This Is What's Wrong With The Music Industry: Musicians Have To Pay To Pay Themselves

from the bureaucracy dept

We often hear that various collection societies shouldn’t be lumped in with the labels when discussions turn to the “problems” of the music industry. After all, the collection societies are just “focused on getting musicians paid.” And that’s true, unlike the labels, who seem to look for ways not to pay musicians. But… almost every musician I know who deals with collection societies has horror stories about the experience, and they never seem to consider how much their actions (like shaking down anyone playing music in an office or making it impossible to host open mic nights in cafes) really does more harm than good.

Let’s tell one such story. Before we get started, why not hit play on this musical widget from Uniform Motion, a band from France we’ve written about a few times. The story is about them and the insanity of collection societies — but you might as well use their music as the soundtrack for the post:

Andy from the band has a head-poundingly ridiculous story about how French collection society SACEM seems more focused on inserting itself into pretty much every transaction — even ones that happen directly between the band and its fans — than in helping him make money. He starts out by describing how a fan downloads one of his albums on The Pirate Bay, and then goes to a show where he wants to buy a CD. As Andy notes, “what a nice guy!” A perfect “direct to fan moment.” Except… SACEM is there acting like the tax man:

BUT…. what most people don’t know is that the music venue is legally obliged to pay public performance rights to SACEM (France’s Copyright Collection Society) in order to have bands play live music in their venue.

So we often have to fill out a form, providing details on all the songs we played to ensure SACEM can find the songwriter and pay them their money.

“But we are the songwriters” we cry! “Just give us the money directly, why don’t you? It would save everyone a lot of time (and money) wouldn’t it”?

But that would be far too easy.

So the venue pays SACEM and SACEM tells us we can get the money back (minus some reasonable administration fees of course, like their President’s €750,000 annual salary for instance!) if we pay them a member’s fee.

Oh, you thought it stopped there? Nope. He notes that even the CD sale involves SACEM.

In order to have CD’s made in France, you’re legally obliged to fill out an SDRM form (which is handled by SACEM). CD Manufacturers won’t press your CD’s without prior authorization from SACEM.

If the songs are not listed in their database, you don’t have to pay them anything but if they are (because maybe you became a SACEM member in order to get your public performance money from your live performances) they’ll make you pay a Mechanical Royalty.

So we fill out the forms and they tell us we have to pay the mechanical royalties to them so that they can pay the songwriter for the privilege of having their music on our CD.

“But we are the songwriters dude! So why don’t we just give the money to ourselves?!”

Again, that would be too easy!

Yes, you read that right. They have to pay SACEM to make their CD… because SACEM insists that it needs to pay the songwriters. Since they’re all original songs (and quite good ones too), they have to pay SACEM so that SACEM can make sure that money goes to… er… them. The summary:

Let’s summarize what just happened here. The Copyright Collection Society makes the artist pay them to have their own CD’s manufactured, takes a portion of their live revenues and then uses the money to sue the guy who came to the gig and bought a CD!

This is what is wrong with the music business.

Ah, right. Did you miss that part? SACEM is involved in some lawsuits against file sharing sites.

So, look at this from Andy’s perspective. He’s fine with his music on The Pirate Bay because it builds a fan base, which helps him attract fans to shows where they buy merch. All that works great for Andy and Uniform Motion. And yet, SACEM forcefully inserts itself into nearly every step of that process — taking a cut of the live revenue to “pay” the band, taking a cut of the CD manufacturing to “pay” them again… and then using the money it collects to try to take down the platform that the band uses to promote its works.

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: sacem

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “This Is What's Wrong With The Music Industry: Musicians Have To Pay To Pay Themselves”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
gorehound (profile) says:

Re: Just goes to show,

That is for sure and the same goes for the US Ones.I forget their names as I want nothing to do with them in any way.I am an Artist and long time punk rocker.We have played tons of shows at Genos.Genos was one of the Clubs who were shook down by the greedsters because “heavens forbid” Bands played some Cover Songs now and then.Genos sent out the Word to all Bands to not play a Cover Song in their Set.
I think The Empire had to pay out Ten Grand over Cover Songs being done here and there by Bands who played in their Club.

Yes these Collection Agencies will not do shit for you as a musician and they will plague you by both ripping you off and ripping off any venues in your Area.
Fuck The MAFIAA !

Zakida Paul says:

The sooner the middle men disappear, the better for both fans and artists. Musicians are starting to realise that, nowadays, they do not need the middle men as it has never been easier to get their work directly to the fans. They are also realising that fans like to be treated like fans and not as consumers or wallets with arms and legs.

The Internet is creating a golden age of music.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Where are they now?

Where are the people (specifically Bob) who always bitch and moan about piracy because it doesn’t allow the artist to decide where they want to distribute? Where are they to defend this artists who are having their choices removed thanks to the crap that these Bob like people push.

These artists choose to accept The Pirate Bay, they choose to not have anything to do with a collection agency, but they’re forced into the old way of thinking. They’re forced to do business with the collection agency, they’re forced to support the fight against The Pirate Bay.

Loki says:

Re: Where are they now?

Because their arguments never really hold up under reasoned scrutiny most of the time.

Now, in contrast to this example, I’ll use one of my own.

I move around a lot. Several years ago I moved to a different state. One of the forklift driver for the company I started working for was a guitarist for a metal band. Three months after I started he took a leave of absence because his band had gotten themselves booked on a midwest tour, which included my hometown (Chicago).

Now I like that kind of music, and I have a lot of friends who are into that sort of music as well. I said for a copy of their CD, I’d “market” them back home. Sent digital copies of some of their songs to about 15-20 friends back home. The end result was not only was Chicago the only stop on their tour but they sold about 23% more CDs (as a percentage of attendance) than any other city on the tour.
In fact, after the show )most of them as they were buying CDs, so many people said they’d heard about the band, directly or indirectly, from me that they also gave me free copies of their next two CDs.

Anonymous Coward says:

There’s some *potential* logic in the public performance case, if the venue pays a blanket license fee. Someone has to figure out at the end of the year who gets what proportion, so the venue doesn’t necessarily know how much to pay any individual performer/songwriter at the time of their performance.

The CD situation seems pretty stupid, though.

Eric D. says:

I don’t fully get it. If the band doesn’t care about their music being pirated and doesn’t want to involve SACEM, then they don’t have to become member and register their songs. If they don’t want to pay fees that the venue collects to cover their asses, then play a venue that doesn’t work with SACEM. If there is enough demand for this then more venues will pass on dealing with SACEM. I’m all for cutting out the middle man, so do it instead of signing up for their services and then complaining that they don’t operate the way you want.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Here in Europe I’m pretty sure you are *forced* to register with various agencies.

As the article states: “In order to have CD?s made in France, you?re legally obliged to fill out an SDRM form (which is handled by SACEM). CD Manufacturers won?t press your CD?s without prior authorization from SACEM.”

That’s a serious fucking problem that needs to be solved (ie, get rid of these stupid laws).

Jesse van Bekkum (profile) says:

Same in the Netherlands

Same in the Netherlands. I once organised a small venue with a somewhat famous local band. They where there themselves, they got paid by us (and not bad either), they played their own songs, but still we had to pay Buma/Stemra (our Sacem/RIAA organisation).

What they do with the money? Nobody knows. They probably pay our musicians again, after taking their own fat share.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s amusing, but sort of misguided. It’s also funny to think that one of the standard Techdirt excuses for piracy answers the point:

There is no way for the collection society to know instantly who the song writer is. They have no way to know if all of the songs conform, that the artist won’t break into Happy Birthday or a rousing rendition of an Amanda Palmer song (provided she has an original). There is no way to tell, it’s just too big to police. They have no way to know who has the rights and who doesn’t fast enough to pay them on the spot.

So sadly, while the band thinks “we are playing, pay us” it’s just not that simple at all.

Sorry Mike, but another whining post that fails when you apply your own standard logic.

Anonymous Coward says:


“Too big to police” has never been one of “excuses for piracy”, whatever the fuck that means. If anything, it has been an extremely reckless excuse to make sure the wrong people get sued and the right people never get paid.

Piracy isn’t “too big to police”, but perhaps if the RIAA had decided to actually sue the right people when they began their misguided campaign, they might actually have some sympathy. Same for collection societies who decided that suing girl scouts and charity concerts playing folk songs was a great idea. SACEM doesn’t want to work for its money and wants to insert itself at every tier of collection? If anyone’s whining, it’s you.

Anonymous Coward says:


“”Too big to police” has never been one of “excuses for piracy”, whatever the fuck that means.”

Sure it has. It’s why uploads to YouTube are not checked before being published. It’s too big to check.

All those torrents? Too big to check.

All those file lockers full of warez and dvd rips? Too big to check.

Read back a ways, it’s a pretty standard techdirt refrain.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

So why don't they...

Because without membership they have no chance at all of getting back any of the money that is handed to SACEM on their behalf. The money will always be paid to SACEM, not matter what they do, they have to then pay for the privilege of this collection society decided how much of the money they will get after they extract the societies cut.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:


Funny the cartels have had no real issues checking the torrents and cyberlockers, other than they can’t identify what is their own work half the time and sometimes try to take down reviews of their products violating the law.

To big to check isn’t a refrain here, the refrain is the cartels need to invest the money to protect their own content and not shovel that work onto everyone else and expect them to bear the burdens of paying for it.

Unless of course they are lying about the billions they have lost to “piracy” when it only takes millions to stop that from happening. They are all for any enforcement they can get as long as they don’t have to pay for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

cut the collection office out of the loop = increase music diversity

Cutting these collection outfits out of the loop should effectively increase diversity in music. There are always some situations where these outfits cannot determine exactly who should get how much of the collected share. For example the european tax on blanco digital mediums meant to compensate artists are distributed according to the record sale charts. Since labels are corps are governed by “profit ?ber alles”, they’ll go for bands that make charts material, which in turn reduces diversity of the available music over time.

annon says:

You dont know unless you know.

Iys all very well slating these collection agencies as many do around the world as SACEM is mot the only one of course, however as much as people bitch and moan about it and what they think the songwriters and composers moan, the one thing they forget is when a creator of music, not a singer or “artist, but a creator of music, they agree to take whatever means is neccesary to ensure their public performance of music is protected.

There are live music promoters in the world that have these crwators works beimg used and constantly try to avoid payong that person their correct remuneration, not the sibger who just stands therw for 3 hours with peolle singing “theor songs” while indivduals who spend days, hours and weeks crwating thoae works but do not like the public ligt are flat broke living in shitholes while these performers are warning millions.

Its horses for courses people, with my xollecting society I wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgage everyonth and do the job I love!!!

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...