Songwriters in the United States have had a good few weeks, given some recent developments in the music industry. Historically, creative work done by those in a so-called “supporting role,” such as producers and songwriters, has been undervalued. But the industry is now shifting towards a more equitable balance of power, payment, and visibility.
On February 2nd, Spotify announced that it will make songwriter and producer credits visible and readily available to users. This feature is only available in the desktop version of the service, but the mobile version of the application is slated to follow soon. The production and songwriting credits are a mere couple of clicks away for any interested users.
The move by Spotify represents the company’s efforts to improve relations with songwriters in the industry. By making songwriter and producer credits visible, Spotify hopes to assist those creative workers by stimulating discovery and collaboration.
For those of us who poured over liner notes, or scoured Allmusic.com to see who produced our favorite records, the announcement by Spotify was long overdue but nevertheless much appreciated. Here’s to Spotify and other streaming services crediting engineers and session players next.
SXWorks, a subsidiary company of SoundExchange, has released a new, digital tool (NOI LOOKUP) to help artists, songwriters, and other rights owners search a database of over 60 million so-called “address unknown” Notice Of Intent fillings held in the U.S. Copyright Office.
In order to understand why this is significant (and why SXWorks developed the product in the first place), we have to understand how the U.S. Copyright Office and music service providers, such as Pandora and Spotify, use or enable the “address unknown” NOI scam.
The way it works is that the music service provider claims they are unable to contact or find an address for the copyright holder. If the music service files one of these NOIs, then they are absolved of any responsibility to make payment to the copyright holder until the copyright holder speaks out and becomes “identifiable.” In 2017, these music services filed millions upon millions of NOIs, with an average of 2.5 million filings per month. These filings are obscured into bizarrely formatted Excel documents that are impossible to search using conventional digital tools.
SXWorks created NOI LOOKUP to make those massive amounts of filings easily searchable. This enables artists and other rights holders to discover any “address unknown” NOIs filed regarding their intellectual property. With this knowledge, content creators and rights holders may begin to collect the payments that they are entitled to and rightfully deserve.
Finally, the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) recently voted to increase the compulsory mechanical royalty rates paid to songwriters from 10.5% to 15.1% over the course of 5 years. The CRB also made the following policy revisions: removal of the Total Content Cost (TCC) cap, increasing the TCC rates between record labels and music publishers, and granting a late fee to incentivize music companies pay songwriters on time.
The two obvious benefits to songwriters are the compulsory rate increase and the late fee, which should help musicians to punctually collect a more equitable share of their products. These decisions come after many months of trial and negotiation at the CRB, occurring in mid-2017. Arguing on behalf of the songwriters were the National Music Publishers Association and the Nashville Songwriters Association. Big Tech entities such as Google, Spotify, Amazon, and Apple lobbied on behalf of the music companies. The rate increase (43.8%) to songwriters represents the largest royalty rate increase in the history of the CRB and the most favorable business conditions for songwriters in recent years.
These three stories represent a step forward in the interests of songwriters and other music industry professionals. Regardless of your thoughts on music streaming in general and Spotify in particular, credit will now be given where it is due on at least one massive platform. SXWorks and SoundExchange are advocates for the rights of the artists, and they effectively demonstrated that the intentional obscuring of public information is neither acceptable, nor will it continue to be a viable strategy for big business interests. Finally, the policy adjustments by the Copyright Royalty Board are historic: increasing mechanical royalties to songwriters by nearly 44% and instituting a late fee to businesses that do not pay their royalties to songwriters on time.
Songwriters, as a result of these events, now have more financial means and security, more visibility to the general public, and new tools to combat loopholes that have been used to deny them payment. Let’s hope that these stories represent a new trend in the industry, where artists are recognized for their creations and treated fairly in their business dealings.