0n June 29th, PPL made their main annual distribution of royalties to its members. More than £150million was paid out, a 12% increase on the previous highest amount (June 2017, £135million). Two weeks later PRS for Music also made one of their biggest payouts to date. Were you one of the tens of thousands of people who received a payment? Are you happy with the amount? If not read on, there are a few things you can do right now to make sure your future payments are the full amount you are entitled to.
1.Join a society
This may seem like an obvious first step but, according to a recent Musician’s Union survey, 51% of professional musicians don’t have the necessary memberships to collect the money they are entitled to. Most people have joined, or at least know of, PRS (and their global equivalents like ASCAP, BMI, and APRA), but many of those people are not members of PPL or an equivalent.
The reasons vary, not knowing the revenue or the society exists is the main reason, another common reason I hear is that they don’t expect to get paid much money so they don’t think it’s worth the effort of joining. Well PPL alone distributes around £250million every year to its members and as a whole, these type of license fees make up 14% of the overall revenue from recorded music. So, if you haven’t already, join today. Many of the societies offer free membership, so all it takes is a little bit of time.
Some people think they are members but may have only created a login to the PPL website and are yet to actually register as a member, or have “joined” in a non-payable capacity such as the “ISRC Only” option.
Another thing I heard a lot while working at PPL, was that people intended to join but never got around to it. They had assumed that any money due to them would be there waiting when they did eventually join, that is most certainly not the case. The revenue needs to be claimed as soon as possible.
Each society will have varying timeframes on how long they hold unallocated revenue, which will usually be dictated by the laws of the land, in the UK the statutory limitation is 6 years. However, this backdating of revenue can only be done if the works are registered in time, for PPL the recordings need to be registered in the same calendar year of their initial release to ensure there is no lost revenue.
2. Register your works, and make sure they are 100% accurate.
This also seems like pretty obvious advice, but one of the main reasons I found for people not receiving money from PPL for their recordings was they simply hadn’t registered any of them. They had joined, provided ID, bank details etc, but most assumed that simply joining the society was enough and that the revenue for their recordings would find its way to them eventually. Which in this high-speed data-driven modern era isn’t such a ridiculous notion, however, the industry is quite far from that point. So, for now, it is essential to manually register your recordings. For PPL, that means logging into their portal and entering the details in, mistakes can mean delays in receiving revenue or in some cases not being eligible for payments at all.
If your tracks are registered it is still worth checking the information is accurate, an incorrect performer line up on your PPL registrations will result in either each performer’s share being diluted or in an overpayment that later has to be corrected with a “negative adjustment” in order to give the performers the correct shares. If the performer line up is missing or doesn’t meet minimum requirements then the rightsholder’s share is withheld by PPL. You will not be informed that the invalid information is resulting in revenue being withheld, it is up to you to log in and check that the recordings are valid and fix those that are not.
3. Log all your gigs (PRS)
Unless you are primarily a writer whose songs are performed by other people then your main source of potential revenue from PRS will most likely be from your own live gigs. Log them all, no matter how big or small. Every venue that has live music must pay for this license, so whether you are playing the local pub band room or a sports stadium, it’s really important to log all your gigs. Each society will have different rules for when this should be done to avoid missing any revenue but best practice is to do it after every gig or tour.
For big venues and festivals, the society will sometimes send a rep down to count the number of people in attendance and to collect setlists from the performers. They only tend to do this if the license is particularly expensive so if you see them at your gig this should serve as an extra nudge to log the gig.
4. Read your statements carefully and raise queries if you think your payments are low
Ever heard the saying “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”?
This is also true when it comes to your royalties, if you think your payments are low then kick up a fuss, request that someone looks deeper into it and double checks it. Before you get too militant do your research and be sure that your works have been used in a monetizable way and you have realistic expectations of how much it is worth.
All too often I see social media posts of people making light of small payments as if that is now an acceptable norm, sometimes I recognize these artists as having contributed to works that should have earned much more, but instead of raising the issue with their society they just shrug and make a joke. Sometimes it’s a really basic issue that is easily fixed, either way, you need to chase it up.
If you write songs and perform on the recordings of them then you are entitled to both composition (PRS) and sound recording (PPL) royalties, cross reference your statements as much of the usage will generate payments from both societies so they should appear on both statements. Query this if they don’t.
You can also submit investigation reports at PPL and make claims for “public performance” of your recordings (in-store background music).
5. Check for unclaimed royalties
Most societies receive the license fees first, then later they get the usage reports and have to match the money to the plays, and often this results in unmatched revenue often due license holders reporting recordings that are not registered.
Different societies have different ways of dealing with this money, often they will have some sort of online portal for checking and claiming as yet unclaimed royalties. Such as this one on the PRS for Music website check these regularly, at least once or twice a year prior to the royalty distribution but within the relevant deadlines. It’s also a good idea to check the unclaimed royalty pages of other societies even if you aren’t a member and if you find your works there you can instruct your society to collect it for you.
The unclaimed royalty page on the SoundExchange website lists both recordings and artists that may have unclaimed royalties, however, they’re generally unwilling to divulge how much that might be until you join which is why asking your current society to investigate may be a good idea. Your other option is to join multiple societies, which can be done as long as the collection mandate at each society covers different territories and doesn’t overlap. International mandate conflicts are another common reason for low or delayed payments.
Joining multiple societies could be a good idea if you have a strong following and/or tour and promote extensively in a particular country. As each society, in most cases, is the source of the revenue in that territory joining them directly will speed up the distribution of that money by at least 2 payment periods (roughly 6 months).
6. Check your “Participations”
At PPL there are various different opt-in (and opt-out) revenue streams, they refer to these as your “participations”, these include international collection mandates (collecting revenue from other societies around the world) and “new media” (digital streaming and “on-demand” platforms such as internet radio and catch up services like BBC iPlayer). You can check whether or not you have an international mandate, and how many countries it covers, simply by logging into their portal.
For New Media, first check if you have ever received this type of revenue, it’s marked “NM” on your statement. If you have never received it, but your recordings have earned other types of revenue then you may need to opt-in to this service.
If you have signed an international mandate, and it covers the USA, then you will also need to submit a US tax form for the IRS. This will prevent any withholding tax being deducted and in the case of PPL, none of your US revenue will be paid out unless they have a valid tax form in place. For individuals that are not US citizens, the correct form is a W8BEN, or a W8BEN-E if you are a limited company.
Reality cheque after a royalty check.
If you’ve ever thought your royalty payments were low, then it’s a good idea to get started on this to-do list today. Unless you do something about it then you can never be sure whether or not you are getting all the money you are entitled to. Being underpaid for your hard work is no joking matter.