SoundExchange Claims To Open Up,
But Somehow Its List Of Unpaid Musicians Has Disappeared [Updated: List Found]
from the hide-and-seek! dept
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.
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.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:
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.
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.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.
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.
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.