Empowering Independence: TuneCore’s Chris Dampier Breaks Down Music Publishing

“Ensuring you’ve got all your bases covered will maximize your revenue.”
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Don’t leave your publishing on the table. If you’re an indie artist, there’s a high likelihood you’re missing out on some serious cash because your publishing isn’t being taken care of. Back in 2016, DJBooth published an article explaining publishing as simply as possible.

In short: Publishing pays, and it can pay well. However, too many artists are leaving money on the table while their music is being used royalty-free.

For many artists, the concept of publishing is just another thorn in their side, but TuneCore’s Chris Dampier, VP of Publishing, is here to make the process easy. We spoke with Dampier about his role at TuneCore, as well as the Publishing Administration service, yet another way in which TuneCore is helping indie artists get paid for their hard work.

Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: Walk me through a typical day at TuneCore.

Chris Dampier: As the head of Publishing, days vary, which is natural. Overseeing the administration of millions of songs, as well as developing the actual publishing business and product our artists engage with… That means no day is the same. I could be interacting with artists, or their reps, or with our product and tech teams, or I could be chasing down royalties with our rights and royalties teams. It’s a varied position. For that, I’m grateful… it keeps me on my toes.

What about working at TuneCore makes you excited to get out of bed every day?

The reason I joined TuneCore was to be on the frontline of empowering independent artists. Once upon a time, labels and publishers were exclusive, invite-only clubs. They had those industries on lockdown, meaning many talented artists didn’t have the chance to get their music out there and be compensated for it. Thankfully, technology changed that. TuneCore was at the forefront of democratizing both the distribution and the publishing world. Our artists have access to the same distribution and royalty collection networks as some of the biggest artists out there.

I would go one step further and say TuneCore provides a superior administration service than some of the biggest music companies, purely based on the fact that we are technologically focused. The chance to work in that environment is highly motivating.

Let’s talk more in-depth about the Publishing Administration service.

Music Publishing is the business of collecting money for the copyright in a musical composition specifically. It’s important to note there are two copyrights created when a song is written and recorded. Number one: the sound recording. Number two: the composition/song. The sound recording is a recording of a composition; the composition is the unique qualities that make a song such as the rhythm, chords, lyrics, and melody. Publishing administration revolves around the business of administering the rights in the composition. A pub admin will do that by registering songs, licensing songs, tracking the usage of songs, and collecting the royalties for the exploitation of those songs.

What’s the most confusing aspect of publishing, and how do we demystify it?

One of the biggest misconceptions in the music business is that being registered with a PRO [Performance Rights Organization] means you are collecting publishing revenue. That isn’t the case. You’re just collecting some of your revenue. PROs like ASCAP and BMI are only able to collect performance revenue. If you look at a stream on a DSP [digital service provider], all of those services actually [generate] two different publishing royalties. The performance royalty and the mechanical royalty. The performance royalty is collected by your PRO. The mechanical royalty is generally not collected unless you have publishing administration. For example, on Spotify, that accounts for, on average, 50 percent of your publishing revenue in the States.

On the TuneCore website, it reads: “Our Music Publishing Administration makes sure TuneCore songwriter compositions are front-and-center for every new licensing opportunity.” Can you explain that element of the service?

First and foremost, we’re an administration service proactively seeking royalties for the exploitation of your songs. However, we’re also seeking creative licensing opportunities to maximize value for our clients. This could be anything from securing a placement in a film, TV show, video game, or commercial, to trying to get your music played in the Nike store on Oxford Street in London. We’re securing life-changing sums of money in the form of a one-off license. For example, in the last couple of months, we’ve secured major placements with Google, Nespresso, and Apple. We work with our artists to try and get as much of their music in front of music supervisors and the creative licensing community as possible.

Not every artist wants sync representation or may have their own existing sync rep, so we make that an optional service.

Why is understanding publishing important for indie artists?

Music rights are confusing! I sympathize with the majority of artists who do not have enough time to study this area of the business. However, ensuring you’ve got all your bases covered will maximize your revenue so you can pay your bills! If an artist distributes a record and they’re receiving royalties for the sound recording, and they’re receiving a quarterly statement from their PRO, they think: “Hey, I’m getting paid all of the revenue my release generated.” But, they’re missing out on their mechanical revenue most of the time. Without having a Publishing Administrator, you can’t collect that. The key is education. At TuneCore, we have an obligation to educate. We’re constantly writing content and engaging with artists to help empower them.

As it pertains to your readers, I mentioned the misconceptions with PROs and mechanical royalties. That confusion is being compounded in the beat licensing sector. There are so many producers losing money by selling beat licenses and then not collecting revenue for the new tracks using their beats. In most beat licensing transactions, the producer is considered a songwriter, and with that comes a unique set of rights that need to be administered accordingly. Unfortunately, we’re seeing that isn’t the case.

How do artists protect themselves and make sure they get their money?

You have to educate yourself. Artists and producers have to think of themselves as businesses. It’s [also] making sure you partner with the right people. There are platforms out there like TuneCore that you can engage with that handle those relationships to make sure all of your money is being collected. Ask questions! If you’re a client of TuneCore, reach out and ask us a question!

How do you simplify publishing?

It’s hard because it’s not a simple business. It’s a case of helping [artists] understand rights and getting granular with each income source because they vary. For example, for DSPs like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube, there are three different royalty streams to be collected: the master royalty, the performance royalty, and the mechanical royalty. For sync, there is a one-time license fee for the master and composition as well as a performance royalty for the broadcast of the production using the music. For broadcast radio performances in America: there is only a performance royalty for the composition. However, in foreign territories, broadcast radio pays a performance royalty for both the composition and the sound recording. I could go on… It’s getting into and understanding the nitty-gritty.

It’s breaking down everything to its essential elements.

I believe so! Transparency is key. We have an obligation to be as transparent as possible in the modern-day music business.

How much money are artists losing by leaving Publishing on the table?

A lot! There are hundreds of millions of dollars in unclaimed mechanical royalties in the US alone. I always say, if you are distributing songs you have written, there is a 100% chance you are missing out on income without publishing administration. It’s not just domestic mechanical royalties, either.

Artists have got to think of themselves as global businesses. The minute a track is distributed, it’s global, generating multiple royalties from hundreds of digital services and thousands of different income streams across many countries. For the most part, artists do not have a relationship [with all the entities responsible for collecting their money]. With that many businesses responsible for collecting your money, that’s a lot of nooks and crannies for your royalties to get lost in.

There are unclaimed pools of royalties all over the world that frustratingly get liquidated every few years based on market share. What that means is the majority of that money ends up going to the major music companies who have the majority of the market share. All because artists are not set-up to claim that money. A good publishing administrator will go out there and look for that money and put it in your pocket. We’re constantly collecting retroactively for new clients, and some of the amounts are eye-watering.

What’s your best advice for indie acts in 2020, especially during COVID?

It’s a trying time with artists unable to tour. Every penny helps. Create content and get it out there. Engage with your fans and importantly, make sure all you have the relevant partners to collect the money your content generates.

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