SoundExchange Responds To Blurt Editorial

 

Our suggestion: hire
out of work rock critics to track down artists who are due royalties.

 

By Fred Mills

 

Apparently yesterday’s editorial about Sound Exchange (“Digital Dollars Due: SoundExchange”), penned by BLURT contributor Rev. Keith
A. Gordon, struck a nerve with the organization. Within just a few hours of
posting the article, SE Executive Director John L. Simson contacted us to offer
some clarifications and rebuttals on behalf of SoundExchange. (Sound Exchange
was formed by the Recording Industry Association of America [RIAA], the music
industry’s lobbying arm, as a non-profit organization collecting royalties for
the digital transmission of sound recordings and then paying artists and record
labels.)

 

In the original editorial, Gordon pointed out that thousands
of artists are listed on the SE website as being due money. Some are deceased
while others are, by dint of current inactivity, probably hard to track down,
although others – for example, Jules Shear, Ralph Towner and Type O Negative –
are presumably not all that obscure. (Yours truly, in fact, can put SE in touch
with Shear if they need assistance.) If royalties are not claimed within a
certain time, they’re forfeited to the organization, and both Gordon and BLURT
encourage ALL MUSICIANS to check the SE website to find out if in fact they or
someone they know are on the list. Read Gordon’s article here.

 

To view the list of artists who have not claimed their artists, go to the SE website and click on “Unregistered List” in the right column.

 

At any rate, Simson, in his letter (see below), wants to set
the record straight lest readers get the impression that his organization isn’t
fulfilling its mandate to get royalties into the hands of the appropriate
individuals. He cites “multiple phone calls, e-mails and other communication”
on the part of SE in its efforts to track the artists down, adding that they’ve
had plenty of success stories but acknowledging that some artists remain elusive.

 

In some instances, says Simson, “They simply fail to return
registration forms so that they can be paid.” It’s an evenhanded letter, and we
applaud his urging musicians to get in touch with SoundExchange. As he puts it,
“We hope that every one of them registers so that they can receive payments.”

 

***

 

Here’s the letter, in full:

 

 

Dear Reverend:

 

Thank you for your
recent article highlighting the need for artists to register with SoundExchange
so they can collect royalties they’ve earned when their recordings are played
on internet and satellite radio. A few things you may have missed: many of the
artists on the list are not “unfound” or “lost” and have received multiple
phone calls, e-mails and other communication from my staff, from consultants
who work for SoundExchange tracking down artists and fellow performers. They
simply fail to return registration forms so that they can be paid. In other
cases, like the Strawberry Alarm Clock, I tracked down the bass player in Calabasas, CA
and we got him signed up. However, he wasn’t able to get us the other members
of the band.

 

Typically, if an
artist has a web presence: a facebook page, a myspace page or a website, we
will send communications to them. We try many different methods to locate as
many people who are owed royalties as possible. We recently completed a
“match” comparing our database with those of CDBaby and ReverbNation. This
matching turned up about 12,000 hits. Letters will go out to those artists from
the respective companies alerting these artists that they have money at
SoundExchange. We hope that every one of them registers so that they can
receive payments. We have done similar matchings over the years with the Recording Academy, the Blues Foundation, AFM,
AFTRA and many other industry organizations. We have done preliminary matches
with ASCAP and BMI and are hopeful they will agree to do more to ensure that
their members are getting any royalties owed to them. (One issue with ASCAP and
BMI is that they will sometimes only have information regarding the songwriters
in a group and not those who didn’t write – we may only have a group name that
does not match the songwriter name they have in their database.)

 

I would be happy to
discuss this issue with you in more detail if you’d like to learn more about
our outreach efforts.

 

Best regards,

 

John L. Simson

Executive Director,
SoundExchange

1121 14th Street, N.W. Suite 700

Washington, D.C. 20005

Phone: 202-640-5890

Fax: 202-640-5891

 JSimson@soundexchange.com

www.soundexchange.com

 

 

***

 

Now (you knew there might be a “however” coming, right?),
although Simson makes a number of excellent points – and again, just to be
clear, this is all about people getting paid what they are due, not playing
music biz politics – it’s worth making a few additional points.

 

I talked to Gordon, and he noted that in the past he has contacted
various musicians after spotting their names on the unclaimed royalties list in
order to notify them they’re due money. How did he contact them? In a few
instances, he already had an address, email, or phone number; being a music
journalist for your entire adult life tends to help you build up a lot of
information, and this is a case of it definitely being useful information (compared to the typical geek-stuff we critics
file away mentally or in boxes in our attics). For others, he simply put in some
time employing Google and other search methods. There’s this little thing called
Directory Assistance you may have
heard of that telephone companies make available, too; if a ‘60s band was
originally from, say, San Diego, odds are better than none that a former member
of the band still lives there.

 

“Some of [Simson’s] assertions
are fair,” said Gordon, “and I do believe that SoundExchange does a decent job
in finding newer artists; the lack of more contemporary musicians on the list
would seem to bear this out. I have spoken personally with some of the older
artists on the list in the past, though, and they’ve expressed total surprise
when I told them about Sound Exchange. To a man – and woman – they all stated
that, to the best of their knowledge, neither they nor their representatives
had been contacted by the organization.

 

“I contacted three dozen artists on the list with the
information that the organization was holding money for them. Today, around 6
or 7 of those artists I contacted remain on the list, which says that they
didn’t listen to me the first time around, or my information didn’t get to the
right person. Of the 36, I personally knew 6 or 8 and was able to contact them
directly – and today they’re all off the list. I found the rest of them by
spending a couple of hours with Google and contacting them through their
websites.”

 

So this raises the question, if
a lowly roccrit can do the job that SoundExchange is supposed to be doing, and all by himself, and without compensation,
why the heck can’t SoundExchange scare up a handful of interns to do exactly
what Gordon did? Trust us, there are TONS of music fans that would LOVE to
intern for a respected, high-level music industry group like SoundExchange, and
some of them are probably well-qualified to put in the effort and research,
too. Let’s face it, SE staffers are faced with a daunting task, and it’s
unlikely they’re paid on a level of, say, a law office’s paralegals (just to
draw a parallel here – lawyers are always trying to track down individuals who
have gone missing, are off the grid or simply remain elusive). But if aided by
eager-beaver interns, there’s no doubt that the SE staff could up its “score”
ratio – which is why we think Simson’s suggesting that SE has been exercising
full due diligence may be a tad disingenuous.

 

Memo to SoundExchange: Google. Bing. Yahoo Search. Also: if you
don’t have anything but the name of a band in your database, go to Wikipedia,
All Music Guide and any number of internet resources that list band members.
You might not get an email or phone number right off the bat, but you’ll likely
get farther along the path than automatically relying on a match with the ASCAP
or BMI databases.

 

None of this is meant to
undermine Simson or SoundExchange – actually, what we’re hoping is that maybe
folks will start talking and the word about the royalties being held in escrow
will get out to artists.

 

But once again: a music critic spent a few hours of his own
time and located a couple of dozen artists that SE reportedly had been looking
for.
At the risk of sounding snarky, maybe SoundExchange should hire some
music critics to help out here – lord knows there are enough of us out of work
and needing the money these days, and our collective knowledge about music of
all eras and genres just may represent the most extensive music database on the
entire planet.

 

 

 

 

 

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