For many songwriters, becoming an international sensation can be a lifelong dream. Thanks to an ever-growing global connectivity, it’s not only possible, but increasingly a reality. At this very moment, your music could be wafting through the homes in Tel-Aviv, Tijuana or Tokyo, for all you know.
That last part is important. If you think tracking domestic use of your music is tricky, try following those threads across countries and continents. Keeping track of what’s been played where—and by whom—across the globe can be complicated, expensive and time consuming. But, it’s a vital part of your royalty revenue pie and the hard work that comes with it is important to making sure you collect all the revenue you’re due.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to the basics of international royalty collection from the point of view of a songwriter registering works in the US. It’s important to note that if you live outside of the US, the process or requirements may differ slightly and you should always double check with your home society about their process for international collections.
International vs. Domestic Publishing
There’s no denying that the United States is one of the largest music markets in terms of consumption and revenue generation, but that doesn’t mean you should focus exclusively on that market alone. It’s vitally important that you make sure your songs are properly registered across the globe so that if you're earning outside of your home territory, you’re also collecting royalties directly from the territories in which they were generated.
For the purpose of this article, we’re going to assume that you’ve already affiliated with a collection society such as a Performing Rights Organization (PRO) (like ASCAP or BMI in the US), which collects performance royalties in your home territory. While PROs typically have “reciprocal agreements” with other collection societies in various territories, this arrangement often results in delayed or incomplete registrations (if songs get registered at all) leading to delayed and/or incomplete royalty statements from those territories.
In contrast, Songtrust registers your works directly with collection societies across the globe. By making sure that our clients register their works and us providing these registrations to societies in a full and timely manner, we enable you to collect your royalties directly from the territories in which they were generated. The result is you getting paid quickly, more accurately, and with detailed royalty statements and documentation.
The Black Box: International Home of Lost Royalties
Then there’s the subject of mechanical royalties, or those you earn from physical and digital sales and streaming. In the United States, organizations like Harry Fox Agency (HFA) or Music Reports (MRI) administer the mechanical licenses to track and collect mechanical royalties from record labels and streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music.
Outside the U.S., it’s the responsibility of retailers or distributors to pay the mechanical royalties generated by physical album sales, while streaming services pay their respective foreign mechanical collection societies and rights administrator entities directly.
You can probably guess where this is headed -- If you aren’t affiliated with a mechanical rights organization (MRO) in each territory (Note: not all territories refer to these organizations as MROs either, so it’s imperative to research who is responsible for mechanical royalty collection) or haven’t properly registered your songs where your music is being sold or streamed, the payees can’t find you.
In this case, the monies you’re legally owed wind up as unallocated or misallocated royalties, also referred to as “black box” royalties. These unidentified songwriters are then considered “orphaned” or “lost” and, as such, their royalties sit and wait, generally 2-3 years, at the society before becoming unavailable for distribution. In the United States alone, it’s estimated there is currently some $250 million in black box royalties.
Songwriters Need a Global Royalty Strategy
Even with extensive international royalty tracking systems and a relationship with a domestic collection society, you can still be missing out on some payments. The world is a big place, there are millions of streams that occur every day, and it’s difficult and time-consuming to track down everything you might be owed as an independent creator. That’s why having a strategic plan, and the right team, to make sure all your international royalty bases are covered is crucial.
For a start, it’s absolutely vital that your publisher—even if you self-publish—registers your works worldwide and collects your royalties on your behalf. If you are dedicated to the job of researching the collection agencies in every territory, it is possible to handle this on your own, to some degree.
If you’re not up for the task of locating, contacting, affiliating, and registering with all these agencies (we don’t blame you), a publishing administration company, like Songtrust, can and will manage this process for you to make sure you receive all the royalties you are owed. A publishing administrator will help you register your songs and collect the publishing royalties from pay sources around the world, saving you precious time and money. We totally respect and support those songwriter-publishers who want to put in the legwork and collect every cent they’re owed -- in fact, we’re here to provide support even to the self-publishers of the world. If you’re more interested in focusing simply on creating your music, make sure you have the right team behind you to help you collect it.
If you have any questions about music publishing and any other types of pay sources, don’t hesitate to ask for guidance. We’re here to help.
Take control of your publishing. Maximize Songtrust for your songs and business.
We created this guide to answer a simple question: How do songwriters support themselves?
The answer is not as simple as we’d like, but our goal is to make it as clear, transparent and understandable as we possibly can.
Songtrust is more than just a rights management platform and publishing administrator - we’re a team of experts in the music community who strive to educate, support, and provide thought leadership to creators, representatives, and businesses across the music industry.
Our hope is that you’ll finish this guide with an better understanding of the business behind songwriting and have actionable resources to help you be successful.