Last month, SoundExchange announced that legendary musician David Byrne had joined their Board of Directors, filling the seat previously held by FMC co-founder Walter McDonough. In a statement, the acclaimed singer/songwriter/artist & writer said “I am honored to join the SoundExchange board where I can leverage my experience as a performing artist and fight on behalf of all creators for fairness and the long-term value of music.”
SoundExchange is the non-profit entity that collects and distributes royalties for digital public performances on non-interactive music services. This includes webcasts of FM stations, services like Pandora, Sirius XM satellite radio, and cable radio.
In addition to collecting and distributing that money, SoundExchange engages in advocacy work on behalf of the artists and copyright owners it pays, sometimes arguing for higher rates, and sometimes arguing to close loopholes that allow certain broadcasters to shirk payment. Occasionally this leads some opponents of these changes to make some dubious claims: that SoundExchange only really supports the interests of major labels, or that money gets collected only go to middlemen and big corporations rather than artists.
Such claims are bluntly false. We know this because FMC was around back when SoundExchange was initially set up. FMC and our allies pushed hard to make sure that artists would be represented at the highest levels of governance. Today, SoundExchange’s board is split evenly between labels (both majors and indies) and artist representatives. As Walter McDonough, who served as an artist representative since SoundExchange’s founding said, “Together we transformed SoundExchange into an important performance rights organization. I now pass the baton to one of our industry’s most innovative artists, David Byrne.”
Furthermore, for every use of music, SoundExchange pays out its collected royalties at the following equitable splits:
- 45% to featured artists
- 50% to sound recording copyright owners (often a record label, but sometimes the artists themselves)
- 5% to a union-administered fund for backing vocalists/session musicians.
(Remember as well that there are two types of copyright embedded in every piece of recorded music. SoundExchange takes care of the sound recording copyright, so they address payment for performers and labels. The composition copyright, which generates royalties for songwriters and publishers is dealt with separately, with royalties flowing through performance rights organizationss like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC).
And while it’s true that big labels are represented on the SoundExchange board alongside indie labels and artists themselves, what that means is the possibility of finding common ground between different industry stakeholders. That’s a good thing, because when the music business stands united, there’s a lot we can accomplish together.
For his part, David Byrne brings experience in many areas of the recorded music industry, having worked with major labels, indie labels, and self-releasing records. And he’s long sought to encourage greater understanding of the intricacies of the music business as a speaker and writer; he was a featured speaker at our 2006 Policy Summit, and his 2012 book How Music Works ranked among our favorite books of that year. More recently, the former Talking Heads singer has emerged as a forceful but thoughtful critic of aspects of new digital business models, calling for more transparency.
So we’d like to congratulate Mr. Byrne on his new position, and salute Walter McDonough for his years of service and leadership for the music community. And we’d like to remind you that if you’re a recording musician whose work might be played on any non-interactive digital service, you really should sign up for SoundExchange without delay.
Finally, if you happen to be in Brooklyn or Toronto this summer you can see Mr. Byrne collaborate with our own board member Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs in a very unique event called Contemporary Color which pairs exciting contemporary musicians debuting new work with color guard teams. Check out this video for a preview!
(Photo of David Byrne at 2006 Future of Music Policy Summit by Fred Von Lohmann, used under a CC BY 2.0 license)