Saturday, February 15, 2014

Tiny royalty cheques

There's a post over on Aux TV which gathers some of the tiny royalty cheques that some artists have recently received.

Some of them are genuinely astonishing, like this one:

That's Camper Van Beethoven & Cracker's David Lowery getting a million streams on Pandora and pocketing less than twenty dollars for their efforts.

We've been here before, of course: how suprised you'll be depends on if you want to compare that figure with what they would have earned if they'd sold a million copies, or if it had been played on traditional radio to an audience of a million listeners.

There's also this one:
Mike Schleibaum getting a cheque for a penny.

Now, there's an element of Esther Rantzen here - is it really worth sending out a cheque for a single cent?

Of course not; that's ridiculous. But then the question would be what should the cut-off point be for rolling a royalty over into the next round of payments? Ten cents? A dollar? Is it really worth sending out a cheque for anything less than ten dollars?

Except... if Mike is earning cent, if Music Reports didn't send its cheque until he'd amassed even ten dollars, it'd be a very long time before his mailman would be called upon to spring into action.

More to the point, if Music Matters took a sensible-sounding line of not triggering a cheque until earnings reached ten dollars, and they've got, say, a million clients who potentially could have nine dollars ninety nine in their accounts, suddenly there's a "Music Matters sitting on ten million dollars of artist's money; artists haven't received cheques in forever" scandal blowing in the opposite direction.

So everyone gets an expensively-administrated, disappointing cheque every time.

(There's a bigger question of why they're sending sodding cheques in 2014, like they're settling debts incurred at a card table in Pemberley, but that's for another day.)

Besides the idea of sending a tiny cheque, though, there's the question of why it's a tiny, tiny cheque in the first place.

Schleibaum got some fun out of his micropayday:
“This is what we call, “BIG TIME!,” he wrote on Facebook. “Don’t worry..big news is coming but for now..we got to spend all this cash!”
Hang on a moment, though. Music Reports mostly handles licencing for local TV affiliates, some cable networks and other small users of music, like greeting cards companies.

Schleibaum has two main jobs in music. The first is as a member of melodic death metal band Darkest Hour who, good as they are, seem unlikely to have their music featured in a Happy Birthday card or soundtracking a sports package on the Fox affiliate in Boise. So, presumably, you wouldn't expect that much cash to flow from that angle.

He also composes music for television - if you tapped your foot to the beds on MSNBC's Charles Manson and His Followers, you were enjoying Mike's work. But presumably this work is done with the channels buying out all rights in the work - which means that again, Mike would expect his payment cheque to be fairly small.

So perhaps the surprise is not that there's a cheque, but that there's a cheque at all.

[Thanks to Michael M for the link]
[UPDATED 18/2: Rewrote a paragraph to make it clearer that the royalty cheque is from David Lowery, out of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven]