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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

December 2, 2009 at 3:44 PM

Real VP’s amazing saga of getting his band’s royalties

Warner Bros. messed with the wrong guy when it sent muddled royalty statements to Tim Quirk, singer for Too Much Joy, a pop band that had some traction in the 1980s and early 1990s and still sells a few downloads.

Warner wasn’t saying how much the band was making from digital music service.

But Quirk knew that it wasn’t that hard to figure out — he’s now a vice president at RealNetworks, where he helped build the database Rhapsody uses to track how much it pays for whatever music is played by the service.

Even so, it took years and a chance meeting with a Warner executive to get the label to disclose how much Too Much Joy was earning from downloads and subsription services.

Quirk was getting that sort of information from other outlets via IODA, an independent distribution service, but just not Warner.

It was about principle not profit when he finally received a tally last week, Warner reported 20 cents’ worth of download royalties and $62.27 of subscription royalties. It doesn’t look like the band will ever make enough to recoup Warner’s publishing expenses, which stand at $395,214.71.

Quirk — who used to be a music journalist — laid it all out in a blog post Tuesday that’s a great primer on how money is divvied up by music services and trickles down to bands.

An excerpt:

Here’s the thing: I work at Rhapsody. I know what we pay Warner Bros. for every stream and download, and I can look up exactly how many plays and downloads we’ve paid them for each TMJ tune that Warner controls. Moreover, Warner Bros. knows this, as my gig at Rhapsody is the only reason I was able to get them to add my digital royalties to my statement in the first place.

Another piece:

I knew that each online service was reporting every download, and every play, for every track, to thousands of labels (more labels, I’m guessing, than Warner has artists to report to). And I also knew that IODA was able to tell me exactly how much money my band earned the previous month from Amazon ($11.05), Verizon (74 cents), Nokia (11 cents), MySpace (4 sad cents) and many more. I didn’t understand why Warner wasn’t reporting similar information back to my band — and if they weren’t doing it for Too Much Joy, I assumed they weren’t doing it for other artists.

The wrap-up:

The sad thing is I don’t even think Warner is deliberately trying to screw TMJ and the hundreds of other also-rans and almost-weres they’ve signed over the years. The reality is more boring, but also more depressing. Like I said, they don’t actually owe us any money. But that’s what’s so weird about this, to me: they have the ability to tell the truth, and doing so won’t cost them anything.

They just can’t be bothered. They don’t care, because they don’t have to.

Now I’ve just got to give Too Much Joy a listen.

Comments | Topics: Digital media, RealNetworks

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