The true story of royalties


I wanted to share my experience, what I call “the true story of royalties for unsigned artists”…

First, know that Radio airplay is considered a public performance. Public performances generate performance royalties for songwriters, which are collected by the PROs (BMI, ASCAP, SESAC in the US, SOCAN in Canada, PRS in the UK, SACEM in France, basically every country have their own Publishing Rights Organization). There’s an issue with FM/AM radios in the US not paying performance rights, only songwriters rights, but that’s a story for another day.

Now I’ve had various discussions lately with artists and some radios hosts, and some people argued that right now the issue with internet radios is that the vast majority of them is not paying any royalties. It should be illegal, right? For sure, but the reality is that there is so much of them that no law enforcement action is taken against them because of lack of clear regulations (some loopholes being used?) or simple lack of resources for the law to be enforced in the first place.

The internet is really like the old Wild West, and when it comes to trying to defend the artists copyright, there’s basically no sheriff you can turn to. In the US for example, if you really want to make a case of it, you’d have to sue in a federal court, which is going to cost you such a huge amount of money that it’s basically not practically possible.

But then, there is also another problem… The fact is that whether these radios you are played on are paying their dues or not is not going to make any difference for you. You will not see a cent from the airplay anyway!

That's right! Believe it or not, being played on a radio that pays royalties or not is not making any difference for unsigned artists right now! Even radios who are playing nothing but unsigned artists are actually not paying royalties back to the artists they play, they are just sending checks to big labels. How screwy is that?

All of this is because basically the radios (or their internet providers paying royalties out of the radio subscription) are paying a “blanket” license for all the airplay. These blanket licenses represent X amount of songs played during X amount of hours. This is paid to the PROs, and what do the PROs do with that money? Well, they are not looking at who has been played, it would be too much of an effort, right? So they are paying a pro rata to labels based on their market share. Yep, you got that right! It basically means big labels get the big checks, the little labels get little checks, and guess what kind of check the independent artists get? 

The result of this is that since I’ve released my first EP, in June last year (almost 9 months ago!), I have received 0 cent from airplay, even from radios that I know for sure are paying royalties. I just went again to my SOCAN royalties statement who is still desperately blank, 9 months and many airplay later…

So really, there is a dire need for radios to do things right. But first, the legislation that governs the copyrights and the blanket licenses should be amended so that the true owners of the copyrights are compensated for each airplay and not as a pro rata of their market share, because truly they get nothing from that.