Pandemic Industry: Virtual Venues, Old School Collections, and Audits Now A Practical Reality
As the impact of the coronavirus on the music industry continues to grow, artists everywhere are facing the harsh reality of cancelled shows and postponed tours. Here we look at some of the steps bands and musicians can take on the business side of things to weather the pandemic.
Guest post by Chris Castle of Music Tech Solutions
As the effects of coronavirus quarantine efforts keep expanding, artists who were able to survive into the second decade of the age of piracy are now watching their live show revenue dry up, too. From festivals to major tours, club shows, everything is cancelled or cancelling, sometimes months out. Show guarantees are evaporating. Even if there were a vaccine and a cure tomorrow, it will take months for the industry to reorient itself and rebook cancelled shows–assuming the venues survive. Many will not. (If you doubt this is happening because it hasn’t happened to you–yet–see David Crosby’s sobering interview with GQ.)
And that’s the crux of it. We need to keep the artists alive and we also need to keep the venues alive, including the bars and restaurants that provide the infrastructure for “entertainment districts”. I’m working on the “Keep Austin Weird Pledge” that is focused on the venues, but this post is going to focus solely on the artists.
Artists facing a sudden constriction in their base line revenue really have to bust a move right about now. I think you need to plan for the worst and hope you are pleasantly surprised. But realize that you may also be unpleasantly surprised. Like the First Rule of Electronics Repair, you have to make sure that you are collecting what you are owed and perhaps consider auditing your royalties, particularly for indie labels and publishers. Signing up for collections, reviewing black box and the more complex virtual venue set ups are all things you can do from isolation as long as you have a phone and an Internet connection.
Remember–just like you can’t pay your rent with exposure or data, social media alone won’t save you. It’s time to start monetizing. We are leaving the age of promotion and entering the age of sales.
Virtual venues have been a growing sector for years now, often as an afterthought for artists who are accustomed to higher end touring. No longer. A virtual venue relationship is not a “nice to have” anymore. Getting paid is not something to be sneered at as a “paywall”, an expression invented by the ad supported, but this requires some thought.
The grand daddy of virtual venues is Stageit run by Evan Lowenstein and backed by partners like IBM. (I’ve been a fan of Stageit for years, starting with a 2011 post.) There are a handful of others as well as listed in a good checklist generously assembled by Cherie Hu that is well worth reading and following as she updates it.
Not only will virtual venues exist as part of an artist’s commercial repertoire, they may actually come to be part of reality for brick and mortar venues, too, a la the old Digital Club Network. If a venue has a strong brand, just like an artist with an active fan base, there may be value in considering an installed simulcasting package.
Make Sure You Are Signed Up With Collecting Societies
The first thing that an artist should do when concerned about cash flow is make sure that you have tied down the obvious–if you are a songwriter, make sure your PRO knows where to find you and that they are not holding any money for you (this would be ASCAP, BMI, GMR, SESAC). On the mechanical side, check in with HFA, Audiam, CDBaby for the same reason.
For artists and label owners, be sure you have joined SoundExchange. To my knowledge, SoundExchange is the only PRO that pays on a monthly basis. I always urge artists and labels to join SoundExchange as a member (as opposed to simply registering) as you can tap additional income streams.
SoundExchange also has a look up portal so you can see if they are holding money for you, which is a box you need to check.
You should also check and make sure that the union intellectual property funds are not holding money for you or can’t find you. If you are a union member, check with your local to see if there are any residuals floating around that haven’t found their way to you yet.
Although it’s not a collecting society, you should also check the Spotify class action claiming portal at Song Claims (powered by Crunch Digital).
If you were signed to a record company or music publisher at some point in the past, even if you are currently signed, make sure they know where to find you. They may have money for you. If you have your own distribution agreements, then take a look at those, too.
While not an immediate source of funds, it may be worth it to consider a “royalty compliance examination” or “audit”, particularly if you are a label or publisher with audit rights against digital distributors. Audits can be conducted largely remotely, and sometimes even a desktop audit can shake loose some monies based on undeniable mistakes. Consult your business manager or accountant to look into this as desktop audits can be conducted remotely.