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Getting paid: why is it so difficult?

Sounding Off: Tony Platt By Tony Platt

Getting paid: why is it so difficult?

Alright, so I know we're experiencing a downturn in the economy, fuelled by a 'credit crunch' initiated by some people's excessive greed and exacerbated by spectacular incompetence at government level. But should this mean that, after a recording session, producers and engineers like me have to work several times as hard to get paid? Getting paid: why is it so difficult?

About The AuthorTony Platt is a freelance engineer and producer who made his name at the legendary Island Studios. His discography can be found at www.platinumtones.com, along with his biography, contact details and information on the industry bodies he is affiliated with.

Let me give you some examples: I have been engaging in the twice-yearly battle to extract royalty statements and payments from various labels, both big and small. We are not talking about enormous sums of money here, just a few hundred pounds here and there. But it does add up to a reasonable contribution to my income.

I have clear contracts that state the responsibility of the labels in question to account to me within a fixed period, yet only a small percentage actually do. One label, in particular, has never sent me a statement in five years without being asked, often several times, while another sends me the statement on time, asking for an invoice that they then need to be reminded to settle. Furthermore, a major US label has managed to 'lose' letters from artists requesting that they account directly to me, and now refuses to do so on the basis that their policies have changed and no longer allow for this service.

It's not just me; I know that artists are suffering these unnecessary indignities too, and I am certain that at least the major labels are sitting on millions of pounds in unallocated royalties, earning huge sums in interest. They have even changed the rules to enable them to keep more of this 'retained' capital by electing not to pay any royalties below a certain figure: sometimes £25 but apparently as high as £50. Not significant were it only a couple of accounts, but the chances are it will be several thousand accounts.

So why the rant? Well, this is apparently no longer unusual practise. It has become 'the norm'. However, there is opportunity, everything is changing, and perhaps it's time to look long and hard not only at how the income streams are generated and what they contain, but how they are divided too.

Traditionally, we have had a fairly simple list of payees — record company, managers, publishers, artists and producers — and the pot from which payments were serviced comprised a mixture of royalty earnings and sales earnings (as well as some elements exclusive to artists). However, the artist now needs to look at their earning potential in terms of its collateral worth, so that publishing has solid speculative value, whereas merchandising and live performance ticket sales have more immediate and regular value.

The '360-degree model' — where the record company or investor takes a share of all the artist's income, from record sales to tours and merchandising — is a real-world example of this way of thinking, and one that has become very popular recently. Of course, managers have been enjoying the benefits of the 360-degree model for a long time, as many of them will take their percentage from their artists' total earnings.

Getting back on topic, producers and engineers have seen their achievable daily rate reducing in much the same way as studios have, with no consideration given to the time we spend in organisation prior to a session, or the fact that the majority of sessions go well beyond an eight-hour day. Most of us will have found it difficult to negotiate a daily rate higher than that of a plumber, bricklayer or other tradesman, yet we are expected to accept greater responsibility and work much longer.

Perhaps our 'creative' personalities prevent us from bringing up the subject of money, for fear that we will be seen as too mercenary. But actually the main reason is that, quite seriously, for the majority of us it is not the main priority and, cliched as it sounds, we really are here for the music.

What we do as engineers and producers is worth a great deal, and it should not be belittled because technology has made the tools available to anybody with a computer. Anyone can go and buy a plastering trowel but it takes a lot of skill, experience and determination to use it. The recognition of the role we play is as important as the role itself.

We need to urgently review how we value that in the short term, and how we will reward it in the long term as part of the new business models, such as the 360-degree one, that must emerge in order for this industry to survive.

Published October 2008