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Why More Pop Songwriters Are Stepping Into the Spotlight

I shared my thoughts on the status of income-earning for songwriters in today’s streaming landscape in this piece by Elias Leight for Rolling Stone:

“But regardless of whether you’re an upper-echelon songwriter living large or a middle-class one struggling to pay rent, the new system encourages writers to ‘think creatively about how to get more income streams,’ says Dae Bogan, Founder and CEO of the music-rights administration platform TuneRegistry.

If songwriters are indeed feeling the crunch, pushing for artist credit when possible is a natural response – it gives them access to money on the master’s side of recordings. Historically, “we get paid on publishing, the the words, the lyrics, the melody, the staff music written on a page,” explains Watt. “The master is the physical recording: Justin Bieber’s voice and DJ Snake’s production on ‘Let Me Love You.’ The master is where the money is. When a song is sold to a label, they buy the master. If the label gives that to an act, they make sure they own part of that master, otherwise in the streaming world, they’re not making any money.”

Now, Bogan says, “songwriters can say, I write hits; this is gonna be a hit for you; I want a piece of the master’s side.” That’s especially true if hit writers are in a position of leverage relative to the singer – “if it’s a young artist or an artist who’s been stagnant.”

This is in some sense a form of poetic justice for writers. “I used to manage songwriters, and we’d write for a number of artists who would demand that they get 10 percent of the publishing even though they didn’t write a single lyric,” Bogan says. “For decades, artists would dip into publishing to diversify their income stream. So now it’s like, let’s take that model and flip it on its head.”

Read the full article: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/benny-blanco-eastside-pop-songwriter-credit-711061/

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

Over the last few years, I’ve been researching and sounding the alarm on the growing problem of unclaimed music royalties or so-called “black box” royalties.

I’ve estimated the value of the collective black box to be nearly or above $2B. I’ve presented research, have written extensively and have spoken publicly about this problem, which disproportionately affect independent and legacy songwriters.

Despite my fanfare, industry insiders and stakeholders have shrugged or have blatantly called my estimates a gross overstatement and have held that unclaimed royalties are at best a few hundreds of thousands of dollars and mostly owed to “long-tail artists” who do not quite understand how the music industry works. This is a very myopic, company-focused view. These talking heads tend to speak from their position of administering one right for some music licensees. My estimates are looking at multiple rights administered by multiple entities, which would make the collective black box exponentially greater than the escrow account of a single entity.

Also Read: State of Unclaimed U.S. Music Royalties and Licenses

Yesterday, Variety published an article on the Music Modernization Act where a very important fact was tucked away on a single sentence in a paragraph near the end of the piece:

The DSPs are holding some $1.5 billion in unmatched mechanical royalties. If the MMA passes, that money would be passed through to the MLC which would match it to the songwriters and publishers. [bold and underline added for emphasis]

via Variety

https://variety.com/2018/music/news/music-modernization-act-blackstone-sesac-congress-senate-1202881536/

$1.5B of royalties (I still believe this number is higher) is sitting in, probably, interest-bearing escrow accounts while songwriters and small-to-medium sized music rights holders struggle to understand how and why.

Last year I founded RoyaltyClaim, the world’s first search engine of unclaimed music royalties and licenses, which has recently been acquired by Made In Memphis Entertainment. We’ve helped DIY musicians and rights-holders identify thousands of unclaimed entitlements in just a few months, with one paricular music producer uncovering nearly $150k in unclaimed royalties due to him.

The problem is huge. The system is not transparent. And the people in charge could do a better job communicating these things to rights-holders.

Also Read: I’m Working On A Side Project Addressing ‘Black Box’ Royalties

I’ve been on many panels at music industry conferences where I’ve maintained my position that DIY musicians and small-to-medium sized rights-holders are owed hundreds of millions of dollars, if not several billion, and often my co-panelists have taken a position that my claims are sensational and overstated.

I disagree.

When those on the panel talk about black box we are talking about the aggregate of unclaimed royalties that occur because of any number of factors,’ and not just limited to one service or one collection society, explained moderator Dae Bogan, CEO of TuneRegistry.”

via Billboard

Source: https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/8456271/black-box-royalties-myths-panel-music-biz-2018

Read the Variety article here.

Check out my commentary on black box royalties here.

Dae Bogan To Join Panel On The Future Of Rights Technology At A2IM Indie Week In New York

a2im indie week dae bogan speaker

Dae Bogan will join Shanna Jade (Director of Brand Strategy, Stem) and Rob Weitzner (Head of North America, The state51 Music Group) on the panel “Future of Rights Technology” on Wednesday, June 20th at A2IM (American Association of Independent Music) Indie Week conference taking place at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center in New York. The panel will be moderated by Anna Siegal, SVP FUGA North America.

For more details, visit https://a2im.org/event/a2im-indie-week-2018/

Congress Is Giving Musicians First Chance of Fair Pay in Decades


“‘The MMA gives a digital service like Spotify or Amazon a more convenient way of licensing songs,’ Dae Bogan, founder of music management platform TuneRegistry and a longtime music rights advocate and executive, explains. ‘And it opens a potential windfall of income to legacy artists who were left out of the digital boom.’ But Bogan adds that the legislation doesn’t come close to fixing all, or even most, of the problems in music royalties for labels, publishers and musicians; the simplified processes just make it more likely they’ll get the money they’re due.” via RollingStone

Read the full piece here: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/congress-is-giving-musicians-first-chance-of-fair-pay-in-decades-w520301

5 Ways The Music Modernization Act Could Be Fairer To ALL Music Creators

music modernization act

 

Today, the Music Modernization Act has passed the U.S. House of Representatives with a unanimous 415 – 0 vote (16 reps abstained from voting at all).

The mega bill — which consists of a bundle of Titles that were previously independently proposed bills — will change the way in which musical works are licensed by digital service providers and provide a safe harbor for infringement under a blanket licensing mechanism (Title One – Musical Works Modernization Act); it will bring recordings made before 1972 under federal copyright protection (Title Two – Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, and Important Contributions to Society Act or CLASSICS Act); and it will codify an allocation of digital radio royalties to music producers and sound engineers (Title Three – Allocation for Music Producers Act or AMP Act).

On its surface the MMA sounds amazing, when summarized this way.

Accordingly, the passing of the MMA in the House was widely praised by executives from the most recognizable U.S. music rights organizations and trade associations (e.g. NMPA, RIAA, DiMA).

However, there remains many uncertainties in the language of the bill presenting an opportunity for the Senate to course correct before the bill becomes a law that would take over 20 years to improve, again (the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was the last piece of legislation impacting the music business — it was enacted in 1998).

 

Also read: I Was Interviewed By The Congressional Budget Office Regarding The Music Modernization Act, And Now I’m Even More Concerned For DIY Musicians

 

So, what could the Senate do to make the bill more fair to the tens of thousands of music creators who are not represented (or underrepresented) by the industry sponsors of this bill? Well, there’s at least five issues that can be addressed immediately:

  1. Ban the practice of distributing by market share unclaimed royalties that rightfully belong to DIY musicians and songwriters.
  2. Mandate that record companies provide complete and accurate (at the time of release) publishing information for each track within the metadata delivered to distributors/aggregators, and that the latter provides that information to DSPs.
  3. Do not expunge all past copyright infringement claims, only future claims upon the date of the enactment of the law.
  4. Maintain a representative MLC board of 50% publishers and 50% songwriters (with at least 1 unsigned songwriter on the board (e.g. Chance the Rapper)) as opposed to the BS 10 publishers, 4 songwriters (who’ll likely come from the major publishers anyway) that has been written in the bill.
  5. Respect the Berne Convention by not disregarding the musical works of non-US songwriters who have not (and will not) register each of their songs with the USCO or MLC.

How else could the MMA be improved? Or do you feel that it is fair enough? Let’s discuss in the comments.

I Was Interviewed By The Congressional Budget Office Regarding The Music Modernization Act, And Now I’m Even More Concerned For DIY Musicians

cbo1

I just spent the last hour giving a copyright law and music publishing crash course to a Principal Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office who’s tasked with determining the economic impact of the revised Music Modernization Act (which, by the way, now includes the Musical Works Modernization Act (which is an update to the originally proposed MMA, affecting songwriters and publishers), AMP Act (affecting producers and engineers) and CLASSICS Act (affecting recording artists of Pre-1972 records)) on states, DSPs and music creators.

He emailed me yesterday and asked to speak with me about the magnitude of the unclaimed royalties market, although we ended up discussing much more than that. Apparently he had discovered a presentation that I gave at the Music Industry Research Association’s MIRA Conference last year titled “The State of Unclaimed Royalties and Music Licenses in the United States.”

Screenshot (533)

Email from a Principal Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office

At the top of the one hour call he began by stating that he’s had to learn copyright and music publishing in 2 days (2 days!!!). The guy who’s going to contribute to a recommendation to Congress that will impact whether or not 3 different bills will be enacted and change our copyright law has spent only 2 days learning about the complex web of regulations and customs that govern an entire industry and its millions of constituents. I guess this is how legislation is vetted; economically.

The good news is he had a lot of great questions and had did a significant amount of research prior to our call. To be fair, I meet plenty of music industry professionals who have (or at least demonstrate) less knowledge of what’s going on in the world of music rights administration and music publishing than this gentleman; and they’ve spent years in the industry! It is refreshing to know that the government does inquiry with non-lobbyist from time to time when considering the impact of proposed legislation.

At any rate, he was open to hearing my advocacy on behalf of music creators (specifically songwriters, music producers, and recording artists of Pre-1972 records) as well as my substantiated opposition to some features of the revised MMA (generally those features that would disproportionately benefit music licensees (primarily, DSPs) and major publishers while leaving DIY music creators to fend for themselves).

[This paragraph was omitted on 4/20/2018 as a result of a clarification that I received for Title 3 of the MMA]

Another issue I have is with the ownership of the unclaimed mechanical royalties fund(s). The Musical Works Modernization Act (Title 1 of the MMA) would, for the first time, codify the existence of a mechanical royalties black box in the United States. The current US Copyright Act does not give copyright owners a right to earn or collect mechanical royalties if their musical works are not registered with the US Copyright Office.

Here’s an excerpt from one of my articles on the matter:
After the NOI has been filed, it is then the copyright owner’s responsibility to become aware of and locate the NOI, and then take action in order to receive mechanical royalties. The law states, “To be entitled to receive royalties under a compulsory license, the copyright owner must be identified in the registration or other public records of the Copyright Office.” (17 USC 115(c)(1))
The law also makes it clear that the licensee is not required to pay mechanical royalties until after the copyright owner has been identified. “The owner is entitled to royalties for phonorecords made and distributed after being so identified…” (17 USC 115(c)(1)) What’s worse, the law does not require the licensee to pay retroactively for mechanical royalties earned before the copyright owner is identified. “…but is not entitled to recover for any phonorecords previously made and distributed.” (17 USC 115(c)(1))

However, intermediaries (e.g. Harry Fox Agency, Music Reports, Loudr) that process NOIs (Notice of Intent to Obtain a Compulsory Mechanical License) on behalf of their DSP clients do encourage their clients to set aside unattributed mechanical royalties into an escrow account (the so-called “black box”). The royalties sit there until the copyright owner raises his/her/their hand to collect the earnings or until the entity decides to disburse or absorb the uncollected funds.

Generally, this is a “good faith” policy.

Now, since the MMA will codify the black box as a matter of law, this private sector matter will become a government matter. The question, then, is will federal government or state governments have the right to maintain the unclaimed royalties black box?

Currently, unclaimed property laws enable states to receive and hold unclaimed property (such as money) when the property owner can not be reached. For example, California’s Unclaimed Property Law requires corporations, businesses, associations, financial institutions, and insurance companies (referred to as “Holders”) to annually report and deliver property to the California State Controller’s Office after there has been no activity on the account or contact with the owner for a period of time specified in the law – generally (3) three years or more. I’ve had a few refunds from services that I used and cancelled when I moved from one place to another. I did not provide the service with a forwarding address, so my refund became unclaimed property and ended up with the California State Controller. By searching the CSC’s database, I was able to find and then claim the property (pictured below).

If your property goes unclaimed too long (each state has their own statute of limitations), the state has the right to liquidate the property (e.g. sale an unclaimed vehicle) and absorb proceeds as miscellaneous revenue to the state’s budget [lawyers, correct me in the comments if I’m wrong].

Because states unintentionally (benefit of the doubt) benefits from unclaimed property, I could see states with significant music industries (e.g. California (Los Angeles), New York (Greater New York City), Tennessee (Nashville), Georgia (Atlanta)) suing the federal government or the Mechanical Licensing Collective (the entity that would be granted under the MMA to administer a new blanket licensing system along with a centralized database of musical and sound recording copyrights to match works with usage reports submitted by digital services) over the right to collect unclaimed royalties, especially if the black box is hundreds of millions of dollars (which I believe it is).

There are many other issues that I have with the MMA such as the proposed formation, structure (especially the imbalance of representation on its board where there would be 10 publishers and only 4 songwriters (why not 7/7?)), and governance of the MLC and similar unclaimed royalties issues related to the CLASSICS Act; among other issues. I’d be happy to discuss, but this post is already yuge!

In a word, I am all here for improving royalty rates, ensuring the fair treatment of music copyrights and moving towards a more equitable representation of music creators. However, the MMA is not quite there yet and passing it as-is, with all of its ambiguity, would be a shame. I don’t know if the music industry will have another shot to make this kind of update to the Copyright Act in the next 20 plus years (the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 was the last significant update).

We should probably get it right — now.

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