What I want from internet radio

14 Nov

Ever since SFMusicTech on Oct 9, I’ve been meaning to blog about the whole internet radio fairness act thingummybob. Almost every day someone has asked me: “What do you think about the proposed Internet Royalty Fairness Act?” and I haven’t had a proper answer. I’ve thought all kinds of things about it in the dead of the night, but those thoughts are often conflicting.

I had a vague understanding of the current system as it pertains to me, but didn’t feel that I had enough authority to write on the subject. So, I decided to do what I usually do: read up. I would absorb the fascinating history of internet performance royalties: what laws were made, when, what was the historical context, who was involved and who had the power. Then, I’d learn how the current laws are applied and what are the proposed changes.

This took a long time.

In between being a mom, being on tour, filing my 2011 taxes, recording a new song and scoring a TV commercial….I’ve been reading everything I can find and talking to people who know about it. The subject of internet performance royalties is not only mind-numbing and very hard to focus on, especially when you have a toddler attached to your leg, but it is also joyless. It’s not rocket science, but I think rocket science would be more fun.

After reading all this exciting literature, I had hoped my own opinion about IRFA would become crystal clear. It did not.  Reading snippets of the histrionic-filled debates that led to the penning of the current laws (the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998, the Webcaster Settlement act of 2008 and 2009) just left me with a vaguely nauseous feeling (oh, so THAT’S how the sausage is made…eewww). Reading contemporary commentary for and against the new proposed law made me feel more nauseous still.

Ok. Now what?

It helps me when framing these issues to look at my own situation. So to that end, I gathered up all the info I could find on my own internet radio royalties from the last year and dumped them into another Google spreadsheet. Thanks again Google for making such excellent tools. They make me feel like I have some modicum of control over the world.

Here it is: Zoë Keating’s Internet Royalties 2011/2012

What is in it?


Every quarter I get two statements from ASCAP, one for me as composer, one for me as publisher. Last year a new category showed up: “Internet”. There is never any more information about it, just the word “Internet” and a dollar figure.


Every quarter I get two, very nicely laid-out statements from SoundExchange, one for me as performer, one for me as the sound recording copyright owner. While these statements are slightly more illuminating than those from ASCAP, they still don’t tell me how many performances I’ve had, but they do list the name of each service and a dollar amount.


I had forgotten about LastFM and remembered that years ago I claimed my artist profile. After I managed to log in, I could see a quarterly accounting that includes the number of plays (not scrobbled plays though) and a dollar figure. I’ve never actually collected any money from LastFM and when I went through the process to collect it a few days ago I read that I’m not supposed to be eligible (because I’m a member of SoundExchange and ASCAP). They haven’t replied to my inquiry, so I’m not sure what happens next. Will they send the money I’ve accumulated to SoundExchange? I’ll let you know.

When I look at this spreadsheet two things jump out at me:

  • Over 90% of my internet radio royalties are from Pandora.
  • There is hardly any data. None of the laws require any entity to tell me how many performances I had, and so no one does. It’s nice to know how much money I made, but where did it come from? How can I grow my business on this information?

Ok Zoë, nice numbers. Whatever.  Are you for IRFA or against IRFA?

Neither.  If I were able to lobby on behalf all artists everywhere I would ask for this:

1) Data

I want my data and in 2012 I see absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t own it. It seems like everyone has it, and exploits it…everyone but the creators providing the content that services are built on. I wish I could make this demand: stream my music, but in exchange give me my listener data. But the law doesn’t give me that power. The law only demands I be paid in money, which at this point in my career is not as valuable as information. I’d rather be paid in data.

For the first 6 months of 2012, I calculate I had more than 1.5 million listens on Pandora, for which I received $1652.74.  That seems great on the surface and I’m grateful for the extra money, but I want to know:  Do these listeners also own my music?  How many of these listens are on Zoë Keating stations? What other user stations do I pop up in, and sandwiched between what other artists? How many listeners gave me a “thumbs up”? How do I reach them? Do they know I’m performing nearby next month? How can I tell them I have a new album coming out?

The new model says that in the future I’m not supposed to sell music: I’m supposed to sell concert tickets and tshirts. Ok fine, so put me in touch with the people who will buy concert tickets and tshirts (p.s. I’d like the same from on-demand services like Spotify too).

In short, I think I’m solving my obscurity problem, so now what?

2) Don’t replicate the past

Please do not model internet royalties after the broken terrestrial performance rights system (i.e. the PROS: ASCAP, BMI, etc). Those of you who deal with this know what I’m talking about: random sampling and surveys to determine what songs have been played when, opaque organizations without accountability. Let’s take advantage of this wonderful digitized world and do 100% census reporting, all the time…..and figure out how we can make it easy for services to do this.

Slightly related to this, why do I pay 5% of my performer royalties to the AFM? And what do they do with it? I’m not a member of the AFM and there are no non-featured performers on my solo-recordings.

3) What are we measuring?

I hope the parties at the table are thinking more broadly about what unit we are measuring and what is the appropriate compensation, financial or otherwise, for the exploitation of that unit.

Are we measuring:

  • Performances – a single performance of a musical work?
  • Listens – a single listen by a pair of ears?
  • Dollars – a percentage of each dollar of revenue earned, essentially a music tax?

I’d argue we should be measuring Listens…and that we should make royalties equitable  and fair for every kind of service: internet radio, satellite, commercial terrestrial radio. On the internet we can determine how many people are listening. I admit I don’t understand how satellite radio works, but given that I can see the song titles go by on SiriusXM and that box in my car sure knows when I haven’t renewed by subscription, I would think they know I’m listening or not. As for commercial terrestrial radio….make them pay using the same listener stats that they give to their advertisers.

In essence, let there be One Royalty Rate To Rule Them All and get rid of the percentage-of-revenue system (unless a broadcaster is non-profit, or maybe even during a well-defined start-up period). And now, for my next trick, I will make all sides really mad at me! I think this means internet royalty rates will need to come down (although not as much as proposed), and satellite and terrestrial will come up. I’m bracing myself for the public flogging…

Reading Senator Wyden’s comments at the Future of Music Summit yesterday I was struck by this:

“It is the job of policymakers to ensure that the law and public policy doesn’t favor one business model over another, and particularly, that it doesn’t favor incumbents over insurgents,”

I actually think that I am the insurgent here but the law doesn’t even acknowledge that I exist.