by Tia Black
The word royalty has been thrown around a lot lately. Like that cheap coloured paper confetti in fact. Being that members of the actual royal family have migrated to South Africa (amidst rumours of them being shunned and banished here for sins we as plebs are not privy to) on a PR tour it could be somewhat expected. But the buzziest word in the music industry of late has been lingering in the air like the faux expensive parfum I used to wear when I, like Khalid, was young dumb and broke …
I’m talking about ROYALTIES
The surge of this word in creative circles could be penned to the fact that people heard someone famous use it and like with most things it’s become technical jargon thrown about like every other hipster trend in 2019 or it could be the fact that our beloved national broadcaster the SABC, on the 7th October would be receiving a bailout of R2.1 BILLION RAND and a petition has been issued asking that the money be used to cover the R125.8 million that SAMRO is owed. Or the R104.2 million SAMPRA is owed. Or the R6 million CAPASSO is owed.
I could be mistaken though.
All this information, however, means absolutely nothing to anyone who doesn’t understand what royalties are.
Royalties are payments that are tracked, monitored and then distributed to recording artists, composers, songwriters, publishers and other copyrights holders for the right to use their intellectual property.
So, every written word, every melodic arrangement, every beat is accounted for with a special ISRC number (which you need to apply for with another of our rights houses RISA) and this number is tracked each time the song is played, performed or used by anyone for anything that can be monetized.
This all becomes gibberish when it doesn’t affect YOUR salary and that is because to a listener a song is a song, right?
But to the person who creates that song, every time it plays or gets legally downloaded/streamed it SHOULD set off a little alarm that says “Ka-Ching” or whatever cartoonish sound money makes in your head.
The notion comes off as simple but can become one unending rope of boy scout knots entangling everyone who touches the song and can make any new artist/writer/producer ask in the tune of Avril Lavigne “Why you gotta go and make things so complicated”?
So, because I am a nerd and an advocate for getting the bag, I’ve tried to lay out how you get money from a song in ‘plebatarian’ terms for us normal folk.
A song in itself is broken into two parts: Mechanical & Performance
The names of these parts are descriptively accurate.
One section is for the beat. The production. The engineering. The lyrics. All the mechanical bits bound together to make the song.
And the other section is for, well, the performance thereof. By the artists or by any other artist.
This sounds easy to separate and manage but can get extremely tricky when there are several hands in the proverbial cooking pot adding their own sonic spices and using different spoons.
Picture having 5 lyricists, 3 producers, 3 live session musicians and 4 session vocalists recording one song that was eventually going to get performed by one totally different person. Administratively this can be a mess and is the reason a lot of musicians let a publisher take a cut so that they don’t have to deal with it but I digress slightly. Back to the one song and its royalties we go.
Each of these 5 lyricists, 3 producers, 3 live session musicians, and 4 session vocalists have to get paid for their contribution to the song out of the appropriate section. So if you think of a song as worth R100 then R50 is allotted to Mechanical Royalties and R50 is allotted to Performance Royalties. Everyone involved in the creation is then given a percentage of one of the R50 sections. This is what’s known as “song splits” and these splits if not correctly documented and submitted can mean you lose out on thousands should that song be a radio/streaming smash.
Splits can be agreed upon beforehand or after as long as everyone knows what percentage they’re claiming on their submission forms. Discrepancies cause delays. Each person is responsible for their own documentation. Just think of your submission forms as expense claims at work. You can’t get the money if the information is incorrect or not submitted at all, can you? Exactly.
To ensure you as a musician, artist or composer get paid off a song make sure you’re registered with our rights houses, namely SAMRO, SAMPRA, RISA and CAPASSO (you see how I’m starting to pull this all together now?). Register yourself and each song you work on and submit it as soon as the splits have been agreed to by all parties so that the respective rights company can do their jobs and track the activity of the song on radio, t.v. or when it’s performed as part of other things such as Music for a play, or t.v. show. Most of our rights houses have online portals now and you don’t even have to harm the earth by filling out mounds of paperwork anymore.
Royalties are broken into THREE categories in South Africa:
Mechanical – when music is copied /duplicated or made available in CD, MP3 or for digital distribution such as iTunes, etc.
Performance – public performance/usage of the music
Needletime – session musicians & backing vocalists used in the studio to help create the music.
There are other categories where royalties can be collected but that falls under publishing and licensing which is a whole new packet of sour worms which deserves more than a mere honourable mention.
Each rights company also handles different types of royalty payouts so it’s essential that you be registered across the board to make certain you’re receiving every single penny that is supposed to come your way.
You cannot understand what you don’t know exists and for majority new musicians in SA they are unaware of how to collect royalties correctly and fall into the somewhat romanticised “struggling musician” trap.
I’m just here to regulate that like Warren G.