SoundExchange Claims To Open Up, But Somehow Its List Of Unpaid Musicians Has Disappeared [Updated: List Found]

from the hide-and-seek! dept

Update: SoundExchange got in touch to respond to some of these points, please read the updates in the post and at the end.

SoundExchange, the collections group in charge of collecting and distributing money to musicians from a variety of different services (radio, satellite, webcasting, etc.), is technically a “spinoff” of the RIAA, but as many people who have dealt with SoundExchange will tell you, it’s still tied at the hip with the RIAA. In fact, I was recently talking with someone who told the story of “negotiating” with SoundExchange, and was surprised to discover at the meeting that there was an RIAA representative who did all the talking. The SoundExchange guy stayed quiet.

Why the government has granted exclusive rights to this industry group to collect and distribute money to musicians is troubling enough. But it’s made worse by the fact that if SoundExchange “can’t find” musicians to give the money to, it gets to keep the money. Thus, for years there’s been a struggle over the fact that SoundExchange seems to have incredible trouble finding musicians — including some huge rock stars, and that means that SoundExchange, officially a non-profit, is holding on to a ton of cash (currently somewhere around $200 million). There are also questions about how SoundExchange has violated the law that created it, in order to lobby for even more rights to collect money from radio stations.

Based on all this, we’ve always had trouble taking SoundExchange seriously, so consider us skeptical now that the organization claims that it’s going to be much more open and communicative and has launched a new website to help be more open. Only problem? The big list of artists that SoundExchange can’t find has gone missing Update: Apparently this was a mistake by the lawyer criticizing SoundExchange who was unable to find the list, though it is still there. In the link above to P2Pnet, entertainment lawyer Fred Wilhelms goes through a variety of questions that SoundExchange hasn’t answered, and he asks what happened to that list (while also noting how the list almost never seemed to change) Update: Again this appears to be an error on the part of Wilhelms, as the list is on the website:

The new website is a lot cleaner and easier to use, but there’s one thing the old site had that the new site doesn’t; the unregistered artist list.

As of now, there’s no way for anyone outside the organization to assist in the effort to locate artists that SoundExchange has been unable to register since 2006. Despite your glowing reports on how many artists SoundExchange has been finding, you and I both know that, before the list disappeared, no names had been removed from the published list in over seven months, and only a couple dozen in the last 18 months. I’ll take your subsequent assertion that the full and updated list will appear on the website at face value. Is there any schedule for that? Please don’t tell me “soon.” That’s a devalued coin in the SoundExchange treasury.

Wilhelms also notes that for all of SoundExchange’s claims to be “open” it’s also conveniently not explaining how it determines who gets paid:

There’s another thing that is missing from the new website which was repeatedly promised to me by John Simson and Neeta Ragoowansi; an explanation of how SoundExchange uses samples to determine which artists get what share of the royalty revenue when complete census data is not available. I was told two years ago that this information would be provided on the website, but I find that, not only is sampling not mentioned, SoundExchange continues to say things like “Get Paid When You Get Played.” That’s the header on the Featured Registered Artist page.

I have clients who have gotten a lot of play, but haven’t gotten paid, and they’ve been told it was because their plays were not in the sample playlists provided by the webcasters who play them. Perhaps you can explain why SoundExchange has decided not to mention sampling on the website. I come back to related problems later on in this letter, but I would like to know if SoundExchange is ever going to explain how it samples, or even that it relies on sampling at all.

This is a big issue. As we’ve seen over and over again, many of these collections societies use sampling and counting methods that greatly overvalue big stars (who need the money less) at the expense of up-and-coming artists. It’s like the poor get to pay the rich.

From there, Wilhelm’s letter goes on in great detail responding to claims from SoundExchange and debunking them one by one. SoundExchange claims that they’re now going to be much more open and respond to these types of questions. We’ll be interested to see what they have to say.

Update: SoundExchange disputes many of the assertions in the post and in the letter from Wilhelm. I’ve corrected the one factually incorrect issue that we made — the list was still there (though some in our comments argue it’s now much more difficult to use). I’m not going to edit Wilhelm’s letter, because that is his work, but SoundExchange disputes his claim that “sampling is not mentioned” by pointing to an FAQ response, and also disputes the issue of the list not updating by stating “We do not update the list on the website as it was a one-time release of artists who stood to lose money in a 2006 pool release (which was later cancelled in favor of ongoing efforts to find artists). This is clearly stated on the list. Names come off the unpaid list all the time, but the website list was a static, one-time release.” Even though this is stated on the list, it seems like it would only make sense to keep the list current.

The other issues that SoundExchange has with the post are points of disagreement, but are not factually incorrect. It notes that while it can keep the money, it has not done so (though, leaves out the fact that this was due to publicity over the fact it was going to do so). SoundExchange also disputes the claim that it has “trouble finding artists,” saying that the real problem is the rightsholders themselves, who fail to register. If that’s the case, then it would certainly be useful to provide details on how many artists that SoundExchange holds money for that SoundExchange has contacted and then still failed to register. SoundExchange also insists that it has every right to lobby, but I’ll link to the original article explaining why it seems likely that SoundExchange is in violation here. Finally, SoundExchange doesn’t like being lumped in with other performance rights groups who use sampling methods which tend to favor large artists over smaller ones, saying it supports “census” data that would accurately account for all plays. Duly noted.

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Companies: riaa, soundexchange

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Comments on “SoundExchange Claims To Open Up, But Somehow Its List Of Unpaid Musicians Has Disappeared [Updated: List Found]”

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Laurel L. Russwurm (profile) says:

bad copyright law

Just for fun I thought I’d take a peek at the Wayback Machine to see if there were old copies of the list available (so some of those older artists might be able to know they are due to get paid).


The Wayback Machine says

Robots.txt Retrieval Exclusion.

We’re sorry, access to has been blocked by the site owner via robots.txt.

This exclusion does not happen accidentally, it must be deliberately done by the site owner, in this case

You’d kind of think that SoundExchange doesn’t want people to be able to find the older versions of the unregistered artist list. Wonder why.   Surely they don’t want to deprive those hard working recording artists of the royalties to which they are entitled.

Laurel L. Russwurm (profile) says:

the game is rigged

A peek at the SoundExchange website:

SoundExchange forms seem to want as much personal info as banks do when you buy a house.

Even if SoundExchange manages to find all the unregistered artists, SoundExchange still gets to deduct administrative fees (amounts that they are allowed to set) before actually releasing funds to the artists. And of course SoundExchange has the right to collect your royalties whether you wish to be a member of their organization or not.

I just found the new unregistered artist list area on the SoundExchange website.

Sadly it is much more awkward to use than their old unregistered artist list

It will also be much more awkward to compare the two…

Laura Williams - SoundExchange (user link) says:

Re: the game is rigged

Laurel: Firstly, thanks for using our tools to help get artists paid! To clarify, the “old list” you linked to is not the old unpaid artist list (new one, by artist name is here: but the PLAYS database (Performance Log Archive of Your Songs) searchable by not only artist but also track, album, copyright holder. This continues to be available at PLAYS is updated after each distribution (i.e. at least quarterly), and lists tracks reported to us as earning royalties . PLAYS is by far the most current and accessible method. They are both available from the search base page: Please feel free to use whichever you prefer.

Forgive me for writing out the deep links, but in case this is copied and/or picked up elsewhere, I wanted to make sure they remained.

harbingerofdoom (profile) says:

do you mean the list of unpaid artists that i found here:

or was that a different list?

oh and SX? it took me all of five minutes to find enterphase’s label.

they are on AD Music.
here is the site:

so in a nutshell… lawyer cant navigate website, royalty collection agency cant find a group that it took some guy 5 minutes to find from his couch, blogger cant fact check.

im willing to offer a retraction to anyone who would like to satisfactorily explain their part in this failtacular happening.

Laurel L. Russwurm (profile) says:

kissing and making up doesn't always work


as someone with blogs and websites, I can tell you things can be added or subtracted from the internet fairly easily.

My assumption based on life experience is that the media attention by p2pnet, TechDirt and twitter encouraged SoundExchange to put the list back online. The SoundExchange inability to find and pay artists who are “hiding in plain site” is a key complaint.

I don’t think anyone really cares if there is a retraction, all anyone wants is for SoundExchange to act… and pay the monies they owe to the people they have been collecting it for.

If it is too difficult a task for SoundExchange maybe it should not be their job. Since SoundExchange is not doing the job they are supposed to, it is irresponsible for government to even contemplate new responsibilities for SoundExchange.

Saying you’re going to pay is not the same as actually paying. Ask any bank manager… or IRS agent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: kissing and making up doesn't always work

Sorry, the laws only apply to individuals when big powerful entities (like the U.S. government collecting taxes) wants money from them. When a big entity like SoundExchange owes money to an individual the laws don’t apply (oh sure, the laws may exist as a formality, but they’re unenforced and so aren’t applied).

john says:

a question Fred Wilhelms might be able to answer

What exactly is the ‘role’ of SoundExchange in the eyes of the US govt?

All real agents – copyright or any other kind – are employed by the vendor, the person with something to sell. For an agent to state that they have clients that they can’t contact is an admission of fraudulent conduct.

And “the government has granted exclusive rights”,in effect, means that the management fees paid by artists/clients towards the operating costs of SoundExchange are compulsory. This is an hypothecated tax.

Is SoundExchange a official US govt agent? Is it subject to the same degree of oversight as any other organisation that is funded by taxes?

Last question, the method to calculate distributions sounds inherently redistributive. It is not based on any clear nexus between individual right holders permission and payment and exactly who gets what, even if the details were made available, seems to be a matter of arbitrary decision by this funded agency, therefore isn’t this intrinsically redistributive: that is, a tax?

wtf says:

So, according to SE's own Laura Williams above

So, according to SoundExchange’s own Laura Williams in the comment above, PLAYS the “most current and accessible method” is the one that’s behind a 16-variable signup form (where address is mandatory, no less) and doesn’t contain a master list.

It almost makes the seventeen (!) **paper only** pages of forms that US artists have to fill out to get their royalties look easy.

Look, I know you guys have certain tax codes you have to follow, but jesus christ, have you never heard of Paypal? Have you never heard of Axiom online identify verification services? Any rinky dink dot com with half a brain and a decent coder can do ID and bank verification in about a tenth of the time it takes for someone to just *fill out* those royalty forms you guys foist on the artists.

L Williams (profile) says:

sound Exchange

I was on Sound Exchange’s list as both an Artist and Rights holder. Once registered, I get nothing but the run-around. Can’t seem to talk with a senior employee either to find out why I’m not getting paid. What I did find was mis-logged and incorrect information for my copyrights including unknown Artist, Label etc. Sound Exchange has been checking on my inquiries over 18 months but still no payment.

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