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Having a tough time making money as performance artist?

September 3, 2014

$.0023. That’s how much music streaming services currently pay in royalties per play to performers on sound recordings. If you are bad with math, that’s almost a ¼ of a penny per play. Accountants’ heads are throbbing trying to calculate these micro wages owed from music streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify. But that’s a good thing. At least these internet services pay sound recording rights, unlike terrestrial (AM/FM) radio, which only pays the songwriters’ royalties.

"You, see, Jimmy, we don't pay the performers you are hearing right now - just the songwriters.  That's the way it will always be."

“You, see, Jimmy, we don’t pay the performers you are hearing right now – just the songwriters. That’s the way it will always be.”

U.S. radio has always gotten a free ride when it comes to performance rights; it has been able to justify not paying performers since airplay in effect helps market the songs and albums. That logic used to be stronger, when physical CD and related merchandise sales were thriving, but the landscape has changed in our increasingly digital new age…

Globally, song recording rights are eligible as live performance royalties on terrestrial radio…except in America (and China, North Korea and Iran). And since performers from other countries aren’t compensated for sound recordings via radio play in the U.S., American performers are also not compensated when their music is played abroad. You can see why a musician would be inspired to become a citizen of another country.

Legislation going nowhere
Just about a year ago (9/30/13), Congressman Mel Watt (D/NC) introduced the Free Market Royalty Act (H.R. 3219), with the goal of attaining royalty rights for sound recordings played over AM/FM radio. It emphasized the need to compensate musicians in a drastically changing business environment, especially since terrestrial radio has made its money directly from this content all along. Unfortunately, just a few months later Mr. Watt accepted a promotion that removed him from the house so this bill has about a 1% chance of being enacted.

Former Congressman Mel Watt, author of the Free Market  Royalty Act

Former Congressman Mel Watt, author of the Free Market Royalty Act

Of course, the National Broadcasters Association (NBA) isn’t about to start paying for something they haven’t had to pay for in decades. But to make matters worse, Pandora has also been lobbying vigorously to reduce royalty rates for digital airplay of sound recordings – be prepared for more flattening of wages to follow.

What’s a performance artist to do?
Here are three basic things you should be doing for your bottom line:
1) Be sure that you are registered with SoundExchange. This is the nonprofit entity that collects your royalties for digital airplay.
2) Utilize the digital distribution companies: CDBaby, Tunecore, ReverbNation, DistroKid, Ditto Music, Loudr, or MondoTunes.
3) Start writing your own tunes, and register with BMI, ASCAP or SESAC. What? You are not much of a songwriter? Please stay tuned…

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