As the opening paragraph in a story on Billboard.com says, “Publishers and songwriters seem to forget that one of the reasons that digital services have so many problems keeping current with payments to publishers is because of the lack of an organized database to track all the songwriter information.” (Ed Christman, billboard.com contributor)
I will be writing more on the above subject later because it is worse than Mr. Christman knows.
For now I want to concentrate on this part of it: The billboard.com statement above is a condemnation of the highest order about the existing system of performance rights organizations (PROs in the US: SESAC, ASCAP, BMI). Each have clear messaging on their online portals for their members to agree to before entry to the site is granted. Here is one example of a PRO that cannot guarantee the accuracy of their data once it is put on there.
(Right click the picture above and choose open image in new tab to see the text at full size for ease of reading.)
A publisher with BMI who thought I was wrong about the above situation, logged on and pulled up his catalog of 149 songs. All of a sudden he said, “Whoa. Wait. Why is only 54 listed?”
A publisher listed with ASCAP hired me to get his catalog in order. I discovered things there that were irregular concerning a digital aggregator. The publisher gave me permission to reach out to ASCAP on his behalf. Suffice it to say that ASCAP knows what the digital aggregator is doing, and when showed evidence the aggregator was breaking their own contract with their client, ASCAP is not responding.
So my question is: Why should anybody use any performance rights organization if those don’t respect the very basis of their clients’ businesses?
But it gets worse. The PROs are laying off employees even as they are encouraging more and more songwriters and music publishers to list their properties with them.
And it gets worse. The PROs give employees the mandate of getting high profile catalogs to jump from their competitors’ ships and join with them, and to find newbies with potential and get them to list their entire catalogs.
And worse. The people the PROs hire have no clue how the music business itself works, therefore the advice they give the newbies is so bad that many with great potential are destroyed and cannot figure out why.
Sadly it gets worse. The PROs are so badly managed that no matter which one you use (publishers are encouraged to list with all three in the U.S.) you’re gonna get screwed over. They routinely pay to the wrong party to the tune of millions. They also routinely don’t pay to the tune of many more millions because they say they cannot find these people. Which means they are all sitting on pots of money and claiming “we cannot find these people.”
All this tells me is that the PROs have fallen down on their jobs. Like all businesses with a corporate mindset, they think they can placate their members with flashy news of “major artist has joined us” and “weeeeeee, lookey” announcements such as their new payment schedules or their sitting dramatically in front of some congressional fact-finding committee. But hobnobbing with the famous doesn’t pay the bills, getting paid nothing more often still equates to nothing, and we all know how effective fact-finding committees often aren’t to the man in the street.
There is a growing groundswell of creatives opting out of the above systems. Listen, I’m gathering materials now for the follow-up book to this one. If you want to share with me any of your experiences with performance rights organizations or digital aggregators, please feel free to get in touch.