2021 Prediction: The United States Music Publishing Market Continues To Grow And Fragment, Creating More Silos For Unpaid “Black Box” Royalties — DIY Musicians Hit The Hardest

As the U.S. music publishing industry grows (in terms of revenue, volume of copyrights, and number of income participants), the rights administration and licensing sector becomes ever-more fragmented; giving way to cracks in its foundation through which royalties fall into the so-called “black box” — the industry name for the unmatched and unpaid royalties earned against unidentified works or unidentified or unreachable income participants that accrue in escrow only to be later forfeited and disbursed to entities to which the funds do not belong; primarily major music conglomerates and those acquiring catalogs of copyrights to expand their market share position.

Black Box Royalties Myths, Common Misconceptions Debunked at Music Biz 2018

united states music publishing market music licensing rights administration royalty ecosystem

A picture of a white board illustrating the growth and fragmentation of the US Music Publishing Market, specifically the music licensing and royalty ecosystem, drawn during Dae Bogan’s lecture in his class, “Music Industry Entrepreneurship and Innovation” at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, Winter Quarter 2019

 

In 1909, when the first federal copyright law that protected music creators and rights-holders was enacted, there were no massive music rights organizations as we’ve come to know them today. Although unions had existed — the American Federation of Musicians was founded 13 years earlier in 1896, but focused more on work conditions than collective bargaining, as it does today — ASCAP was formed in 1914 to license the performing rights of composers, authors, and publishers.

Fast forward to 2021 when the newly formed Mechanical Licensing Collective will issue its first blanket digital streaming mechanical license to the likes of Spotify, Google, and Apple. There will be over a dozen music rights and royalty collection organizations issuing thousands of licenses, administering millions of pieces of copyrights, and processing billions of micro-penny transactions.

Here Are 10 Ways That The Music Licensing Collective (MLC) Can Set The Bar As A Collective Licensing Organization In The 21st Century

The music licensing and royalty ecosystem in 1909: Individual music composers, aristocrats who financed or commissioned works, and sheet music publishers.

The music licensing and royalty ecosystem in 2021: Traditional non-profit and private music rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, Global Music Rights, PRO Music Rights, SoundExchange, Mechanical Licensing Collective), royalty funds (AFM & SAG-AFTRA Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund, Alliance for Artists and Record Companies, Film Musician’s Secondary Market Fund, Sound Recording Special Payments Fund), unions engaged in collective bargaining (SAG-AFTRA, American Federation of Musicians), licensing clearing houses and agents (e.g. Music Reports, Harry Fox Agency).

If I wrote a popular commercial song that is exploited to the fullest extent — released on a commercial recording; performed live in concert; licensed for use in film or television; placed in a commercial; earns viral success on user generated content platforms and social music apps; covered many times; embodied in a music video; lyrics printed and sold on merchandise; used for a live broadcast sporting event; added to Spotify and Apple playlists where it takes off; picked up on terrestrial, Internet, satellite, and cable radio; etc. — I would need to ensure that my work is registered at all of the places where the royalties earned from the uses I’ve described are paid; the music licensing and royalty ecosystem. If I do not, then my royalties will leak into the black box.

The black box is estimated at over $2 billion — and growing — of which much of it is due to independent music creators, small music rights-holders, and the estates of deceased authors and performers who do not have the access, power, know-how or market share to navigate the web of black boxes; for which there are many.

Songwriters Are Owed Nearly $2B In Unclaimed Royalties!!! — Maybe More — I’ve Been Saying This For Some Time Now (Against Pushback), But Finally The Press Has Confirmed It

When entities charged with maintaining these black boxes distribute the funds in market share distributions, the major labels and publishers win and the independent and DIY creators lose. It is unfair and unethical. But what are we going to do about it?

Some artists, knowing that they do not know exactly how this all works, have found creative business ways to “make up” for potential lost royalties. But for the rest — the majority — of DIY musicians, they’re generally left out of the discussion and left to fend for themselves, even when they think they’re doing everything right.

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As the industry charges forward with new energy fueled by the growth of music streaming, we have to consider how the continued fragmentation of the music licensing ecosystem affects the most vulnerable — DIY musicians. Major labels have direct deals with DSPs and digital services that pay them advances and account to and pay them royalties. DIY musicians rely on music rights organizations, who are often disproportionately influenced by the majors, to handle these things for them.

Do So-called Music Advocacy Groups Avoid Deeper Discussions On Black Box Royalties To Appease Their Major Members?

I founded TuneRegistry to help DIY musicians be their own advocate, to demystify the music licensing and royalty ecosystem by aggregating the fragmented world of rights administration into one economical platform. To this end, our team has helped hundreds of small to medium-sized music rights-holders and DIY musicians unlock thousands of dollars in new found royalties and to register their works to ensure that they are identified and accounted to in the future. Not all music rights organization have joined our network, but we will continue to advocate and fight for the rights and entitlements of DIY music creators as long as we can.

About Dae Bogan

Dae Bogan is a music rights executive, serial entrepreneur, and educator with over fifteen years of experience in the music industry. Currently, he is the SVP of Global Music Rights at Jammber and Lecturer at UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

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