So today is “SOCAN Day,” that quarterly payout of artist royalties for airplay on radio, TV, etc. through Canada’s performing rights society (equivalent to ASCAP).
I fucking hate SOCAN Day, because for me as for anyone else getting airplay primarily through Canadian college radio, it’s pretty much a big middle finger. See, when you hear Nickelback or Mother Mother on a commercial station, they get paid every time on every station. It’s a small amount but it adds up.
College radio, however, gets a larger payment per play ($4 per play versus $1.80ish), but SOCAN in their wisdom has decided to only do random surveys. As a DJ myself, I can tell you how this operates: once per quarter each station is asked to write down every single song played over a period ranging from 3 days to an entire week, and SOCAN then determines your percentage of the pie based on that how many times your name comes up in these random surveys over the quarter.
Here’s the problem: maybe on my show I really like your new album and I play at least one song a week all quarter, but I’m on air Friday nights and that quarter’s survey happens to be Monday-Wednesday. And in niches like industrial there’s usually only one show per station that plays that niche. Or the survey happens the week before your album is released and by the time the next one comes a few months later there’s other newer stuff I’m playing.
You don’t get a dime then. And what’s maybe more important, especially for those of us who have other jobs and can support ourselves outside of music, is that in your SOCAN statements you can find out what station played your song at what time, which is valuable information to know where your fans are. Contrary to what one might think in the Internet age, not every radio station’s playlists are searchable on Google, and not everyone who hears you and likes you is going to rush out to follow on Twitter or Facebook so you can know they’re there.
Now, commercial radio uses the BDS system and everything is logged electronically, I realize that campus and community stations don’t have that resource, but here’s the thing: they already have playlist information that SOCAN could tap into to make sure every artist is paid for every play. The CRTC requires all stations to submit all their logs and all their playlists as part of their licensing requirements. Sure, some DJs don’t do it, and sure, some stations still do it on pen and paper instead of electronically, but the information is there, certainly in far greater amounts than what is collected in the current SOCAN random sampling method.
There are some bits of info that aren’t normally on the playlists that SOCAN demands in its surveys. Some of these make sense and I think would be reasonable to add to all the playlists in the interests of consolidating the system to ensure payouts across the board, and some are frankly idiotic requirements. In the former category would be the time the song was played, its duration, and whether it was the featured music or whether it was background as the DJ blathered over it.
Idiotic requirements are asking DJs to know who all the writers for each song are. That’s not always in the liner notes, and theses days with digital distro there may not even be any liner notes. Or the band just says “all songs written by YOUR BAND NAME HERE” yet the sheet wants individual names. And within a band, if one guy’s writing it all, eventually there will be tensions when the others are getting paid for his work (there are always exceptions where they’ve agreed to split it all equally, but again, this is information in the performance rights society’s database, so why should the DJ have to try to figure it out).
Even in old material the information may not be there. I recall one show in 2009 when it happened that the night I was having to do the SOCAN survey was the night I had Dave Rave Ogilvie in as a special guest and Rave brought a bunch of his old industrial vinyl. I filled out as much as I could during the show, then over the next week spent probably eight hours trying to find out who wrote what by these various obscure 80s acts. Eventually, only Test Department stymied me, because they apparently had the political view that they were a collective and as such were not going to list individuals’ names or credits. In the end I gave up and just listed all the 15-20 people Wikipedia mentioned as having been know to participate in Test Department at one time or another.
Anyway, the big problem I have is it always seems newsletters etc. from SOCAN are all about “hey, we’re fighting for you in Ottawa for [insert obscure 2 cent tariff here]” like we should be stoked about it. That’s nice and all, but if you really want me to be impressed, fix the college radio payout system, pay me for every play even if it’s just a small amount each – hell, $2 each for 50 plays beats the Hell out of $4 each but only on two plays.
In a side note, as I’ve been writing this I’ve been joking on Facebook about the system with Brian from c0ndu1t. Apparently the big money is in having your music played in strip clubs. Or played while people wait on hold.
I doubt too much of my stuff would be bought for hold music since it’s not the sort of thing that will placate angry customers waiting for customer service, but I think it’s long overdue to have something new to break “It’s Raining Men”‘s stranglehold on the male stripper song market. Might as well be me who writes it!