Tracking and Getting Paid For Your Music Performances

Film Music Institute > Film Music Magazine (Archives) > Final Note (Archive) > Tracking and Getting Paid For Your Music Performances

Imagine a world where broadcast performances of your music on television are recorded and available to you, right on your computer’s desktop, within an hour of airplay. Fantasy? Not any more. Tunesat’s service delivers that and more, finally giving composers the ability to proactively track and document performances of their music on television.

Keeping the Performing Rights Societies Honest

For decades, composers have had to sit back and wait for the performing rights societies to track music using antiquated random surveys and systems where a digit wrong in an episode number can easily mean the loss of hundreds or thousands of dollars. The responsibility for creating and delivering cue sheets was put on music editors and production company music staff (if any), all of whom have zero financial interest in performance royalties being paid accurately and completely. Royalty statements from the societies listing performances were provided 9 to 12 months after the performances aired, making researching missed performances more difficult. And if your music performance didn’t “make the survey”, the money paid by the broadcaster to license that performance was paid by the society to someone else. Despite the fact that technology has, for many years, been able to track transactions as small as a penny worldwide, tracking technology at the societies is woefully inadequate, especially if the appalling 72% performing rights society failure rate at tracking music used in the Freeplay Library test is anywhere close to accurate.

Even when ASCAP spent tens of millions of dollars of members’ royalty money to create MediaGuide, ASCAP’s own proprietary tracking system, as with most things at ASCAP it was designed to benefit songwriters primarily. The technical design of MediaGuide made it applicable primarily on radio, where music is played in the clear. MediaGuide lacks the ability that Tunesat has to identify music under dialogue and sound effects, rendering it all but unusable for score music performances on television, ASCAP’s largest revenue source.

Thankfully the folks at Tunesat take a much wider view of music tracking, and don’t suffer under the political delusion that custom score music is worth less than songs when it comes to tracking music performances. With Tunesat comes the ability for composers to have third-party, independent monitoring of television music performances that provides direct access to live performance data including recordings for verification purposes delivered directly to a composer’s desktop – that’s light years ahead of what the performing rights societies offer today. What’s more, rather than go through the headache of having your music fingerprinted by multiple societies with their own proprietary, redundant systems, you can have your music fingerprinted once by Tunesat and get reports regardless of what society you belong to now or in the future.

While composers and songwriters lining up at the societies, armed with Tunesat reports and recordings of their music usages and demanding payments for missed performances may not make the societies happy, it will be hard for the societies to object to more accurate performance tracking, despite it being done by an independent third party. The bottom line for composers: more identified performances can mean more royalty income.

Direct Billing Broadcasters For Your Royalties

As Tunesat grows and covers more of television, it will be interesting to see how their service further enables the growth of direct licensing where broadcasters pay performance royalties directly to composers, completely avoiding the delays and politically-motivated payment formulas of the performing rights societies. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a network or cable channel and a composer will agree on a per-play performance fee for their music, and both agree that Tunesat will be the independent provider of performance tracking data. Under this scenario, composers can finally be freed from the shackles of ASCAP’s notorious “weighting formula” that so severely penalizes royalty rates for custom score music and advertising music as compared to songs, and can negotiate their own rate, billing terms, and more. Tunesat reports become composer invoices, and composers are paid directly and quickly.

Direct, unfiltered, live performance data is a good thing for composers who are interested in managing their royalty income proactively. Whether it’s used as evidence to claim missed performances from a performing rights society or enables direct billing to broadcasters/production companies and payments direct to composers, it’s a huge step forward from the era of random surveys and outdated technology.

Keeping Music Libraries Honest

Tunesat is also a great way for composers and songwriters to make sure that music libraries are properly accounting to them for placements of their music – for far too long, composers have had to “trust” that the libraries were providing complete accounting for their music, with no practical way to verify who was using their music. Many libraries have historically provided little or no data about exactly who was using their music and for what productions, leaving composers helpless to enforce their rights if they were unable to determine who was using their music.

From the library perspective, while composers armed with independent, verifiable airplay data may be a nightmare to some unscrupulous libraries, reputable libraries stand to benefit greatly by Tunesat’s tracking in terms of identifying unauthorized use of the library’s music aka copyright infringement. The federal penalties available, not to mention what might be negotiated as a compensatory payment for the library to be shared with composers in lieu of legal action, can be considerable.

The one glaring issue with Tunesat from the library point of view is the business model of so-called “renaming libraries” where these libraries license music from composers, rename it, and register it as a new work with the performing rights societies. Beyond the fact that it makes the societies look like they represent more music than they actually do, duplicate music cues with different names and publishers are indistinguishable to Tunesat since Tunesat knows a waveform and not a title. In cases where a composer has licensed a work to multiple libraries, filmmakers, etc, it may be up to the composer to sort out if any of his licensees have authorized performances of music that Tunesat detects.


Composers can and must take control of the business side of their careers in order to succeed. Performance royalties and music library-related income are currently major sources of income for composers, especially in an era where composer fees are eroding rapidly. Ensuring that all music performances are properly tracked and paid is no longer a luxury for composers, it has become mission critical to the survival of a composer in today’s marketplace.

For more information on Tunesat, visit


  • Tobi Lee Billings
    May 21, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

    That’s really gonna screw up things for the composers and music libraries that do have music in libraries that rename. Renaming is a good way of being able to exploit your music and not having to be stuck with one publisher or library! Wake up people! This can be a huge mess for the composers that still want to be represented by multiple libraries.

  • Mer Boel
    July 29, 2009 @ 8:07 am

    Another angle that occurs to me – namely that if composers can enter into their own agreements with broadcasters directly, then there might be a sort of “bidding” war scenario, in which the cost of music to the broadcaster will approach zero, especially for unknown artists/music. This already happens for film, radio, internet, and so on… Not sure what the answer is, that is for sure. Except a day job. :)
    –an “unknown” composer

  • Cole
    August 3, 2009 @ 4:12 pm

    Aside from that, Tunesat’s rates are really too expensive, especially for people that have large catalogs. Sure, they will say – it will offset the cost since they will be finding missing royalties, but they should have a free month of service with no obligation to purchase so that people can check them out first.

    Hopefully their rates will decrease as this service becomes popular with other entities that can provide it later on…only time will tell.

  • August 10, 2009 @ 8:00 pm

    There are other fingerprinting/watermarking services besides TUNESAT.
    BMI owns Landmark Digital Services.
    And offer a discount to BMI members. From further investigation I have found that even if your music is renamed the marking stays with your music. I have seem some companies that charge $75.00 for 100,000 pieces of music per year.
    Do your homework and you might find this is a good technology for us… the music makers. From a member of BMI, they have treated me very good.

  • Cole
    August 11, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

    Thanks Jason. I will certainly look into that – very good to know. I actually have a meeting with BMI this week, so the timing is perfect. I’ll do some more research but if you can point out which company you have seen that charges the low fee for 100,000 tracks, please do let us know!

  • xmian
    August 13, 2009 @ 7:55 am

    The whole system is wrong. Musicians have to be either paid for their commisioned work and then have no rights to claim for royalties, or stay unpaid and collect income from royalties. Now, it is half way – some composers earn milions, while others survive. And music is never more written to enjoy audience, but to take off money from their wallets… Sad future, if ever any future…

  • tes
    September 10, 2009 @ 11:10 pm

    i leave in south afric does that apply to us as well?

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