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Groups unite to locate royalties for musicians from The Commercial Appeal

April 27, 2012

While it’s no secret that Memphis has a wealth of musical talent, the wealth that those artists should be pocketing often remains unknown, even to them.

To help change that tune, the Memphis Music Foundation is collaborating with SoundExchange, a performance rights organization, to locate unclaimed money owed to Memphis artists.

10, more than $65,000 in royalties has been distributed to local musicians, and the MMF wants to help others claim thousands of dollars in additional uncollected royalties.

One of the local organization’s primary missions is to educate artists about the business side of the music industry and to help them make money, said Pat Mitchell Worley, director of development and communications for the MMF.

“Digital has been a godsend for many independent artists because of increased exposure, but too many of them are missing out on royalties from that exposure,” Worley said.

“There’s so much more to being a musician than performing on stage. There are many pieces to put together and we’re here to help them do that.”

That’s why the MMF is stepping up efforts to encourage its members — as well as local artists who aren’t affiliated with the organization — to register with SoundExchange. There’s no cost to sign up, but the potential payoff could be significant.

“We believe what’s been claimed by Memphis artists so far is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s really no way of knowing how much in collected royalties is out there until artists register and collect their earnings,” Worley said. “There’s absolutely no cost for them and we’re firmly advocating that they sign up. We’ll even be glad to help them with the process if they need assistance.”

Memphis artists receiving royalties collected by SoundExchange include the 8Ball and MJG, Magic Kids, Preston Shannon, and Project Pat.

Established in 2003, SoundExchange is a nonprofit performance rights organization that collects royalties on behalf of sound recording copyright owners — typically record labels — and musical artists for digital performances.

Fourth-quarter distributions of royalties for 2011 were nearly $90 million, with year-end royalty payments exceeding $290 million. The organization has paid out more than $900 million in collected royalties since its inception and that figure is expected to keep growing.

Last year SoundExchange performed more than 80 database matches with partner organizations such as the MMF and registered more than 15,000 new artists, labels and rights holders.

And while many top-name musical artists are registered with SoundExchange, the group primarily helps independent artists. In fact, 90 percent of the royalty checks distributed by the organization are for under $5,000.

And the agency also benefits legacy acts and estates. For example, artists whose music was recorded decades ago — but is still being played on digital oldies stations — also may be entitled to uncollected royalties.

“It’s not just the superstars, but up-and-coming artists and some of them who are no longer performing or their heirs who stand to benefit from signing up with us,” said Marie Knowles, vice president of communications for SoundExchange.

“We understand that some artists have a sense of skepticism about this and think it’s too good to be true, but the fact is that it’s their money and they’re entitled to it. Our job is to help them get it.”

— James Dowd: (901) 529-2737


What: Nonprofit performance rights organization that collects statutory royalties from satellite radio such as SIRIUS XM, Internet radio, cable TV music channels and similar platforms for streaming sound recordings.

Cost: Free registration, but organization keeps back 6.7 percent of collected royalties to pay for operating and administrative costs.


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