Thursday, February 10, 2011

How Musicians Get Paid for Digital Performances of Their Music

By Vanessa Kaster, Esq. LL.M.

Musicians MUST REGISTER with SoundExchange in order to get paid royalties from digital performances. Digital performances include having songs played on Pandora, Sirius Radio and other satellite or internet radio streaming sites. You might think that being registered with ASCAP, BMI or SESAC covers this, but it does not. Separate registration with SoundExchange is required to collect royalties when your music is played on digital internet and satellite music providers.

SoundExchange pays royalties to performers and copyright owners. For example if you hear Aretha Franklin’s famous rendition of ‘Respect’ played over internet radio, the royalty payments are paid to both Aretha as the performer (paid to her by SoundExchange) and to Otis Redding who wrote the song (ASCAP pays Otis Redding’s estate). However, if you hear Otis Redding’s original version over internet radio then his estate is compensated for both the original composition, and also for the sound recording (ie both ASCAP and Sound Exchange pay royalties to Otis.) If you own your own track and play on it, then you get paid twice when your track is played on Pandora, Sirius Radio and other satellite or internet radio streaming sites.

The only catch is that Musicians, performers and copyright owners must be proactive in registering with SoundExchange to collect their royalty payments. Reportedly, SoundExchange has between $40 and $200 million dollars in royalty payments sitting around waiting to be collected by musicians. Collect the royalty payments owed to you by registering with Sound Exchange pronto.

Embedding quality metadata on your tracks and double checking that your digital distributor is doing the same is another important step in being paid all the digital music royalties that you are owed. SoundExchange reports that millions of dollars of unpaid royalty payments are due to inadequate metadata embedded on music files and CDs. Make sure that the metadata embedded on your tracks includes: 1) the artist or group name, 2) the copyright holder (you or label name), 3) the track title, 4) the album titles and 5) ISRC number, if available. Embedding this data on your tracks ensures that you are identified as the person to whom royalty payments are owed. Without embedding quality metadata on your tracks, generic information like ‘Track 1’ by ‘Artist Unknown’ is submitted in royalty payment reports to SoundExchange. When this happens, it’s very unlikely that the royalty payments earned by that play will ever make it to you.

In addition to REGISTERING with SoundExchange, double check that the metadata embedded on your tracks is accurate, clear and detailed. Don’t miss out on getting paid your digital royalties.

p.s. if you haven’t already submitted your music to Pandora or Sirius Radio here is the contact info for that too:

Many thanks to Vanessa Kaster for submitting this article for "Raising the Curtain." Vanessa's blog posts on music copyright issues have been recognized as 'Top Music Blogs' by and also by Artist House Music