Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Tuesday, May 04, 2004


-- audiovox -- royalties, or, we've lost david bowie and don't know where to find him!

Music Giants Pay Back Royalties (LA Times, May 4, 2004, registration required)

In an unusual pact with New York authorities, the world's largest record labels have agreed to step up their efforts to track down a slew of recording artists who are owed back royalties of about $50 million, sources said. As part of a deal expected to be announced today by New York Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer, the five companies are expected to share their latest artist contact information with one another. They also will post advertisements to find thousands of performers who may have been lost in the shuffle in recent years, sources said. The deal could provide long-awaited paychecks to many lesser-known acts who have disappeared from the pop charts. But sources said the unpaid also included a number of prominent stars who shouldn't be difficult to find.

Bowie, DMB Rescue Royalties (Rolling Stone, May 4, 2004)

David Bowie, the Dave Matthews Band, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Dolly Parton and John Mellencamp are just a few of the thousands of artists who will receive payments from the major labels for unclaimed, unpaid royalties.

The $50 million payout was the result of a deal struck by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who negotiated with Sony Music Entertainment, Sony ATV Music Publishing, the Warner Music Group, UMG Recordings,Universal Music, EMI Music Publishing, EMI Music North America, BMG Songs, Careers-BMG Music Publishing, BMG and the Harry Fox Agency. The deal caps a two-year investigation sparked by music industry attorney Bob Donnelly, who brought the issue of labels failing to keep contact with performers and making proper royalty payments. More than $25 million has been paid out so far, with another $25 still expected to be distributed. [...] For some, the payout amounts to a drop in the bucket. The Dave Matthews Band is owed just over $14,000 (its 1996 album, Crash, for instance earned $4,000 that wasn't properly paid), while the $10,700 that Bowie was owed was just for 1997's Earthling. And for other artists, the payout comes too late, as deceased artists including Jim Croce, Waylon Jennings, Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Sinatra were all owed sums. But the estates of deceased musicians received some of the larger payouts, including that of songwriter Tommy Edward, which is due almost $230,000.

The investigation also found that outstanding royalties were also due to artists who didn't necessarily make vast sums of money, and the likes of Texas singer-songwriter Guy Clark or avant garde jazz pianist Cecil Taylor might benefit from the windfall of a few thousand dollars. "[Some] artists struggle," Spitzer said at a press conference announcing the deal in New York City today. "They depend on the stream of royalties."

You know ... I can understand losing track of the various one-hit wonders and lesser-known songwriters and other artists. I really can. After all, once the individual gets dropped by the label and they think that their music isn't selling any more, why would they stay in contact with the label? So really, that does make a certain amount of sense.

But how in hell do you lose track of David Bowie? of the Dave Matthews Band? Waylon Jennings and the others mentioned? These aren't one hit wonders; they're not that difficult to locate. Even if your address information was outdated, their agents aren't that difficult to locate. This sounds, frankly, like the record companies decided that they had a distinct disincentive to locate the artists. After all, while the royalties owed to individual artists weren't all that much, cumulatively, $50 million divided by a relatively few companies amounts to a pretty goodly sum each -- and that doesn't even count the interest they must have earned by keeping the money in their accounts all this time.

Posted by iain at 05:36 PM in category audiovox