would have made as much money from streaming. However, the album was eventually made available on Spotify and very quickly became the most streamed album of the year and now the streaming income is more than half the overall income, making it more profitable than the CD sales of the same album, despite the CD being available earlier.

Another great example of this is Jay-Z, having just purchased Tidal, the Hip Hop megastar thought that by making his new album “4.44” exclusively available on Tidal he would be able to steal away some of Spotify’s subscribers.

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Something very different happened, subscribers to Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music didn’t want to pay for a 2nd subscription in order to hear the album instead they chose to download it illegally. In the first 72 hours after its exclusive launch on Tidal, the album was illegally downloaded nearly 1 million times (971,196 to be exact, according to piracy monitoring specialist MUSO) that number includes Snoop Dogg, who admitted he had a friend “bootleg” it for him rather than join Tidal. During the 7 days that the album was exclusively on Tidal, there was no spike in subscriptions for Tidal as expected. By the end of the week, the album was available on all the other sites and platforms (except Spotify).

I think Adele played it right, initially releasing just on CDs and buy-to-download sites like iTunes, then later making it available everywhere. I believe she would have made less money had it been released everywhere simultaneously, will that tactic work on the next album? Maybe, but it will be harder to sell CDs next time around as a lot of modern computers (especially Macs) are shipping with no CD drive. Home hi-fi is moving towards wifi systems like SONOS and Bose Soundtouch, that stream music directly from the internet or network-enabled hard drives and smart devices connected to your home network. It’s also worth pointing out that while “25” sold around 22 million copies worldwide the previous album “21” sold a whopping 31 million copies just 4 years earlier.

2. Don’t use click/streaming farms or any type of “pay-for-play” service.

Boosting stats with bots isn’t a new thing, it’s probably about as old as the internet itself, now it’s thought that around half of internet traffic is bots. People are paying for these bots in “click farms” to boost their likes and plays on sites like YouTube and more increasingly, Spotify. The reason people do it varies but usually it’s just for the optics, it’s a good look to have lots of views and/or likes on social media and conversely having too few views can undermine your promotion efforts.

You’ve probably seen ads from services offering guaranteed streams and followers and others offering to “boost” your streams. Some of these are genuine promotion services and the others are some sort of cheat or hack that is almost certainly breaching the terms of use of the site they promise to boost. So how do you tell them apart?

If they are music promoters they will not be able to offer any guarantee of any kind, a promoter’s main currency is their contacts but they cannot force them to like the song and support it, so while they can get your music in front of the right people what happens next is out of their control. There is nothing wrong with hiring a promoter or plugger, if you can afford it, and are realistic about what they can achieve.

If they are offering any guarantees in terms of increased followers, plays or playlist placement then they are almost certain to be operating some sort of scam. Another telltale sign is their insistence that it is “safe” to use their service, which seems like an odd thing to make a point of saying, no legitimate promoter or plugger would feel the need to say their service was “safe”.

What is likely happening is that they create fake listener accounts and then create playlists (as they have created thousands and thousands of fake accounts all their playlists have large numbers of followers, their fake listeners are then set to listen to the playlist constantly. This gives you the playlisting they promised and an uplift in plays.

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Footage recently emerged of what appears to be a “streaming farm”

Social media sites have been trying to fight against this type of fraud for a while, to protect the integrity of their sites, back in 2012 YouTube deleted around 2 billion streams from high profile artists like Rihanna and Justin Beiber, this was a result of an audit of views which is something all the streaming platforms do regularly now.
It can be tempting to pay a few hundred dollars to get a few hundred thousand plays, but in terms of any financial return the best you can hope for is your money back and the worst case scenario is that you and your music may get removed from the site altogether. This is what happened to one band who got 79k plays in one month only to be banned after an audit. They claim they got the plays legitimately, by encouraging the fans on their extensive mailing list to listen on Spotify. However, the data suggested those plays were not real as nearly all the plays came from newly created accounts that only listened to one artist, didn’t follow any artists at all (not even the band they were “listening” to) and never paused or skipped tracks. 

Some people think this type of fraud is OK as it only harms Spotify’s earnings, but actually, that is completely untrue. As discussed earlier Spotify doesn’t pay per stream, instead, they pay out 70% of all revenue from subscriptions and advertising regardless of how many streams occurred. By creating fake free accounts, they are not increasing the revenue but are increasing the number of streams which just dilutes the payout made to all artists.

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You may have seen the above message posted on Facebook or Twitter, it was probably inspired by Volfpecks silent album “Sleepify” an album that contained no audio but racked up 5.5million plays before being removed from the platform (it’s unclear if the band ever received any of the royalties). The post instructs people to play their friend’s music on mute on Spotify and Apple Music in the hope of generating some extra plays/royalties, the reality is that if a large number of people actually did this at the same time it would almost certainly cause red-flags to go up. (I’m not sure why the post would say put it on mute anyway? If you really want to support your friend’s band actually support your friend’s band, play the music with the sound up!)

Basically, any attempts to game the system puts your music at risk of being removed and jeopardises your access to what is currently the largest revenue stream for recorded music.

It’s not worth it.

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The Truth about Spotify. Part 1

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Streaming accounts for 37% of all the revenue from recorded music and with over 220million subscribers and a market share of 36% Spotify are by far the market leader in music streaming. In fact, more than 1/8 of all the revenue from recorded music, including physical sales and downloads, comes via Spotify. So it’s really important, as independent artists, to fully understand how the platform works and how to get the most out of it.

Part 1. Hit or Myth?

First of all, we need to dispel some of the myths around Spotify. Many of the reasons people give for not using Spotify, both as a listener and as an artist, are generally false often based on a lack of knowledge and understanding of how the streaming site actually works. The aim of this article is to try and correct some of the misconceptions and offer some practical, actionable advice on how to make the most of this platform, so let’s start with the myths.

Myth 1. Spotify algorithms favour tracks by major artists more than independent artists.

One of the biggest myths around Spotify isn’t even to do with how much they pay artists and other such hot topics. It’s all about the user experience, probably the most repeated falsehood about Spotify is that their playlists and playlist suggestions are programmed to favour the biggest artists. Many people give this as the reason they refuse to sign up as a listener, they have a specific taste in music that they don’t think Spotify will cater to.
This may be true of other streaming platforms but on Spotify, the algorithms that pick the songs do not unfairly favour bigger artists.

I have used both Spotify and Deezer as a premium subscriber and had a very different experience with the two streaming platforms. Deezer allows the user to both like and dislike artists and songs, this is supposed to improve the search results and suggested playlists such as Deezer’s “Flow” feature.

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I had only searched for reggae, soul and 90’s hip hop yet the app kept suggesting and playing things like Little Mix and Zayn Malik, despite me clicking dislike on both artists and also on associated artists like One Direction. I even got bombarded with emails promoting the Zayn Malik album around the time of its release. It was obvious that Deezer had been paid to push this particular artist on listeners, and it prompted me to cancel my subscription.

I joined Spotify and the experience was like night and day compared to Deezer, after using the service for about a month it started to “learn” my tastes and the suggested playlists like “Spotify Weekly” are now full of great songs I love, both ones I know and ones I’d never heard before. Even if I wasn’t an artist, I would still be a massive fan of Spotify as a listener.

Don’t just take my word for it, sign up to Spotify and see for yourself, it takes a few weeks for it to learn your taste so try it for at least a month (there’s usually a free trial that lasts about that long anyway)

Myth 2. You can’t get many streams on Spotify unless you are a famous artist (and/or are on a major label)

This is partly a continuation of the previous myth, if the platform favours major artists when recommending tracks to listeners then it must be really hard for an independent artist to get a look in, right? As we’ve already discussed, the algorithms aren’t weighted in favour of bigger artists but that’s only 1 of 3 kinds of playlists on Spotify. The other 2 types of playlists are made by humans, there are the “editorial” playlists made by Spotify staff and there are also user created playlists.

The playlists created by Spotify are definitely hard to get on to and certainly do feature more high profile acts. I think for many of the playlists it’s inevitable that they will feature more famous acts and tracks, listeners clicking on those playlists will be expecting to hear certain artists and songs and if they don’t they’ll just select another playlist. For those listeners who want to explore and discover new music, there are quite a few editorial playlists that feature emerging and lesser-known artists.

How many is many?

It really all depends on what your idea of “many” is and what your expectations were, my own tracks on Spotify have over a million plays and I have around 19,000 monthly listeners, not record-breaking numbers but pretty decent nonetheless.

When I look at my own statistics, 42% of all my streams came from personalised (algorithmically generated) playlists such as Spotify Weekly. One particular track has clocked up more than 16,000 streams in the last 28 days with 82% of those coming from personalised playlists.
I have also had one of my tracks selected on a curated “editorial” playlist, the track eventually clocked up over a million on its own but still, only 22% of my overall plays came from being on the playlist, the same amount again came from them adding the tracks to their own playlists and listening again outside of the playlist.

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To be clear, I (and the independent labels I have licensed my music to) have never paid for plays, likes, follows or playlist inclusion on any platform so these stats are unadulterated, and shows that you can get playlisted without being a famous artist on a major label.

Using Spotify for Artists you can now submit your upcoming releases for playlist consideration so it may get easier to find your way onto one of the playlists, I’ll go into more detail on that and the other things I’ve been doing to try to boost and maintain my own statistics in the next part of this article.

Myth 3. Spotify makes millions while they pay artists next to nothing.

There are 2 parts to that statement and they’re both false. Firstly, Spotify is yet to actually make any profit, despite reported revenues of $4.6billion in 2017 they posted a loss of $426million. The main reason they are making a loss is that their business model is to pay out 70% of their gross revenue to the owners of the recordings, regardless of their other running costs. Which with the company experiencing annual growth rates averaging 30% year on year, it shouldn’t be more than a few years before they do start profiting, assuming that running costs don’t increase at the same rate.

Secondly, they have absolutely no responsibility to pay the artist anything at all. Spotify, like all other retailers and streaming platforms, only have an obligation to pay the “recording rightsholder” this is usually a record company, who then pay the artist based on the terms of their recording contract. For reference, most major labels keep about 85% of the money and the remaining percentage has to be split between all the contributors. Only in the case of self-releasing artists, when the artists are also the rightsholders, does Spotify pay the artists directly, and even then it’s almost always through a distributor or aggregator.

Supplying the demand

To have any kind of successful business you need 2 things, supply and demand. Demand can be created through advertising but without a supply, you have no business. To make sure they had that supply Spotify had to agree on deals with the owners of the recorded music they intended to feature on their service. That meant negotiating with the 3 major labels (who between them account for about 75% of all the commercially available recorded music worldwide), the biggest publishers (who are also owned by the major labels) and the “Collective Management Organisations” (CMOs) that look after the rights of the music such as PRS for Music, ASCAP and BMI.

Right now, Spotify is one of the biggest players in the music industry so to a large degree can call the shots and negotiate deals on their own terms, but that wasn’t always the case. When they first started out they were nobody, they had no bargaining chips and nothing to leverage. The music industry had no reason to accept a deal that didn’t benefit them. So make no mistake, the payouts initially agreed by Spotify and the major labels are at a rate those labels agreed to under no pressure and 70% of gross does seem like a pretty decent deal.

Share and share alike

They did also accept a number of shares in Spotify as a result of the deal. SONY recently cashed in half the shares they received in that deal for an estimated $750million! It’s unknown how much of this money actually found its way to the artists on those labels whose music was distributed on Spotify although SONY had pledged to pass it on to their labels and artists regardless of the stipulations in their individual contracts and whether or not they have recouped their advances whereas Warner and Universal have said they will only pass it on to artists when it stipulates in their contract.

Although now it seems that following her signing to the Universal Music Group, Taylor Swift has negotiated some sort of payout from this money for her and her labelmates regardless of unrecouped balances.

You down with OMM?

It’s also worth noting that Spotify didn’t invent this business model, it’s based on the “Open Music Model” which was the result of many years of research at M.I.T. and is regarded by many economists and industry commentators as the future of digital distribution.

It correctly predicted the failure of online music distribution systems based on DRM (Digital Rights Management), this is evident in the sharp decline in paid downloads and major retailers like iTunes dropping DRM and venturing into streaming.

So while it’s not perfect, it’s the best model we have right now and there’s no real indication it’s imperfections are the result of an agenda to rip off artists. It may be some years before the payouts reach a level that pleases most people, but that’s not unlike the early days of any new format. It was decades before all the necessary laws and industry infrastructure was in place to enable creators, writers and performers of music to cash in on vinyl in the early days of that format and a similar transition period is occurring with streaming and the subscription, and ad-supported Open Music Model.

In part 2, I’ll get into what I’ve been doing in an effort to boost my numbers on Spotify.

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Unhappy with your PRS and PPL royalties? 6 Things you can do today to increase your future payments.

0n June 29th, PPL made their main annual distribution of royalties to its members. More than £150million was paid out, a 12% increase on the previous highest amount (June 2017, £135million). Two weeks later PRS for Music also made one of their biggest payouts to date. Were you one of the tens of thousands of people who received a payment? Are you happy with the amount? If not read on, there are a few things you can do right now to make sure your future payments are the full amount you are entitled to.

1.Join a society

This may seem like an obvious first step but, according to a recent Musician’s Union survey, 51% of professional musicians don’t have the necessary memberships to collect the money they are entitled to. Most people have joined, or at least know of, PRS (and their global equivalents like ASCAP, BMI, and APRA), but many of those people are not members of PPL or an equivalent.

The reasons vary, not knowing the revenue or the society exists is the main reason, another common reason I hear is that they don’t expect to get paid much money so they don’t think it’s worth the effort of joining. Well PPL alone distributes around £250million every year to its members and as a whole, these type of license fees make up 14% of the overall revenue from recorded music. So, if you haven’t already, join today. Many of the societies offer free membership, so all it takes is a little bit of time.

Some people think they are members but may have only created a login to the PPL website and are yet to actually register as a member, or have “joined” in a non-payable capacity such as the “ISRC Only” option.

Another thing I heard a lot while working at PPL, was that people intended to join but never got around to it. They had assumed that any money due to them would be there waiting when they did eventually join, that is most certainly not the case. The revenue needs to be claimed as soon as possible.

Each society will have varying timeframes on how long they hold unallocated revenue, which will usually be dictated by the laws of the land, in the UK the statutory limitation is 6 years. However, this backdating of revenue can only be done if the works are registered in time, for PPL the recordings need to be registered in the same calendar year of their initial release to ensure there is no lost revenue.

2. Register your works, and make sure they are 100% accurate. 

This also seems like pretty obvious advice, but one of the main reasons I found for people not receiving money from PPL for their recordings was they simply hadn’t registered any of them. They had joined, provided ID, bank details etc, but most assumed that simply joining the society was enough and that the revenue for their recordings would find its way to them eventually.  Which in this high-speed data-driven modern era isn’t such a ridiculous notion, however, the industry is quite far from that point. So, for now, it is essential to manually register your recordings. For PPL, that means logging into their portal and entering the details in, mistakes can mean delays in receiving revenue or in some cases not being eligible for payments at all.

If your tracks are registered it is still worth checking the information is accurate, an incorrect performer line up on your PPL registrations will result in either each performer’s share being diluted or in an overpayment that later has to be corrected with a “negative adjustment” in order to give the performers the correct shares. If the performer line up is missing or doesn’t meet minimum requirements then the rightsholder’s share is withheld by PPL. You will not be informed that the invalid information is resulting in revenue being withheld, it is up to you to log in and check that the recordings are valid and fix those that are not.

3. Log all your gigs (PRS) 

Unless you are primarily a writer whose songs are performed by other people then your main source of potential revenue from PRS will most likely be from your own live gigs. Log them all, no matter how big or small. Every venue that has live music must pay for this license, so whether you are playing the local pub band room or a sports stadium, it’s really important to log all your gigs. Each society will have different rules for when this should be done to avoid missing any revenue but best practice is to do it after every gig or tour.

For big venues and festivals, the society will sometimes send a rep down to count the number of people in attendance and to collect setlists from the performers. They only tend to do this if the license is particularly expensive so if you see them at your gig this should serve as an extra nudge to log the gig.

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4. Read your statements carefully and raise queries if you think your payments are low

Ever heard the saying “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”?
This is also true when it comes to your royalties, if you think your payments are low then kick up a fuss, request that someone looks deeper into it and double checks it. Before you get too militant do your research and be sure that your works have been used in a monetizable way and you have realistic expectations of how much it is worth.

All too often I see social media posts of people making light of small payments as if that is now an acceptable norm, sometimes I recognize these artists as having contributed to works that should have earned much more, but instead of raising the issue with their society they just shrug and make a joke. Sometimes it’s a really basic issue that is easily fixed, either way, you need to chase it up.

If you write songs and perform on the recordings of them then you are entitled to both composition (PRS) and sound recording (PPL) royalties, cross reference your statements as much of the usage will generate payments from both societies so they should appear on both statements. Query this if they don’t.

You can also submit investigation reports at PPL and make claims for “public performance” of your recordings (in-store background music).

5. Check for unclaimed royalties

Most societies receive the license fees first, then later they get the usage reports and have to match the money to the plays, and often this results in unmatched revenue often due license holders reporting recordings that are not registered.

Different societies have different ways of dealing with this money, often they will have some sort of online portal for checking and claiming as yet unclaimed royalties.  Such as this one on the PRS for Music website check these regularly, at least once or twice a year prior to the royalty distribution but within the relevant deadlines. It’s also a good idea to check the unclaimed royalty pages of other societies even if you aren’t a member and if you find your works there you can instruct your society to collect it for you.

The unclaimed royalty page on the SoundExchange website lists both recordings and artists that may have unclaimed royalties, however, they’re generally unwilling to divulge how much that might be until you join which is why asking your current society to investigate may be a good idea. Your other option is to join multiple societies, which can be done as long as the collection mandate at each society covers different territories and doesn’t overlap. International mandate conflicts are another common reason for low or delayed payments.

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Joining multiple societies could be a good idea if you have a strong following and/or tour and promote extensively in a particular country. As each society, in most cases, is the source of the revenue in that territory joining them directly will speed up the distribution of that money by at least 2 payment periods (roughly 6 months).

6. Check your “Participations” 

At PPL there are various different opt-in (and opt-out) revenue streams, they refer to these as your “participations”, these include international collection mandates (collecting revenue from other societies around the world) and “new media” (digital streaming and “on-demand” platforms such as internet radio and catch up services like BBC iPlayer). You can check whether or not you have an international mandate, and how many countries it covers, simply by logging into their portal.

For New Media, first check if you have ever received this type of revenue, it’s marked “NM” on your statement. If you have never received it, but your recordings have earned other types of revenue then you may need to opt-in to this service.

If you have signed an international mandate, and it covers the USA, then you will also need to submit a US tax form for the IRS. This will prevent any withholding tax being deducted and in the case of PPL, none of your US revenue will be paid out unless they have a valid tax form in place. For individuals that are not US citizens, the correct form is a W8BEN, or a W8BEN-E if you are a limited company.

Reality cheque after a royalty check. 

If you’ve ever thought your royalty payments were low, then it’s a good idea to get started on this to-do list today. Unless you do something about it then you can never be sure whether or not you are getting all the money you are entitled to. Being underpaid for your hard work is no joking matter.