A Goal: Performance Royalty Accountability In 2012

By George Howard
(follow George on Twitter)

Imagine a scenario in which the moment you create a piece of music it is: digitally fingerprinted and registered (with the Library of Congress, and your PRO). Imagine then that when that music is used in a TV show, this usage is immediately detected, and the public performance fee you are owed is immediately transferred to your bank account.

Sound too good to be true? Well, the reality is that the technology for just such a scenario described above exists.  Additionally, we clearly have motivated buyers and sellers to make this happen.

However, instead of moving toward a system like the one described above — a system of transparency and accuracy — we continue to bumble through a system that really hasn’t changed in the last 100 years or so.

If we’re to have any optimism towards the business of music continuing to grow — in an era when music creators have seen their revenue from sales go from roughly $7 per sale for a full album, to fractions of pennies for a stream of the same album — we MUST push for innovation in the measuring, collecting, and paying of music usage.

I recently met, Scott Schreer, the founder of a company called TuneSat.  In talking with him, my optimism that we may indeed be tilting toward not only a healthy music business, but one where songwriters can flourish, has been greatly enhanced.

This is not an ad for TuneSat. I’ve not used the service, and while, based on my limited exposure to him, Mr. Schreer certainly is a very smart and passionate individual, I simply don’t know enough about him or his company to recommend or not recommend it.  I do, however, feel strongly that it’s worth your time to check out and make your decision.

Rather, TuneSat represents a tangible example of how technology might alter the economic fortunes for composers, artists, and publishers alike (anyone that has an interest in a royalty stream).

Music used in TV, at last count, accounts for $800 million of the $2 billion distributed to composers annually by the PROs in the US.  Additionally, music used in TV represents something akin to what radio used to represent for artists: exposure that can lead to sales/streams of their work, ticket/merch sales, etc…

No one can deny that the goal of many musicians is to have their music used on TV.  However, the vast majority of musicians are woefully under-informed about how the process works.

It’s not their fault.  As stated above, it’s an old and outmoded system; one that pretty much defines byzantine.

For instance, question one: how much do you get paid when your song is played on TV? Impossible to answer.  The variables are many: is it a theme song, what time of day was it aired, are there vocals on the track, is there anything else surrounding it (people talking, etc…), is it background instrumental music.  Beyond these, one massive distinction is whether or not the song is what’s called a “featured registration” or a “non-featured registration.”  A featured registration is essentially a song that has a band or artist associated with the track (i.e. a song that was released on a CD, available from iTunes).  A non-featured registration is a work that was written specifically for the TV show or ad.  This distinction becomes very important when you realize that a featured registration earns the writer six to ten times what a non-featured registration earns when it’s broadcast.

These and other weighing factors make a huge difference to the bottom line of the rights’ holders whose music is used on TV.

However, there’s yet another problem. Mr. Schreer informs me that as much as 80% of all music that’s on TV is misreported.  This means that music is being broadcast on TV, and the author (or copyright holder) is not getting paid the correct amount (if anything).  Typically, this misreporting occurs as a result of human error in conjunction with the byzantine classifications used by the PROs in order to calculate weightings (and thus payments).

TuneSat’s goal is to use fingerprinting in order to reduce this number.  Even a fractional reduction when you’re dealing with $800 million represents tremendous value for artists.

I hope that they pull it off.

As we can see all around us (from the financial world to the Arab Spring) institutions that eschew transparency are crumbling.  Technology is making it increasingly difficult to obfuscate the flow of information.  As we increase transparency, we reduce transaction costs, and thus increase profitability for artists.

This is truly our best hope. As the barriers of entry for broadcasters come down, and an increasing amount of music is streamed, rights holders have an opportunity to make up in volume what they are losing in margin, but only if we increase accuracy in collection, reporting, and payment.


George Howard is the former president of Rykodisc. He currently advises numerous entertainment and non-entertainment firms and individuals. Additionally, he is the Executive Editor of Artists House Music and is an Associate Professor of Music Business/Management at Berklee.  He is most easily found on Twitter at: twitter.com/gah650

  • Guest

    I hear it doesn’t work. “False Positives” including problems when people sample, and obstruction from dialogue and extraneous sounds.

    But holy crap I’d use it in a second. I really hope they crack it.

    Please send coffee/Mountain Dew/5 Hour Energy Drink to every TuneSat tech person you meet.

    • Chris Woods

      Hi Guest.  Chris Woods from TuneSat here.  I will be the first to admit that TuneSat, as well as any other innovative technology, is not without it’s limits.  If someone creates a piece of music that uses a sample with no other layers of audio on top of it, then yes it is possible that TuneSat could identify that same sample used in another track.  The technology is actually performing as it should, but I can see why some would consider this a “false positive”.  The fact is that up to 80% of music performed on TV goes unreported.  If you’re music is on TV, you’re probably receiving far less than what you’re owed.  TuneSat can help you recover those lost royalties.  That being said, our tech was built from the ground up with the goal of being able to identify music in highly dirty audio noise environments.  I think we’ve done a great job at achieving this goal.  The best way to know if it works for you is to give it a try.  Just go to http://www.tunesat.com and click on sign up.  If you ever have any questions or concerns we’d be happy to speak with you.  Your caffeinated donations are gratefully accepted.       

  • Niles Rivers

    I love that somebody is
    thinking about this. Thanks Tunecore and Tunesat!



  • Biglo919

    I’m an artist and have been hesitant to do any business w/ people for fear of undercompensation. I’m glad God gave us Tunecore.

  • Scurvyr

    It all sounds good …, in a world of theives   

  • Thank you for this valuable information George.  Will look forward to being part of bringing the industry into ‘today’.  

    Julie Scott Day

  • Beethovens9th

    To me, TuneSat is just another company exploiting us by writing a good article. How much money must we spend to get nothing back?
    The music industry is a ‘God of thief’s’.
    Thanks for the informative post, but it will always cost us. TuneCore costs us, on the hope of a return? And it adds up to huge profits for these internet companies.
    But I do like TuneCore dudes:)  

  • Beethovens9th –  Scott from Tunesat here –   first let me say I am a composer – that’s how I made my living and supported my family most of my career.  I started Tunesat because I saw a need for accountability and transparency in the music industry.  Tunesat wasn’t started to exploit composers.  To the contrary, it was started to PROTECT composers and public performance rights. If you like the Tunecore dudes – as do we – I dare say you would like us too  –  Check out http://www.tunesat.com and see what others are saying about us. We’re here to “make a difference” because we’re passion driven – just like the Tunecore guys are.  🙂 

  • Bubba

    this is what a veteran who has thousands of placements across the board in TV land told me recently, 

    it really does take 1-3 sometimes even 5 years to get paid from a handful of airings and whatever they pay you be glad you got that, 

     if you can bypass bmi, ascap, aftra, sesac not to mention foreign rights organisations in getting paid, 

     it will cost you tens of millions of dollars in lobby fees, law firm fees to win that battle, so good luck with that, 


  • Songwriters need this

  • this will be a huge task……but if there is some sort of digital tagging used in the production of a song as well as sound samples i can see this as a fullproof plan with respect to the foley that usually covers up the sound sample in productions.

  • Sweetersongs

    I am a Tunesat subscriber who earns the bulk of her living from songs placed in film and tv shows. Tunesat is brilliant and just at the beginning stages of it’s incredible technology and usefulness. It will only continue to get better and better and I suggest all film and tv composers check out this fabulous and innovative service. I can’t wait for Tunesat to monitor even more stations and territories around the world. It is definitely a service that is pro-music creators.