How can I make sure I receive my share of the hundreds of millions of dollars in mechanical royalties owed to songwriters?
If your songs have been streaming from 2018 on, THERE MAY BE MONEY WAITING FOR YOU. Also known as a “royalties adjustment” – these are glorious words that should be music to your ears!
Why is this happening now? Because the Copyright Royalty Board (made up of three U.S. judges) recently finalized the new rates for mechanical royalties covering music from 2018-22. This announcement sets the process in motion to get you paid for those years at the higher rate. YESSS.
But fun fact: just like 4 out of 5 dentists recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum; apparently 4 out of 5 gum-chewing songwriters also don’t know what mechanical royalties are.
So, let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).
ASKING FOR A FRIEND…
What are mechanical royalties?
Mechanical royalties are connected to the physical reproduction of a song. The royalty came into existence more than 100 years ago, following a 1908 lawsuit about player piano rolls. In short, the courts ruled that player piano rolls were NOT sheet music; rather they were a part of the player piano machine. The decision meant there would be no sheet music royalties paid to songwriters and publishers.
This reasoning was obviously unacceptable, so songwriters appealed to the government. (Inner thoughts: why can’t people just pay us fairly in the first place?) The following year, the 1909 Copyright Act was signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt, allowing for, among other things, a royalty for the physical reproduction of a song.
Fast forward 100 years to the streaming age. Digital service providers like Apple Music, Pandora, and Spotify initially used a complex, time-consuming (and confusing) system for royalties accounting.
But then, dun dun dun… in 2018, the Music Modernization Act was signed into law, which led to the creation of The Mechanical Licensing Collective, aka The MLC. Choir music here! The MLC revolutionized the way songwriters receive their digital audio mechanical royalties.
What are the various formats that earn mechanicals?
Traditional mechanical royalties include formats like – yep – player piano rolls, plus vinyl records, cassettes, CDs, and DVDs. But in this day and age, you’re more likely to earn royalties on interactive streams (meaning someone chose to stream the audio) and digital downloads. These formats earn digital audio mechanical royalties.
Are these not performance royalties?
They’re not! These are a totally different set of royalties. Performance royalties are paid by the PROs (think ASCAP, BMI, SESAC). Note: an interactive stream earns both a mechanical AND a performance royalty.
Who should be paying me mechanical royalties?
Excellent question. This chart should help…
|TYPE OF DEAL
|HOW TO CHECK YOUR ACCOUNTS
|I have a publishing deal for my songs
|Your publisher pays you, typically every quarter or half year
|Most publishers have an online portal that lists all your accounts and song earnings. If you don’t have a login, and/or haven’t received statements, then reach out to your publisher and pester, pester, pester!
|I write for film and TV on a per-contract basis and those songs are available on music streaming platforms
|The publisher connected with the production pays you (varies by network)
|Same as above
|I own/administer my own publishing
|The MLC distributes digital audio mechanical royalties, directly to self-administered songwriters, composers and lyricists.
The MLC pays every month!
|It is FREE to sign up as a member of The MLC and start collecting the royalties you have earned.
Pro tip: Make sure you don’t leave any money on the table! Use The MLC’s Claiming Tool to claim your share of songs for credit and the Matching Tool to match sound recordings to your songs.
When will the royalty adjustments happen?
It will take months to get the complex data finalized and processed.
What should I do in the meantime?
Here are a few things to do now so you can collect all the mechanical royalties you have earned:
- As a start, come up with a list of your 5-10 top-earning songs going back to 2018.
- Check to see if you’re receiving mechanical royalty statements/payments for these songs from your publisher or The MLC.
- If you have a publisher, you can use The MLC Public Work Search to check if your songs are in the system, and work with your publisher to make sure your data is correct.
- If you don’t have a publisher or administrator other than yourself, sign up with The MLC and use the portal tools to correctly attribute your songs to you. Very important: The MLC cannot pay you until you’re a member and your songs are matched and claimed in the system. Check out www.themlc.com and reach out to their amazing support team with any questions.
- If you notice that some of your works are missing – it’s time to fix that! Follow the chart above. Either connect with your publisher or use the tools on the MLC website to set up accounting for the missing songs.
You got this! Now go get that money!
Jeannie Lurie is an Emmy, Annie and Critics’ Choice Award nominated songwriter with 15+ years experience creating hundreds of songs for Disney, Nickelodeon, DreamWorks and more.
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