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The MLC Has Paid Out $1.5B in Streaming Royalties to Songwriters and Publishers

today11/10/2023

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In the Mechanical Licensing Collective’s (The MLC) third annual membership meeting, the Nashville-based non-profit organization revealed that it has distributed $1.5 billion in total royalties to date to songwriters and publishers, up by about $500 million from March.

This year marked the Music Modernization Act‘s fifth anniversary since passing into law — the landmark occasion that instructed the MLC’s formation. As part of the law, a new blanket license was created for musical work (also known as “song” or “composition”) mechanical royalties that greatly simplified music licensing for digital services like Spotify and Apple Music, among others.

The previous, piece-meal system was not only complicated for the services — it also led to a growing pool of over $400 million in streaming royalties that were unallocated because the compositions’ owners couldn’t be found. (This is colloquially known in the business as “black box” money, although the MLC uses the term “historical unmatched royalties.”) The MLC was tasked to implement and administer this new blanket license and distribute the money in this stagnant royalty pool. It officially opened its doors on Jan. 1, 2021.

According to its latest report, The MLC has completed 31 monthly royalty distributions to date, each one of them completed on time or early. Its match rate for all royalties processed through October is also up 1% since their last reporting in March, rising from 89% to 90%. According to the MLC, the match rate represented the percentage of total royalties processed that were able to match to a registered work in their database.

The MLC reported a membership of 32,000 people — 9,000 of which joined in 2023 — and touts 33 million works in its database, with data for over 3 million works added in 2023 alone. An MLC spokesperson clarified that this metric means that there were 3 million new songs this year, calculated by taking the total number of songs registered at the beginning of the year and comparing that to the total number registered at the end of September.

During the membership meeting, The MLC also announced some new board appointments. Alisa Coleman was re-elected by The MLC’s Class B Members to serve on The MLC’s Board of Directors for a second three-year term; The MLC’s Class A Members selected Troy Verges to fill the open seat as a songwriter director of the board, a position previously held by Craig Wiseman; The Class A Members selected Kevin Kadish to serve a second three-year term as a songwriter director of the board. (The Class C membership will not change in 2024.)

“We are proud of these accomplishments, particularly in reaching the milestone of distributing over $1.5 billion in royalties,” said Kris Ahrend, CEO of the MLC. “We have effectively illuminated the black box by empowering our members with several tools that enable them to take actions intended to eliminate the black box. We look forward to continuing our work to fulfill our mission of ensuring songwriters, composers, lyricists and music publishers receive their mechanical royalties from streaming & download services in the United States accurately and on time.”

As part of the five year anniversary of the MMA, Congress hosted a committee hearing in June to review its impact on the music business so far. Ahrend, along with Garrett Levin (then-president and CEO, Digital Media Association), Michael Molinar (president, Big Machine Music), Abby North (president, North Music Group), Daniel Tashian (songwriter, producer) and David Porter (songwriter, producer) all spoke as witnesses.

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