SoundExchange and Unpaid Music Artists

Our story from last week on SoundExchange and a huge list of unpaid music artists has had a global impact.

It has been reposted on a number of websites, listservs and message boards, and because my address is included, I get the feedback.

A guy in Singapore has found a couple electronica artists and let him know about the royalty fund.

An Australian video game designer spent an hour on Google, found contact info about two dozen artists and has heard back from seven of them, including C. W. McCall of “Convoy” fame, thanking him for telling him.

The family of blues legend Son House has applied because a friend found his name on the list.

Over a hundred “world music” artists from the list have been contacted.

That’s just the reaction I know about. It’s been amazing.

And it tells me one thing; if SoundExchange had exploited that sense of community that music creates, I doubt there would be more than a handful of artists left on the list, and those would be ones who, for whatever reason, didn’t want to be found.

I am willing to bet that every one of the artists who has registered since September 15 has done so as a result of the negative publicity given the lists and the viral current that runs link-by-link from the CounterPunch article and the other fee starting nodes. That could be the most important development that comes out of this mess: a reinforcement that the “truth is out there” on the Internet, you just need to tap into it.

SoundExchange wasted a lot of money on its unsuccessful “search” efforts over the years when the most effective and cost efficient solution was just a couple emails and message board posts away. Good Lord, a SoundExchange MySpace page might have cleared 50% of that list in weeks.

One other side effect of the CounterPunch piece has been the reigniting of a longstanding debate among the heavy thinkers of the technology world about the best way for artists to get paid. SoundExchange was the darling of the “blanket license” proponents; showing, they thought, that a collective effort was the most efficient and effective way to move money to the creators. The SoundExchange lists tarnish that idea a bit. The other main proponents the “micropayers” (in which each artist negotiates payment individually with each end consumer) are overjoyed, and will be until someone explains that they are, in essence, reproducing standard record company royalty accounting standards and projecting them on every artist forever. That’s not such a hot idea, either. The debate, however, has moved up a notch, thanks to CounterPunch giving it new fuel and air.

So, at the end of a week, we can pretty say that CounterPunch has succeeded in doing what it is supposed to do; it stirred things up and actually caused some action in the right direction. The stirring has been a great deal of fun, and the progress is measured in money moved to artists and new heights of both rhetoric and fact.

FRED WILHELMS is a lawyer who represents musicians and songwriters. He can be reached at:


SoundExchange is the entity that collects and distributes broadcast royalties from digital distribution of music. This includes streaming Internet broadcasts (not downloads) and satellite radio services. These royalties have been payable since February 1, 1996. If your music has been played on the Internet since that date, you are entitled to a share of the royalties.

On December 15, 2006, any royalties that are unclaimed for performances up through March 31, 2000 WILL BE FORFEITED.

If you, as an individual or as a member of a recording group, are not registered with SoundExchange by December 15, 2006, you will lose all rights to your royalties earned before March 31, 2000.

There are thousands of identified artists who will lose these royalties unless they act before the deadline. SoundExchange has listed these “unfound” artists on their website.

Take the time to read the list. If you are on it, follow the instructions for filing a claim. It costs you nothing and it does not take much time. If you register now, you will receive the unclaimed royalties and will received future royalties automatically.

Friends and families of recording artists should also check the list. If you know anyone on there, PLEASE LET THEM KNOW IMMEDIATELY. You will note that there are a number of deceased performers on the list. If you know any surviving relatives, let them know about this.

This money belongs in the hands of the artists who created the music.