SXSW Music Panel Recap: The New Marketplace of Music Royalties

In the long run, streaming will pay artists more than pennies

In the age of streaming, artists struggle to earn their fair share. In discussing the Music Modernization Act, industry professionals including Wyclef Jean shared how musicians and songwriters can get their coin.

Photo by Laiken Neumann

“CYS: Copyright Your Shit!”

That’s entertainment lawyer Robert Celestin’s premiere advice to artists looking to actually cut a check in the streaming age. He Zoomed in alongside music industry executive Serona Elton, Fugees co-founder Wyclef Jean, and Sound Royalties CEO Alex Heiche on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the future of music royalties under the newly instated Music Modernization Act. The legislation established the Mechanical Licensing Collective, a non-profit that allows artists to look directly at data of unmatched royalties and provide them royalty payouts from digital streaming companies.

“What I would encourage every artist – this is just some Haitian shit I’m gonna tell you: If you have hands, if you have a voice, if you have ears, if you have your talent, you can constantly be making the music,” announced Jean.”

A large part of the issue pivots on education. While canny artists already knew where to look for their dividends, the MLC helps to broaden the scope.

“Some people never even knew that you could sign up to collect that money,” revealed Elton, also the Head of Educational Partnerships for the MLC.

Wyclef Jean said he wishes someone educated him on royalties decades ago, but he’s enthusiastic about the power that data transparency affords artists. It allows them to profit from ownership of their work – what he calls their “real estate.”

While financial compensation through streaming remains a rocky road for artists, Celestin stresses copyright ownership as crucial.

“Streaming resuscitated the music industry to a whole other level,” he reasoned. “Because streaming is still a growing medium of distribution for music, hedge funds, pension plans, and private investors are looking into acquiring copyrights.”

The barrister even put forth Mariah Carey’s inescapable holiday hit “All I Want For Christmas Is You” as an example: “There’s income being generated for that song every year.”

Despite financial difficulty for artists caused by the pandemic in the last year, both Celestin and Jean urged artists not to sell their copyright ownership, stressing the importance of intellectual property in the long run.

“What I would encourage every artist – this is just some Haitian shit I’m gonna tell you: If you have hands, if you have a voice, if you have ears, if you have your talent, you can constantly be making the music,” announced Jean. “Generational wealth ... This is the reason why you hold on to that catalogue as long as you can, and never sell unless you have to.”

Wyclef Jean (Photo by Laiken Neumann)

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

New Marketplace of Music Royalties, SXSW Music 2021

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