Unbelievable: The Following Artists Are Not Getting Paid by SoundExchange

It just seems broken: on one hand, you have companies like Pandora struggling to make royalty payments and survive as a business.

But a lot of those payments are getting dumped into a dead-end bank account at SoundExchange, never getting distributed to artists or labels.  Part of the reason is that tens of thousands artists have never registered, or worse, have no idea they should be registering in the first place.

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But these aren’t all obscure names.  Instead, a recently-published list of unregistered SoundExchange artists features dozens of artists you just might recognize.  These artists account for a huge number of spins, yet many of these owed royalties become unrecoverable after October 15th.

Here’s the list. Some of these bands are receiving partial payments for certain members, others are getting nothing.  And if you want proof, it’s all right here.Skrillex
Flavor Flav
Bernie Taupin
the estate of Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopez
Billy Bob Thornton
Swedish House Mafia
Fitz & the Tantrums
A$ap Rocky
Florence and the Machine
Geto Boys
Rebecca Black
Goodie Mob
Nic Harcourt
DJ Khalid
the estate of J Dilla
Gene Simmons
Fleet Foxes
Fleetwood Mac
Rob Zombie
Irv Gotti
the estate of Andy Gibb
Bill Clinton
the estate of Dimebag Darrell
Gucci Mane
Benny Blanco
Robin Williams
P. Funk
Cali Swag District
the estate of Luciano Pavarotti
Pauly D
Louis CK
Pastor Troy
Die Antwoord
Artie Lange
Salif Keita
Broken Social Scene
Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth
the estate of DJ AM
Lord Finesse
Leon Huff
Childish Gambino
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
L.A. Guns
Leon Huff
The Byrds
Astrud Gilberto
Lil’ Romeo
Box Tops
Brother Ali
Lost Boyz
Charlie Sheen
Cash Money Millionaires
the estate of Celia Cruz
The Dust Brothers
DJ Kool
Diamond D
Steven Van Zandt
the estate of Edith Piaf
Martin Solveig
MC Lyte
Evan & Jaron
Ennio Morricone
the estate of Fred Astaire
Stuck Mojo
MC Eiht
Get Busy Committee
the estate of GG Allin
Husker Du
3 Doors Down
Memphis Bleek
Melky Sedeck
the estate of Irving Berlin
Shudder to Think
the estate of Israel Kamakawiwo Ole
Montell Jordan
Jackie Evancho
Izzy Stradlin
Machine Gun Kelly
Mad Lion
The Afghan Whigs
The Lox
Laura Benanti

23 Responses

  1. tippysdemise

    My guess that that they are not being paid by SoundExchange because they are being paid by someone else. Artists at this level may have the clout to enter into direct arrangements of some kind. Another factor to consider is that it is likely that very few artists in this list own their master recordings, which would mean their earnings would be on performer side only.

    • DAV

      hmm. doesn’t sound likely. not sure who’s making direct licenses like that.

  2. marsiano

    the problem is: is there a way to register your music for commercial use without signing an exclusive contract in which you give away your right to do what you think it’s best in order to promote it on the internet (like using creative commons licences for example)?

    from what I know it’s still not possible in Italy and France. don’t know about the USA, or if there is any international service who offers this choice.

  3. Anonymous

    It’s a crazy thought, but could it be that maybe a lot of these artists just don’t feel an urgent need to collect the revenues. I mean, why would a manager fail to let that go by? Most of the artists on that list ARE pretty well known, and it IS likely that they have various revenue streams. But there could also be a huge communication issue.

  4. KPOP

    A lot of kpop artists are on the list too

    For example, artists with name start with 2




  5. Question

    Sorry if this is a dumb question but what happens to those royalties then? What will SE do with them exactly?

    • Soundexchange

      from the link, they are authorized by law to use it to offset their cosst and distribute proportionally to artists who register.

      $31 million in unclaimed royalties

      50,000 artists unclainmed

      average is $620.

      The range is from $10 to $100,000.

      • ?

        What “law”? Seems like a scare tactic to entice more registrants? But this is all new to me….

  6. DAV

    these are some of the easiest people to find in the world. by making them register, you increase the chance you get to keep the money for your “Non Profit”.

  7. Herman V

    For any US-based artist on this list, it’s just their own ignorance. The US has compulsory licensing for digital broadcasts, and if an artist wants his royalties, he will need to register with SoundExchange.

    (And noone can blaim SoundExchange for not making enough noise about that…!)

    But for non-US artists… SoundExchange has reciprical agreements with similar organisations in other countries (such as PPL in the UK), and those organisations should tell SoundExchange who their members are. But I see loads of UK artists on the SX list… Those artists will be relying on PPL to represent them properly, but obviously that is not working very welll.

  8. jonweisberger

    Kind of a contentious title, demonstrating yet again DMN’s as-yet-unexplained animus against SX. A more accurate one would be “The Following Artists Have Not Yet Registered With SoundExchange,” but, sadly, there’s nothing unbelievable or shocking about that.

    • Truther

      Agreed. The headline (and body) is so incredibly biased, it actually discourages artists from registering to get paid. When DMN does vitriolic biased pieces like this, they make the problem even worse. It’s a win for DMN advertisers because DMN gets the clicks, but a lose lose for everyone else. In the end, the only one who ends up paid is Paul Resnikoff and any of these other scam conferences who advertise on his site

    • Sad

      If you’re company is screwed up then blame the media!

      This list is reprehensible.

      SX has an entire system designed to obfuscate so they keep the money for themselves and stupid “operations”. Skrillex is probably the EASIEST person to find in the world!

    • paul

      I’m not sure I accept that angle, Jon. As author of this post, I’m asking a question, and stating some facts while clearly mentioning that these artists haven’t registered (see paragraph one above). Should I call you next time so we can consult on a title that you approve?

      The question is, why aren’t these incredibly famous artists getting paid on this royalty? If the answer is, ‘they’re not following the rules and procedures as created by SoundExchange,’ then that might be a reasonable defense. Then again, should those rules and procedures be reanalyzed in the first place, given these pretty obvious failures?

      Should companies like Pandora be forced to pay higher royalties, when an unacceptable percentage of these payments are not matched to the actual copyright owner?

      Looking down a few comments, there seems to be an insider with a plausible explanation for why these artists aren’t connecting with SoundExchange. But that seems to be the exception in these debates: the most interesting aspect I find is that SoundExchange frequently launches some sort of counter-offensive against Digital Music News when we raise questions like this, instead of offering a transparent answer.

      And I rarely get a straight, transparent answer from these guys. Which of course, only raises more questions in my mind.


      • Food For Thought

        Paul, above you state that an “unacceptable percentage” of royalties are not being paid. What would an acceptable percentage be? 1%? 5%? 10%? I’m sincerely asking what your opinion on this is. What percentage of the other PRO’s collected revenues goes into the “black box”? Any idea?

        How SHOULD SoundExchange determine who they pay? Surely you’d agree that SoundExchange must have some registration process, no? If they didn’t you can be sure they’d be opening themselves to allegations (and lawsuits) of paying the wrong people, wouldn’t they? And then wouldn’t there be an equal outcry about how “foolish” they were for not being sure who they were paying. So, how do you (all) suggest they go about registration that would be equal parts responsibly verifying while also being easy enough for artists to reasonably accomplish?

        Maybe before you answer you should take a few minutes to check out their online registration process. It takes about 10-15 minutes to accomplish and, I assert, could be completed by even the least computer savvy people alive. AND, if you fall below that threshold you can phone SoundExchange and have one of their staffers help you register.

        Like other commenters here, I have first hand experience talking to artists with large unclaimed balances at SoundExchange, urging them to register and they just don’t. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they don’t believe there’s actually money for them (and who can blame them in this industry?). Maybe they’re making so much money they don’t care. Maybe they think their managers are handling it. Who knows? To DMN, did you contact ANY of the artists on the list you published and ask what their story is? I know a few of ’em and I did. Each answered that they were in the process of getting their registrations done.

        I won’t guess the reasons why your posts about SoundExchange seem to only highlight the negative about them (instead of, for instance, pointing out that they are the only PRO in the U.S. that is attempting to make payments based upon actual plays instead of BS sampling of airplay like Ascap, BMI & SESAC does, that SoundExchange by law could have long ago released the unclaimed money to the general pool but haven’t while continuing to search and get artists registered, or that SoundExchange is one of the very few growing revenue streams for artists – I’ve never read any of the above at DMN). But as another commenter stated, I’ll repeat that I think it’d serve more artists if part of your message to your readers was: search the SoundExchange database and if you find your name be sure to register & claim your royalties (with a link where artists can register – .

  9. Union Officer

    As an AFM officer, one of my jobs is to track people down and connect them with their unclaimed funds. Not only do we sit on the Board of Soundexchange, we have the AFM/AFTRA Fund which distributes to the non featured musicians and singers. The AFM also has several other funds, such as the Special Payments Fund and the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund. What many do not understand is the challenge in getting people to either sign up or even just cash their checks when they receive them. I have also heard directly from musicians about special reasons why they don’t want to receive this money (divorces, tax issues, etc). I have sat with AFM members in my office, showing them the number of plays they’re getting (SX website), explaining that they have money waiting for them, and they still don’t sign up. I wish I could say I understand why, but I don’t.

    Nothing is ever as simple as you might think, even giving money to those that have earned it.

    • @mattadownes

      It’s these types of informed, responsible and transparent answers that would bridge the gap between the artist and business people of the music industry.

  10. @eiht0eiht

    SoundExchange sits on millions for obscure artists they can’t locate, like Skrillex, NWA…

  11. @annielin

    The AARC list for AHRA royalties has some pretty crazy entries on it too.

  12. JS

    Disclosure: I worked as a consultant for SX for a couple of years. My job was to track down artists and get them registered. First of all, it is sometimes very difficult to determine who the artist is. For example, Fleetwood Mac, or other groups that have had a revolving door of members over the years. These people have to be found, which can be incredibly difficult, then tied to the specific tracks on which they performed. I know for a fact that members of Fleetwood Mac are receiving payments from SX. But since perhaps not every person who has even been a member of that band has registered, the band still shows up on the “unpaid” list. As in most things, there is more to the story than what seems obvious.

    And then there are the artists who for whatever reason just don’t fill out the paperwork. I had one who was owed about $40K. It took me a year of calling, writing, cajoling (and almost begging) to get him to sign the damn paperwork! That is NOT the fault of SX! (Although, admittedly, the forms can be intimidating).

    Another very complex area involved artists or band members who are deceased. Finding heirs and relatives is sometimes impossible. And I’m convinced some folks simply don’t want to be found for whatever reason.

    I have my issues with SX, but I cannot be silent on this point. If these artists are not receiving payments, it is not for lack of trying on the part of SX. Trust me on this one. But they keep trying. By statute, the unpaid royalites of many of these artists could have gone back in the pool years ago, but SX is holding out in hopes they will finally register.

    You say, “it just seems broken.” I don’t know that you can tie the problems mentioned above with what Pandora should or shouldn’t be paying. I’ll just say that at this point in time, any living artist who “has “no idea they should be registering in the first place” seriously needs to pull his or her head out. Or get some new advisors or friends.

  13. @AndyLykens

    Has anyone had any experience getting digital royalties through TuneSat?

    Their back-end system is incredible at tracking broadcast television usages as I saw when I worked at Warner/Chappell. Perhaps their digital tracking is an alternative to SoundExchange?

    I agree that SX needs to see major improvements. My guess is that most of these artists are probably not even aware it exists.