Pandemic: Virtual Venues, Old School Collections and Audits Become a Practical Reality

As the effects of coronavirus quarantine efforts keep expanding, artists who were able to survive into the second decade of the age of piracy are now watching their live show revenue dry up, too.  From festivals to major tours, club shows, everything is cancelled or cancelling, sometimes months out.  Show guarantees are evaporating.  Even if there were a vaccine and a cure tomorrow, it will take months for the industry to reorient itself and rebook cancelled shows–assuming the venues survive.  Many will not.  (If you doubt this is happening because it hasn’t happened to you–yet–see David Crosby’s sobering interview with GQ.)

And that’s the crux of it.  We need to keep the artists alive and we also need to keep the venues alive, including the bars and restaurants that provide the infrastructure for “entertainment districts”.  I’m working on the “Keep Austin Weird Pledge” that is focused on the venues, but this post is going to focus solely on the artists.

Artists facing a sudden constriction in their base line revenue really have to bust a move right about now.  I think you need to plan for the worst and hope you are pleasantly surprised.  But realize that you may also be unpleasantly surprised.  Like the First Rule of Electronics Repair, you have to make sure that you are collecting what you are owed and perhaps consider auditing your royalties, particularly for indie labels and publishers.  Signing up for collections, reviewing black box and the more complex virtual venue set ups are all things you can do from isolation as long as you have a phone and an Internet connection.

Remember–just like you can’t pay your rent with exposure or data, social media alone won’t save you.  It’s time to start monetizing.  We are leaving the age of promotion and entering the age of sales.

Virtual Venues

Virtual venues have been a growing sector for years now, often as an afterthought for artists who are accustomed to higher end touring.   No longer.  A virtual venue relationship is not a “nice to have” anymore.  Getting paid is not something to be sneered at as a “paywall”, an expression invented by the ad supported, but this requires some thought.

The grand daddy of virtual venues is Stageit run by Evan Lowenstein and backed by partners like IBM.  (I’ve been a fan of Stageit for years, starting with a 2011 post.)  There are a handful of others as well as listed in a good checklist generously assembled by Cherie Hu that is well worth reading and following as she updates it.

Not only will virtual venues exist as part of an artist’s commercial repertoire, they may actually come to be part of reality for brick and mortar venues, too, a la the old Digital Club Network.  If a venue has a strong brand, just like an artist with an active fan base, there may be value in considering an installed simulcasting package.

Make Sure You Are Signed Up With Collecting Societies

The first thing that an artist should do when concerned about cash flow is make sure that  you have tied down the obvious–if you are a songwriter, make sure your PRO  knows where to find you and that they are not holding any money for you (this would be ASCAP, BMI, GMR, SESAC).  On the mechanical side, check in with HFA, Audiam, CDBaby for the same reason.

For artists and label owners, be sure you have joined SoundExchange.  To my knowledge, SoundExchange is the only PRO that pays on a monthly basis.  I always urge artists and labels to join SoundExchange as a member (as opposed to simply registering) as you can tap additional income streams.

SoundExchange also has a look up portal so you can see if they are holding money for you, which is a box you need to check.

You should also check and make sure that the union intellectual property funds are not holding money for  you or can’t find you.  If you are a union member, check with your local to see if there are any residuals floating around that haven’t found their way to you yet.

Although it’s not a collecting society, you should also check the Spotify class action claiming portal at Song Claims (powered by Crunch Digital).

If you were signed to a record company or music publisher at some point in the past, even if you are currently signed, make sure they know where to find you.  They may have money for you.  If you have your own distribution agreements, then take a look at those, too.

You can also look at companies like Lyric Financial that may give you an advance on more substantial royalty earnings, and companies like AdRev can go out to collect YouTube monies for you.

Audits

While not an immediate source of funds, it may be worth it to consider a “royalty compliance examination” or “audit”, particularly if you are a label or publisher with audit rights against digital distributors.  Audits can be conducted largely remotely, and sometimes even a desktop audit can shake loose some monies based on undeniable mistakes.  Consult your business manager or accountant to look into this as desktop audits can be conducted remotely.

 

@hypebot: @SoundExchange Launches Music Data Exchange To Connect Label, Publisher Metadata

SoundExchange’s new Music Data Exchange (MDX) is a promising idea that gets at a big part of the real problem with mass infringement of songs by digital services.  It also gives some hope of actually reducing the “pending and unmatched” (or “black box” in the vernacular) at the source–before the songs are infringed.

Regardless of what the Music Modernization Act’s proposed blanket license and new retroactive safe harbor for infringing services may do, if the song ownership data isn’t available pre-release, it is unlikely that the proposed Music Licensing Collective will result in more efficient payments to songwriters subject to the blanket license.

When I worked at A&M Records, I established a policy of enforcing requirements in producer and artist agreements that writer and publisher information (including splits) be delivered to A&R Administration along with every new recording as part of the larger label copy process.  A&R Administration then was able to send the full publisher and song metadata for the recording to the Copyright Department so that there was no need (or much less need) for them to chase down the information on new releases.  That’s not only extremely inefficient, it also makes their job exceptionally frustrating and Kafka-esque.

This required putting some sensitive English on the ball, so to speak, about enforcing our contracts with the most important people on the label–the artists and producers.  But it was a simple pitch–let’s get this right so that songwriters get paid properly.  That resonated.

This policy resulted in A&M having the lowest pending and unmatched in the industry–to the point that on audit some people thought we were hiding something.

On balance, the downside of denying the black box slush fund just didn’t compare to the upside of making sure our songwriters got paid (many of whom also were our artists).  While I’m glad that the plan worked for A&M at the time, what’s really needed in an era of massive infringement by digital services is an industry-wide solution that takes away that excuse.

Nobody likes litigation, but it has become a last resort when faced with people who just don’t seem to care and would rather buy themselves a new safe harbor than do the right thing.  MDX may offer that opportunity and solution.

Hypebot recently published an interview with SoundExchange’s Jonathan Bender that gives a clear explanation of the goals and functionality of the service.  I think it’s a solution that everyone should support.

And use.

…[I]t occurred to us that we were addressing a problem after it happened. We said, “Isn’t there a way to address the problem before it happens? Before you get to the point where you have settlements and lawsuits and unhappy writers and publishers?”

That was the core idea of Music Data Exchange – to create a centralized, rational process for labels to request publishing data and for the publishers to respond to those requests on a central site…

In one of my first meetings with one label’s copyright department I asked, “How do you get the publishing data?” They said they generate a report of all their new releases each week, typically hundreds of recordings, hand it to their copyright people, and then they commence to email publishers they know asking “is this your song?”

That’s just one label. Add hundreds of labels and hundreds of publishers to that, and thousands of recordings a week. It’s no surprise that it’s a mess.

Read the post on Hypebot.

 

Are ISRCs Driving You Crazy? Check the ISRC Search Site Solution

Are you in that happy category of folks that don’t know what an “ISRC” is?  Or do you know what it is and it’s driving you crazy?  If you’re in the latter group, there is good news for you.  SoundExchange and the IFPI have partnered to bring you a searchable database of ISRCs, and here’s why you care.

Starting in the early 1990s, the music industry created a unique track-level identifier called the International Standard Recording Code or “ISRC”.  It took a little while for the code to propagate but by the time digital distribution started to get serious around 2000, ISRCs were in wide use mostly embedded in the PQ data of compact discs, although a master list of some kind usually lived in the files of record companies.

The ISRC is the one common identifier that allows the recording to be tracked and associated with other fields such as track name, artist name, repertoire owner (e.g., record company), tax ID or payee information, and of course the corresponding song information.  It would have been nice if the mp3 ripping software that became ubiquitous in the late 90s had captured the ISRC from the PQ subcode data in the CD being ripped, but the software was designed to ignore ISRCs so none of the billions of mp3 copies out there can be tracked very easily.

SoundExchange is bringing together the ISRCs from many IFPI member record companies and making that list into a public facing searchable database at the SoundExchange ISRC Search Site.  This will make positive identification of sound recordings much easier.

ISRC Search