Friday, July 9, 2010

Internet Royalty Math Makes My Brain Hurt

Last year, egged on by the ubiquitous "We've Got Money for Artists!" advertising campaign... I signed up for Soundexchange (Soundexchange, in case you don't know them, are the entity entrusted by Congress to administer performance royalties for artists for internet airplay).

I've been a Pandora fan since they began. I remember seeing a job posting for the Music Genome Project back in maybe 2000 and considering applying. I have a subscription and listen almost every day. I had a vague sense of my internet plays from other people. From what i hear, I think a lot of people listen to and discover me there. So to GET PAID indirectly by Pandora, in addition to being a fan, seemed, well, awesome.

It took over six months to process the Soundexchange paperwork and I waited with cautious optimism to receive a check. I got it last week. The amounts were, from 2006 to the present:

$158 as copyright owner (i.e. label payment since I'm my own label)
$135 as performer

Honestly, that seemed kind of low. So, I wrote to Pandora to ask my total plays. They, bless them, wrote back that collectively all my songs have had about 423,000 spins

That number isn't up there with Lady Gaga, but it seemed like a lot of plays to me. Not having followed the outcome of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, I naively thought that 423,000 plays should surely amount to more than $293. I wrote to SoundExchange asking for details about how the math works.

Their response I did not understand....

...Digital service providers are only required to reported 2 weeks worth of performances a quarter. Moreover, those 2 weeks do not have to be on consecutive days, they can report any 14 days worth of performances within a 3 month period. If your performances do not occur within that period, then there are no reported performances to be compensated for...I believe that while you had 423,000 performances from Pandora, not all of them were during a reported period.

I was confused, and spawned a discussion on the Tunecore mailing list. However, a few hours later, after writing it all up for this blog, I got a message from Soundexchange which explains the math once and for all.

To address your concerns about the amount, the number you cited ($290 or so) is just about correct for 423,000 performances by a service operating under the pureplay rates (as Pandora does). The nonsubscription “per performance” rates for services that elect the pureplay rates start at $.0008 in 2006 and rise to $.00097 “per performance” in 2010. Remember that by law 5% of your earned royalties are paid into a fund which supports backup musicians and session players, and around 8% is SoundExchange’s administrative rate, to pay our staff and keep the lights on.

So there you have it. There is no mystery or shadowy accounting going on. The numbers are just very, very low. Lower than I realized, which I suppose is the tradeoff to keeping internet broadcasters in business.

End of story. Now I'm off to put baby Alex to bed with his favorite Ulrich Schnauss Pandora station.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Scoop on Billboard Charting

My first gig as a new mum was last Tuesday: a short performance at an Intel conference in San Jose. The days leading up to the gig, I managed to practice in little chunks in between Alex's feedings. Then on Tuesday morning, I tanked him up for the 2 and a half hour drive, gave him a quick feed when we got there, sent baby Alex off with his Dad, rearranged my outfit and played the concert. On the way back home we got stuck in traffic in San Francisco and since it was a nice day, decided to wait it out at the Java Beach Cafe on Ocean Beach.

While we were there, soaking up the beachy atmosphere, I got an email from someone at Billboard inquiring about details for "Into the Trees" for the charts. Oooh! I took Alex back to the van for another feed and called the number.

"What is the record label and catalog number for this album?" the man on the phone asked.

"Er...none", I said, "I released it myself."

"Ok, and what is the retail price?"

"Well, I'm selling physical copies for $14 and deluxe editions for $20, but I sell them from my website so they aren't reported. I guess I'm charting from digital downloads on Bandcamp, which are pay-what-you-want with a minimum of $8".

"Bandcamp?" he asked.

At that moment Alex started crying.

"Hang on a minute! My baby fell off the nipple, I have to adjust him".

I got Alex latched back on and picked up the cell phone again.

"You have a new baby?"

"Yes, he's seven weeks old. I'm nursing him in the car on the way home from a corporate gig".

"Ah...well that's all I need to know. Congrats on the new baby and on making the charts".

The following day, sure enough, there I was on the Billboard classical chart at #7. I was very pleased. However, I kicked myself for not doing all my sales through Bandcamp because none of my pre-orders were counted through Soundscan. Until last week, I was still selling the physical CDs from my site, which means they don't "count". So on the one hand, I was happy to chart 100% from digital downloads and no advertising or PR other than a couple tweets and emails.... but on the other hand, two thirds of my sales weren't reported. 24 hours previously I hadn't cared about reporting sales at all. Now I cared about it.

You see how this goes - its the musical equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses. Before, I was alone in my forest and happy as a clam to be selling any music at all but now I'm comparing myself to others and left unsatisfied (Semi OT: this is one of the things I like about living where I do. There aren't very many people around to remind me that my car is old and I've been wearing the same grubby outfit all week).

I had been revamping my website prior to the album release in a piecemeal fashion (i.e. doing bits of HTML with one hand while breastfeeding) and hadn't gotten around to changing the ordering page. So the day after charting on Billboard, you can be sure I moved all my physical sales to Bandcamp as well (much to the relief of my sister, who handles the mailing of my CDs, and was exasperated with both me and Paypal. Bandcamp has a much friendlier order fulfillment interface).

AND NOW WE COME TO THE MEAT OF THIS RAMBLING BLOG POST where I talk about how many sales figures it takes to chart on the Billboard classical charts.

This Washington Post article is interesting:
Classical artists such as Hilary Hahn chart big on Billboard with little sales

"The dirty secret of the Billboard classical charts is that album sales figures are so low, the charts are almost meaningless. Sales of 200 or 300 units are enough to land an album in the top 10. Hahn's No. 1 recording, after the sales spike resulting from her appearance on Conan, bolstered by blogs and press, sold 1,000 copies."

As delighted as I am to be able to add the tagline to my resume, I was actually surprised to make the Billboard charts because I didn't think I'd sold very many. How many did I sell that week to make the #7 spot? I sold 640 full album downloads (I'm assuming Soundscan doesn't count single song downloads). This last week I sold 709 copies, which put me at #12.

What doesn't get reported though is what I call "purchase enthusiasm". In other words, how many of you opted to pay $20, $30, $50, even $100 for a download of my new album. I've been floored by your generosity (thank you!).

Other bits of data for you to interpret as you wish: on Bandcamp, as of today I've had 71,115 plays (57,789 complete plays, 13,317 partial plays)...1700 Bandcamp album sales and 1988 album pre-orders. Someone also pointed out that my album is on numerous filesharing sites, and one site logs 27,000 downloads of it. This listen-to-buy ratio doesn't seem all that great to me, but then, I have nothing to compare it to.

I'm in this for the long run (the Natoma album has keep me housed and fed for four years) and happy with how things are going, especially given that I've done zero promo. So I won't dwell any more on the numbers but will get back to the more important task of making music. I have a performance with a ballet to get ready for on August 3rd.