You may have heard that SABC is finally starting to pay back the R250million in royalties owed to musicians, so I thought now is a good time to shed some light on how to actually get your royalties.
If you’re a musician, I’m confident that by the end of this article you will know a lot more about the different royalty collection agencies. You will learn what they do & what you need to do to get what’s owed to you.
First off, you need to be an active musician. You qualify for royalty payments if:
- you have music playing on radio or TV
- you have music playing in any other commercial space i.e. restaurants & shops
- your music is on jukeboxes
- you are performing your own music at events / concerts
- other people have recorded or performed songs that you’ve written
- you have helped write someone else’s song, or you performed on their song
- you have CDs that are selling in music stores, or getting streamed on Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube
If you tick one or more of the above boxes, then you need to be a member of:
- RiSA – Recording Industry of South Africa
- SAMRO – South African Music Rights Organisation
- SAMPRA – South African Music Performance Rights Association
- CAPASSO – Composers Authors & Publishers Association
In this article I will unpack what each of these agencies does & what you need to do with each one to get what’s owed to you.
What they do:
- Give you your own ISRC code (the code radio stations & streaming platforms use to track the amount of times they play your song). You must have an ISRC code for your song before you send it anyone or before any collection agencies can pay you.
- Collect jukebox royalties on your behalf for all the venues in South Africa that own jukeboxes that have your music on them. If you have music videos playing on TV stations like TRACE, they will also collect your music video royalties through a diving of RiSA called RAV (RiSA Audio Visual).
What you need to do:
- Register to become a member online HERE.
- RiSA will send you your own code. Read the instructions on how to create your own ISRC codes
- create an Excel spreadsheet & start assigning codes so you can keep track of all your codes (example below)
- These codes are vital for royalty payments. These codes are used to track where & when your music is playing, and SAMRO, SAMPRA & CAPASSO all need this code to figure out how much they owe you.
- If you are distributing your music independently through platforms like Distrokid or Tunecore, they’ll give you an option to use your own RiSA generated ISRC code, or to use their own. You can use either or.
- If you’re signed to a label, they should collect the royalties owed for jukeboxes & music videos on your behalf & pay you your share according to your contract.
- If you are not signed to a label, you need to join RAV. If you have music on jukeboxes or on TV, you need to make sure they are paying you what’s owed to you. You’ll need all the ISCR codes for the songs on jukeboxes as well as the ISRC codes for your music videos on TV. Go visit them in Jo’burg. They’re right by Multichoice. Otherwise, try calling / emailing them.
What they do:
- SAMRO collects publishing royalties from commercial spaces that play music, and distribute those royalties to their members. Publishing royalties are paid to people who own the intellectual property to a song i.e. people that have written the melody, lyrics or anything else that constitutes as an original idea to a song.
Important information about intellectual property:
- If you wrote a song that someone has made a cover of, and that cover is playing in commercial spaces, then the person who made the cover must register you as the writer. You are entitled to 100% of the publishing royalty for that cover.
- If you cover a song that someone else wrote, you need to credit them as the writer so SAMRO can pay them the publishing royalty.
- Respect others intellectual property. If you get caught stealing other people’s ideas, you will not only look like an idiot, but you can face serious penalties. The choice is yours!
What you need to do:
- become a member HERE & follow up if you don’t hear back.
- once you’re a member, make sure SAMRO give you your login details for your online portal, where you can register your work, live performances & check when & where you’re getting paid.
- Make sure your songs are registered before you send them off to radio stations, and notify your publisher if you have one.
- If there was more than one writer on the song, make sure that you have written confirmation of the splits for the song before you register it. For example, if I’ve made a song with my friend Mathew Gold, we need to agree on who gets what (we normally just split it 50 /50 ) & then we both need to register the songs our sides with those splits. I have written many songs with other artists & have failed to confirm the correct splits. What ends up happening is that when I register the song on my portal, I will register the songs with what I think the splits are, and if my splits don’t match up to the splits that the other artists have registered, the royalties get frozen & you won’t get paid until your splits correlate.
- Keep track of your payments. If you know that your song is playing on the radio or anywhere else, make sure that you’re results correlate. You can track your payments by clicking the “Historic Distributions” tab on your SAMRO portal. I recently found out that despite having thousands of spins on the radio, I had not received a cent for my song “You Say You Love Me” in over 3 years. I queried them about it, the problem got solved, and I got paid for that song yesterday.
- Remember to register all your live performances on your portal too. You might be paid a fee by the event / festival owner, but not many musicians know that there’s a publishing royalty owed to you too when you play to a crowd.
Registering a song should be a quick and painless process, and sometimes it is. But unfortunately, SAMRO can sometimes be a pain to deal with. There’s often a lot of human error involved when songs are registered. I’ve had cases where there was incorrect spelling of the name of the song, or they forgot to include one punctuation mark, and it throws the whole system. They are also terrible at responding to emails or phone calls. But it’s not doom & gloom. As far as I know they’re working on a new system which makes the registering process a lot more streamlined, and I have faith that whatever teething problems there will hopefully be fixed in future. (We’re counting on you Karabo Senna).
In the meantime, my suggestion would be this: visit them at the SAMRO building in Braamfontein. Save yourself the trouble of emailing & phoning them, sit down with one of the consultants, see them face to face & deal with whatever problems you may be having then and there. It will save you a lot of time. You need to be patient & just take things step by step. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Trust me, I’ve been through it all. The juice is worth the squeeze.
Do you need a publisher to deal with your publishing royalties?
If you’re good at doing admin, and happy to negotiate potential synchs for adverts & movies, then no. If you’d prefer to have someone helping you with this kind of stuff, yes. If you’re already signed with a publisher, they should be sorting out SAMRO admin for you, and actively seeking out synch opportunities for your music. If you have a deal like mine, you’ll be paying them around 1/3 of your publishing royalties in return for their service.
I would be more than happy to give them that cut if I didn’t have to worry about the teething problems that come with registering music with SAMRO, but unfortunately publishers are often looking after a large catalogue of music & they can’t always investigate every song under a microscope, or pitch your song for every opportunity (unless it’s a massive hit).
As I mentioned earlier, I recently just got paid for You Say You Love Me (a song that I haven’t received a cent for in over 3 years). My publisher only came to the party after I did a bit of detective work myself, and it made me question why I’m giving them 1/3 of my publishing royalties if I’m doing the groundwork myself. In an ideal world they would’ve come to the party before I even suspected something wasn’t right, but it just is what it is. I am in a position now where I must decide if I should either 1. stay with my publisher 2. explore alternative publishers, or 3. self-publish. All are viable options, but at the end of the day you need to decide which will work for you.
- Sign up with RadioMonitor to get comprehensive data, showing you which stations your music is playing on, and how many plays your songs are getting. The person in charge of RadioMonitor South Africa is Jarrod Aston-Assenheim, and you can mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up. This data is helpful if you think your royalty payments don’t match the amount you’re getting i.e. if SAMRO’s only paying you R10 for a song but it’s got 1000 plays on radio, you’ll have evidence to show them that something’s not adding up & they will do a recalculation.
Example of radio monitor report:
What they do:
- SAMPRA collects needletime from radio stations & retail spaces that play music, and distribute those royalties to their members. Needletime royalties are paid to people who performed on the studio recorded version of a song aka the master.
- Performers include featured performers, other featured performers (Mathew Gold would be the other featured performer on a track like The Kiffness – Too Blessed to be Stressed ft. Mathew Gold) & the non-featured performers i.e. the session musicians (drummers, bassists, backing vocalists, triangle players and anyone in between).
- If you wrote a song AND you performed on it, then you are entitled to both a publishing royalty from SAMRO as well as a needletime royalty from SAMPRA.
- If you covered someone else’s song, then you are entitled to the needletime royalty (for performing it), but not the publishing (because it wasn’t your idea first).
What you need to do:
- you can try your luck with signing up to become a member HERE, but I can tell you that after many emails & calls to SAMPRA over a one year span, I had no luck with online applications or phone calls. I only became a made when I went to go see them at the SAMRO Building in Braamfontein. Once I was there, the process of making me a member took no longer than 5 minutes. (see more on this HERE).
- Once a member, I’ve actually enjoyed working with SAMPRA. They seem to be good at payments once they have you on their system & they all the info they need. If your music is signed to a label like Sony or Universal, there’s a good chance that your music is already on their system & has accrued royalties, provided your music has been active on private radio stations or any retail space. It’s just a matter of making sure they have all your details so they can pay you what’s owed.
- If you’re not with a label, you need to register your songs with them. You can try your luck HERE.
- There’s a good chance your online notifications will be ignored, so best bet is to just go see them in person. When you go to see them, take ID, your catalogue (preferably on a CD with the sleeve info which shows that you are a performer on the songs), ISRC codes & any other info which you think might be useful to them & they should be able to help you out.
SAMPRA are sitting with a massive “undoc” list of songs (over 30,000 songs from 2009 – 2016) that have accrued royalties from the people that license our music from SAMPRA, but those royalties haven’t been claimed for one of two (or both) reasons:
1. the artists don’t know about them
2. there’s been broken telephone & the artist name or song title has been reported incorrectly, and then it can’t be sent to the artists. Here you can see some of my songs on the undoc list:
“Where Are You Going?” landed up on the undoc list because on my album the song doesn’t have a question mark at the end, but the reported version it does. Because of that one error, I couldn’t get paid. The other songs also ended up in undoc because of the “(SA)” at the end of the featured artists’ name. According to SAMPRA, sometimes radio stations report the songs with “(SA)” to keep track of the local songs they’re playing, but it messes up the whole payment system.
Anyway, it’s not the end of the world! If something like this happens to you (which is likely), the money’s still there waiting to be claimed. It’s just a matter of correcting whatever spelling or punctuation mistakes there are in the reports, and it will get sorted. Despite the initial frustration of having my membership application ignored, I’ve enjoyed working with SAMPRA & I’m all sorted now after visiting SAMPRA & have been enjoying the benefits of my performance royalty cheques coming through from SAMPRA every couple months. That being said, the SABC still haven’t paid the R102million they owe to SAMPRA. Of that pot, I have reason to believe (based on my guesstimates) that around R100k of the SABC debt belongs to me, and the remaining R101,9mill belongs to all the other talented musicians that have recorded almost all of the local music you hear on your favourite SABC stations. This alone, is why I refuse to send my music to SABC stations.
What they do:
- CAPASSO collects mechanical royalties from CD sales & streams, and distributes those royalties to their members. Mechanical royalties are paid to the writers and the publishers of a song.
- If you performed on a song (even a cover) & that song ends up on an album, compilation CD (like NOW) & gets streamed on Apple & Spotify, then you are owed a mechanical royalty from CAPASSO.
What you need to do:
- If you have a publishing deal, your publisher should be collecting your CAPASSO royalties on your behalf & paying you around 2/3 of the mechanical royalties accrued from the collection (depending on your contract).
- If you don’t have a publisher, you need to become a member of CAPASSO & you can become your own publisher. You can try your luck HERE.
- My experience of working with CAPASSO has been a bit of a LOL. CAPASSO requires a joining fee of R100, which I paid. When I went to go see them in the SAMRO building at Braamfontein I asked them about the status of my membership. They said I’m not a member, so I told them to check their emails. The lady there found my email & said “oh the guy who was meant to make you a member resigned, so that’s why you haven’t been made a member.” I could only laugh because of how ridiculous it was. Anyway, I only later found out that in order to become a member I can’t be signed to a publisher, so again I need to decide whether I’m happy to let my publisher take 1/3 of my mechanical royalties, or if I should tackle CAPASSO myself.
If you want to get what’s owed to you as a South African musician, you’re going to have to accept that it might not be smooth sailing. However, I can tell you with confidence that if you follow my guidelines & you are patient & persistent, you will eventually get what is rightfully yours.
I’m also aware that everything I have said is based purely off information that has presented to me during my journey, and I’m open to constructive criticism. If there are any peers or people in the music industry who pick up incoherencies in anything I have said, please feel free to email me at email@example.com, or even just drop me a DM on any one of my social platforms @thekiffness & I will happily update the article so that it can be as accurate as possible & be as helpful to musicians as possible.
I need more information:
If anyone has any information about the needletime & publishing royalty rate per spin on various radio stations, please let me know. It’s amazing that we have access to the data via RadioMonitor, but it seems crazy that we don’t have access to the information which tells us how much we should be getting paid for each spin. If we had access to that information, it would mean we could hold our royalty collection agencies accountable for the amounts we’re getting paid. To the best of my knowledge, on average we should be getting R100/spin on stations like 5fm or 947, but I simply don’t have enough information to verify that. Any information regarding this would be greatly appreciated (firstname.lastname@example.org).