By Jeff Price & Jamie Purpora
This is insane.
Before TuneCore launched its songwriter publishing administration service, over 99% of the world’s songwriters had no way to get all the royalties they earned from the use of their songs.
It sounds bizarre, absurd and impossible. After all, what sort of screwed up industry creates a structure that generates musicians hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties, but denies them a way to collect them?
The fact is: every single time a song is streamed, downloaded or publicly performed (i.e. TV, AM/FM radio, a retail store, venue, etc.) the songwriter is—by law— required to be paid. The money is being generated, it exists, it’s being accounted for in business plans, it’s going somewhere, but just not to the people who earned it. Until TuneCore built and launched this thing , there was no pipeline for the masses to get their money.
Look at the TuneCore Artist community. Over the past few years, TuneCore artists globally sold over 600 million copies of their recordings, and, in so doing, earned over 300 million dollars. As these artists also wrote the songs that were sold, they earned another 60+ million dollars in songwriter royalties, but did not get this money! There was no un-gated scalable mechanism to do it. The only option that existed was the old school model: the artist/songwriter would have to bang on the doors of the traditional industry in the hope that the gatekeeper would pick them from the millions and millions of songwriters to get “signed” to a global publishing deal that would get them some small percent of their money.
And if by some crazy twist of fate they did get a music publisher to respond to them, they would get a 30 page form agreement loaded with more twists, hooks and hidden surprises than the plot to Lost.
So the world’s songwriter money just sits in different countries around the world remaining undistributed until it is eventually given away to other people, or, worse, used by music services without the proper licenses.
Think of it this way. You can’t have Peter living in Berlin, Germany tell a music service that he represents Joe Smith from Boise, ID when he is not in a deal with Joe Smith. And you absolutely can’t have the music service pay Peter on behalf of Joe, have Peter take a piece of Joe’s money, and then give the rest away to other people. But that’s more or less what was happening, until fate introduced me to Jamie Purpora, then SVP of Bug Music Publishing Administration—the world’s largest independent music publishing company.
Jamie’s job at Bug was to set up the pipelines to go and get the money from around the world for over 300,000 songs Bug represented; songs from Johnny Cash, Kings Of Leon, Willy Dixon, and lots more.
And Jamie schooled me big time. My God, the secrets that man knows about this side of the industry are astounding. The nooks, crannies and crevices this industry uses to filter, hide, confuse and obfuscate were created by an evil genius. In 2010, there was over $11 billion dollars funneling through this antiquated, outdated, opaque songwriter pipeline with only a handful of the world’s population understanding why and how it works.
I asked Jamie to come work for TuneCore. And after 17 years of working at Bug Music, he left to change the world for songwriters.
No more gatekeepers, no more hooks, no more secrets or hidden surprises that were known to only the “elite” few who knew how to enter and navigate the labyrinth. All could now come in and get their money more quickly and with more transparency than has ever existed before.
The results to date over the last five months:
We are now working for over 3,500 songwriters that have written over 60,000 songs.
From these first 3,500 songwriters, we have identified $1 million dollars in songwriter publishing royalties these songwrtiters have earned, but did not receive— we are putting that money into their hands.
From January – March, 2012, we collected and administered back an additional $27,000 in songwriter royalties.
From March – May, 2012 we will collect and administer back another $75,000.
I asked Jamie why and how he did this. Below is his answer:
For 17 years at Bug Music I administered over 300,000 copyrights and paid 3,000 clients every quarter (resulting in 500,000 sheets of paper and 12,000 checks per year). Because the agreements, schedules and outgoing royalties were all printed on paper it required a large staff and made it a huge task to manage on a day-to-day (or quarter-to-quarter) basis.
(pictures below taken around March 2011)
The music publishing business was still, for the most part (and still is), operating as it did in the 1990s. With the exception of registering songs electronically (after you entered them by hand into a separate system, of course) and using an interface to match incoming royalty data (from most sources, not all), the entire business still relied on pushing paper and heavy data entry. I wanted to create a model where you do your agreement, submit your songs, tax information and a letter of direction, and also receive your accountings and payments all online.
Then I met Jeff Price. He introduced me to TuneCore. I saw the perfect place to make my vision of bringing publishing administration into the digital world. Because TuneCore distributed the songs (most of which were not represented by anyone for the songwriter or publisher, which meant they were all missing out on millions in songwriter revenue) the information was already in the TuneCore database.
That same data, with just a few added pieces of information, could be used to register the songs with the societies and digital stores worldwide. All the writer/artist had to do was claim the songs they wrote and what percentage of the song they wrote. Change the paper agreement to a terms and conditions agreement online, add a digital W-9, and a mouse-signature letter of direction, and the sign up process— one that used to required a business and legal department with several assistants—is now done entirely online without any involvement by our staff.
Because the schedule was created online using pre-existing data (with a few added fields) it could just be loaded into the publishing database instead of hand-entered. The songs are then registered weekly with over 100 societies and digital stores worldwide (as opposed to the once a month time period of the old model). The same thing could also be done with the client’s information (writer name, publishing entity, tax information etc). Because the customer already receives payments for their distribution royalties, the royalty details and payments for them as a songwriter, can also be posted on their TuneCore dashboard.
For the first time, you have administration of distribution and publishing all in one place, and all online with the added benefit of auditing each against the other.
With the skill and help of the Tech team at TuneCore we made this a reality. Since launch, we now represent over 3,500 songwriters and over 60,000 songs. We are working for between 500 and 800 new songwriters a month and growing. Had we done this in the 1990’s publishing world I described above we could only work for around 15 new customers a month.
DIY publishing administration is now a dream come true.
The doors of publishing administration are now open to the world’s songwriters.