By Jeff Price
There are a multitude of reasons to love Canada, but there are eleven in particular that musicians should take note of, and they all come from the Canadian performing rights organization, (PRO) SOCAN.
Although not perfect, SOCAN is a shining example of how a performing rights organization should work for songwriters. The rest of the world should sit up, take notice and follow its lead.
1) SOCAN, like most PROs, is a not for profit entity that is owned by its publisher and writer members. And this is more or less where most of the similarities stop with other PROs.
The 18 members of its Board of Directors are determined by open elections. This does not mean that board members are voting to appoint other board members, or people are volunteering to be on the board. Any member of SOCAN in good standing can run to win one of the 18 spots on the Board.
Although other PROs have similar models, I’ve never seen a PRO have such an open process that did not substantially stack the deck in favor of pre-existing board members.
2) SOCAN does not take any deductions on international incoming revenue.
If you are a member of SOCAN, and your song is publicly performed outside of Canada (lets say Germany), the German PRO (called GEMA) will collect the public performance money. GEMA will then take a % of this money as its “admin fee” and then pass it back to SOCAN. SOCAN then pays it to its member.
Now here’s the amazing part: whereas every other PRO in the world (like ASCAP, BMI, PRS, GEMA, etc,) takes an additional second admin dip of about 3% – 6% of the songwriter’s foreign money that, SOCAN takes NO additional SECOND fee to get this money back to its members (the only other PRO I could find that does this is STIM, the Swedish PRO).
There is no law or requirement for SOCAN to do this, they just choose to.
This means as a SOCAN member, you will make more money off of foreign public performances than just about any other songwriter affiliated with their local PRO.
3) SOCAN takes no percentage of the songwriter’s money as a “cultural deduction.”
A “cultural deduction” usually happens with European PROs. This is a discretionary deduction taken from a songwriter’s money by the local PRO to use for “cultural purposes.” And yes, the definition of “cultural purpose” is about as vague as you think it is: parties, supporting local bands, promoting bands, or other things that may fall into shady categories. The amount they choose to take, and what they choose to spend it on, is determined by their Board of Directors. Songwriter members get no say, their money is just taken.
SOCAN (along with ASCAP/BMI/SESAC) takes no cultural deductions of any sort.
Kind of a no brainer to me.
4) SOCAN provides royalty calculators to help its members estimate and understand the royalties they will earn.
I can find no other PRO in the world that does this. SOCAN members can plug some info into an on-line calculator and it spits out how much money they should expect to be paid. For example, enter how long your music appears on a TV show/station and if it’s theme music, background music, etc, and the rate calculator will estimate the royalties generated.
Members can use this info not only to know how much they should expect to be paid, but also to do deals. For example, a member could choose to lower or raise the synch license as they see the income via public performance.
Not to mention when the songwriter’s statement shows up they can compare what they were paid with what they told they were going to be paid.
This is a huge level of transparency that no other PRO provides.
5) SOCAN also provides more transparency in its royalty statements.
On SOCAN’s on-line royalty statements, SOCAN members can see a deep level of itemized detail. For example, they see a line listing of each and every individual TV public performance, and the amount each one of those performances generates.
In addition, the rates posted on SOCAN’s website appear to be the actual rates they charge the TV stations, retail stores, radio stations, internet services, etc. There do not seem to be two sets of royalty rates—the ones posted on-line and the “real” ones that no one knows.
There is even a license fee calculator to help music users estimate license fees.
You can view SOCAN’s rates here.
6) SOCAN’s unidentified performances are posted online.
About 2% of what is reported to SOCAN for radio play is not indentified. This means that SOCAN cannot match the information to one of their members—they do not know to whom to credit it.
Unlike just about every other PRO in the world, SOCAN posts a list on its website asking for its members to identify whose public performances they are. Once that gets figured out, the songwriter gets paid.
7) SOCAN posts a “Missing in Action” list for the members they cannot find due to a change of address, death or some other issue.
You can view the current MIA list here.
May as well check to see if you’re on it. If so, there’s money waiting for you.
8 ) SOCAN has no “black box.”
Black box money is money that a PRO has but does not know who the songwriters are that it belongs to, or where they are. Therefore, the PRO gives this “unidentified” money away to other people or entities. SOCAN does not do this. The entire distribution pool is distributed each quarter with no money being held back to be given away later to the wrong people or entities.
God bless ‘em!
9) SOCAN has a creative suite of member benefits including houses in Los Angeles and Nashville donated by other SOCAN members. These are bedrooms in homes that are available for members at no cost to the member for up to two week stays (first come first served, and it must be booked in advance).
10) SOCAN has online tools allowing its members to make and track queries.
For example, a SOCAN member learns his/her song is on TV in Greece and asks SOCAN to check it out for him/her. The SOCAN member can track the progress of the query on-line.
In addition, SOCAN is actively pursuing ways to monitor international public performances on broadcast TV on behalf of its members.
This allows SOCAN to reach out to other PROs on behalf of its members to assure they are getting paid the right amount of money.
11) SOCAN made a freaking cool mobile app.
I’m just going to copy and paste from their website:
SOCAN has launched its new mobile app for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, offering its members and licensees 24/7 access to a wide array of functionality wherever they are. SOCAN members can now browse their catalogues, calculate their performance royalties and review their statements on the go. Whether in the studio, in a hotel room, or traveling to a gig, members can access their SOCAN account anytime, anywhere.
SOCAN licensees can also use a unique “licence finder” tool to determine which ones apply to their situation, and easily calculate their licence fees.
SOCAN’s app will soon be available for Blackberry and Windows smart phones. As members’ and licensees’ use of its mobile app increases, SOCAN will adjust it according to their input, improving its features and capabilities wherever possible.
The end result is a PRO that is providing a higher level of transparency, accuracy and openness resulting in more money going into songwriters’ pockets and an understanding as to how much money these songwriters should expect.
These seem like such obvious basic things, and yet, in the world of PROs and the collection of songwriter money, they are unique concepts.
The question is why…