Songwriting is more than a creative pursuit. It’s a business… one you as the songwriter must run as CEO of your own company.
The business of songwriting is challenging enough in today’s music industry landscape. This makes the data on how your catalog is performing more than just a curiosity, but a valuable part of a songwriter’s livelihood.
Fortunately, music publishers and publishing services are adding features designed to give songwriters more information than ever before about their catalog's earnings and performance. This increased visibility is also making it easier for to get catalog advances as well.
After all, the more known about a catalog’s past performance, the better opportunity there is to make smart bets on how it might perform in the future. This kind of analysis is critical to making better (and bigger) advances or offers on catalog sales.
For instance, Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) on Feb. 18 unveiled the latest iteration of its royalty portal, called Royalty Window. Among the new features is extending “pipeline” advances to international earnings. Sony/ATV announced plans last July to overhaul its royalty systems to include more data and an advance capability as well.
So let’s take a look at the different royalty portal services out there, what information they collect and provide, and the financial opportunities they give songwriters.
We’ll focus first on the services offering both analytics and advances, followed by those offering analytics only.
Advances and Analytics
Universal Music Publishing Group
UMPG’s Royalty Window portal provides an at-a-glance account summary of the total balance, payments, recoupable costs, and other adjustments made to overall catalog earnings. The example above shows how Royalty Window displays complete catalog analytics by royalty type across historical earning periods.
Its Royalty Analysis feature presents earnings by type (performance, synch, etc.) overall and by song in table format. It also breaks down earnings by territory and a full list of all songs in the system complete with cowriters.
UMPG introduced no-fee pipeline advances back in 2015, but only for earnings generated domestically. With the latest update, it added international earnings in real-time.
To get a pipeline advance, songwriters must first make a request using the online form (above). UMPG will then present the songwriter with the amount it is comfortable providing.
Kobalt was built from the ground up as a data-driven company, and considers data and analysis its core differentiator. So it’s no surprise to see that its user portal rather robust. The graphs above show how it provides detailed information about income by royalty over time, top songs by period, and income earned by territory. It also provides more detailed tables for full-catalog and by-song earnings and sources. One unique view is its sync tab, which shows if any songs in your catalog are in negotiation for sync placement, which songs have the most syncs, and recent syncs landed along with their payment status.
Kobalt offer pipeline advances, but for a fee. Both the advance and the fee must be recouped. If not, Kobalt will extend your agreement with them by 36 months. Kobalt calculates the amount it is willing to advance based on its analysis of your catalog.
Royalty Exchange is not a music publisher. But it can provide analytics and advances based on data collected when users connect their ASCAP, BMI, or Sony/ATV account to its system (with support for other sources coming soon).
As the images above show, the analytics provided include top-earning formats and top-earning songs, as well as earnings by territory, royalty type, and overall earnings over the lifetime of the catalog vs the last 12 months.
Royalty Exchange advances work differently than pipeline advances.
With a pipeline advance, the publisher simply looks at the earnings generated since a songwriter’s last payment and gives them the ability to collect some or all of these new earnings before the next regularly scheduled distribution.
Because royalty payments are often distributed quarterly, this is an important feature that allows songwriters to better manage their cash flow. However, they’re only advancing what they know they’ll eventually collect. Royalty Exchange offers larger advances based on predictions of future cash flows.
Royalty Exchange offers a term-based, 10-year advance on public performance royalties. The system will present the best cash offer available on any given day from a network of investors interested in buying royalty streams. If accepted, the buyer will collect royalties for the next 10 years, while the songwriter collects a larger upfront payment than is possible from a pipeline advance. The system will also present offers for catalog sales as well. In all cases, songwriters retain their underlying rights and are only selling or loaning a portion of their income for upfront payment.
Sony/ATV’s portal graphically breaks down earnings by territory, source of royalties (performance vs mechanical, etc.), top-earning songs, and top sources of revenue (YouTube, Spotify, etc.). This data is available for your catalog overall, and for each individual song in your catalog in their system.
Those who want to drill down further can see total earnings by song, income type, and summaries of total earnings, earnings source, and more in a table format.
While the portal does not currently offer a pipeline advance, it’s a feature expected soon. Sony/ATV last year announced plans to add a “Cash Out” function to let songwriters request advances.
Warner/Chappell’s portal simply shows you how much you’ve earned in royalties to date. It also lists the details of the works in its system, with the names of the co-writers credited and their percentage of ownership. There’s no earning breakdown by song, territory, source, etc. No advance feature.
Songtrust’s user portal provides a detailed breakdown of royalties by type (mechanical vs performance, etc), as well as quarterly. It also provides estimated earnings for current quarters, lists total earnings both quarterly and lifetime, and a detailed table of earnings by royalty type and source.
While Songtrust doesn’t offer advances, it does provide a search tool that any songwriter can use to estimate the amount of royalties due to them, regardless if you’re a client or not.
If information is power, then songwriters are getting more powerful by the day. Take control of your business with the data and financing now available to you.