Over 8,000 artists are due money. Among them: Sal Mineo, Fela
Kuti, Jim Carroll, Jules Shear, Afghan Whigs and Type O Negative (pictured
above). Better step up or shut up (e.g., forfeit your royalties).
By Rev. Keith A. Gordon
Are you a bona fide recording artist, a musician with one or
more albums to your name? Are you registered with Sound Exchange? If the answer
to the first question is “yes,” you’d better hope that your answer to
the second question is also affirmative. Thousands of musicians are currently
owed royalties by Sound Exchange, and if you don’t claim the cash, it’ll end up
in somebody else’s pockets.
Sound Exchange was formed by the
Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the music industry’s lobbying
arm, as a non-profit organization. Sound Exchange’s primary reason for existing
is to collect royalties for the digital transmission of sound recordings and
then pay these monies back out to artists and record labels.
For example, Sound Exchange
collects royalties from satellite radio stations like XM Radio and Sirius that
play recorded music; from cable and satellite television (Muzak and MusicChoice
channels); and from Internet radio stations like Pandora and LastFM. There’s
just one problem – Sound Exchange can’t find many of the musicians that they
owe royalties. Never mind that many are probably registered with organizations
like BMI or ASCAP, or had label deals on which they are (presumably) paid
royalties, Sound Exchange has been unable to send ’em a check.
On the organization’s website they
include a list of over 8,000 of these “lost artists,” musicians and
bands that are due money. Although Sound Exchange claims that they’re currently
paying royalties to some 31,000 artists, some critics claim that the number of
“lost artists” might actually be as high as 40,000 musicians.
The list of thousands of those that
are due unclaimed royalties from the digital broadcasting of their music
includes both indie and major label artists, a long list of Hispanic musicians,
and it cuts across the decades, from the 1960s through the current day. In some
cases, exactly who is due the money is up for grabs, as the rights to many
psychedelic-era bands like Moby Grape, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and the Electric
Prunes (all on the list) have been swapped and sold like a shoebox of baseball
In other cases, the artists have
tragically passed away, especially in the case of early blues artists, as the
estates of Son House, Blind Willie Johnson, Jessie Mae Hemphill, and Brownie
McGhee, among others, are due royalties. But the more recently-departed are
also owed royalties, the list also including artists like Kirsty MacColl, Fela
Kuti, and Jim Carroll.
Most of the list of
“lost” artists, though, seems to consist of rock and heavy metal
bands and artists. There is quite a lot of talent represented here, from
songwriter Jules Shear and jazz guitarist Ralph Towner to blue-collar rocker
Joe Grushecky and soul giant Eddie Floyd. There are a heck of a lot of bands
from the ’80s and ’90s, including the likes of the Afghan Whigs, Guadalcanal
Diary, Lords of the New
Church, Cravin’ Melon,
and Bare, Jr.
Headbangers are represented by a wide spectrum of metal
bands, including doomsters Saint Vitus, Malevolent Creation, Warlock, and Type
O Negative. There are also the uncategorized oddballs and fringe rockers, from Slaves
On Dope and Skinyard to rapper Tech 9ne and instrumentalists Man or Astro-Man?
Even the estate of 1950s-era actor Sal Mineo is owed royalties for the single
album that he released in 1957.
If these royalties aren’t claimed by
the artists within a certain period of time, they’ll be forfeited to the
organization. All recording artists are strongly urged to get in touch with
Sound Exchange and see if you’re owed any money; and if you haven’t registered
with the organization, you should do so as soon as possible so that you, too,
don’t end up “lost” and losing money in the future.