Guest post by Ryan Brodhead, Manager of Performance Rights Administration for Songtrust, where he oversees song registration and royalty collection.
Each April at Songtrust, we anticipate reviewing our writers' royalty statements - not only to see where the income is coming from, but how much and in what ratio to other sources. In speaking to many songwriters, artists and bands, I've come to realize that there is quite a disconnect found in their expected royalties as opposed to their actual royalties. Here are four great sources - based exclusively on royalty statements from Songtrust's clientele - that you may not be fully aware of or capitalizing on.
1. Radio Airplay (Broadcast Radio, College, NPR)
With Spotify, Pandora and Rdio, we (music listeners as a whole) seem to have forgotten that traditional radio still exists. Why listen to a radio station spin music that they've chosen, when we can essentially DJ our own music and genres with the click of a mouse? Personally, I can't remember listening to an actual radio station over the last year, with the exception of ESPN. However, our quarterly performance royalty statements suggest that traditional radio is not only alive...but still lucrative.
Knowing this, rather than becoming frustrated over your nine cents in royalties from Rdio -- you should spend your time more wisely. Reach out to your local and college radio stations. Develop a relationship with these stations and understand that, while not being as hip and cool as telling your friends to check out your new album on Spotify, traditional radio formats ultimately serve the same purpose, which is the promotion and distribution of your music.
Don't get me wrong -- I highly recommend having all of your music available on online music streaming sites. Especially for smaller and indie artists, nothing bad can come from having your music available for potential fans and consumers -- and the royalties will eventually be there. But after you've uploaded the new album to Spotify, iTunes, BandCamp and SoundCloud - get in touch with your local radio stations.
Songtrust success story: We've got this great band that has been generating consistent performance royalty checks of around $300 for the last 3 or 4 quarters. About six months ago, the band along with their management began actively reaching out to their local radio stations and pushing their music. As a result, additional radio stations began reaching out to them, and adding their songs to broadcasts. The last performance royalty check we received for this band saw their quarterly statement jump from around $300 to $3,000 -- with the majority of new income coming from broadcast radio airplay.
2. Performance Royalties from TV/Film Placements
Synch Licenses! That's what we all want. Every indie band out there is dying to have their song used in a scene on The Office, as the end credits roll on HBO's Eastbound & Down, or during that emotional breakdown on Celebrity Rehab. We want to show that scene to our friends. We want to interest record labels by having a history of placements on TV/film. We want to use this as an opportunity to promote our music to millions of potential viewers. And most importantly, we want that fat synch license check!
But that's just one piece of the synch puzzle. You'd be surprised by how many songwriters are unaware of the additional performance royalties generated when your song has been placed in a television episode -- and that episode airs. Upfront synch fees can vary wildly from gratis (free) to hundreds of thousands of dollars as a one-time payment. However, every time that synch placement is aired, it also generates a performance royalty from your PRO (ASCAP, BMI or SESAC).
Songtrust success story: One of our clients had a modest placement in a television series for an upfront synch fee of $250. This song has gone on to generate over $500 in additional performance royalties (and will continue to earn as the show is re-aired). The performance royalties have already surpassed the original synch fee. If your song is not registered with a performance rights organization... you just lost $500.
3. Live Performance Royalties
Admittedly, I never fully recognized the potential earnings in live performance royalties. I had always assumed that all live performance royalties were associated with blanket licensing agreements between music venues and PROs. For example, Joe's Music Hall pays BMI a license fee for the right to play music in the background and host live acts. A tiny portion of that would eventually wind up back in the songwriter's pockets, but nothing really substantial. After all, if my band is playing Joe's Music Hall -- the venue will pay us and we should be squared away. Right? Not really.
Over the last few years, BMI (as well as ASCAP and SESAC) have launched incredible live performance programs geared towards touring artists and songwriters. These programs are similar to a rewards system and acknowledge songwriters that are actively performing their songs live. But more importantly...they pay. It's perhaps the closest thing to 'free money' a songwriter can get.
Songtrust success story: One of our clients tours constantly, whether it's a decent sized venue or a small coffee house. Despite his touring, he's yet to really break through and generate any significant income from his music. However, he takes the time to log his live performance information with his PRO and each quarter receives live performance royalties (generally between $50 - $250).
4. Backed / Unallocated Royalties
The music industry is confusing. We all know this. As songwriters and musicians, we can understand that the majority (if not all) of your energy should be spent writing and recording the best music you possibly can. We can understand if some of your songs never got registered, or if those mechanical license agreements are still sitting unsigned on your keyboard. But don't forget about them. Large portions of royalties go uncollected every year due in part to songs not being properly registered with collection societies, or entirely unregistered.
If you have a song that is receiving heavy radio play and is unregistered, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC have nowhere to allocate any incoming revenue -- and often times that money winds up being re-distributed according to market share after an extended period of time. So what can you do? The simplest answer is to be pro-active. Get on the phone with your publisher. Do some research. Try to determine what steps you've yet to take when it comes to your publishing.
Songtrust success story: We have a very talented client with an extensive catalogue. Many of his songs are co-writes with other artists and songwriters (indie and major), and are royalty generating. One of these tracks appeared on an album that was released by a major label and was licensed through HFA. Since our writer was self-published and not an affiliated member of HFA he was unaware that his song was being licensed through HFA and earning mechanical royalties. After Songtrust registered this song and reached out to HFA, it was determined that this track was in fact earning royalties... and more than just a couple bucks (in the thousands).