Victoria Horn has had enough. She says she’s being screwed by a broken system, and has the proof to back it up.
Two years ago, the British songwriter (pictured) co-wrote a dance track that became huge: Alone by Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren (feat Lauren Evans), first released in 2013.
To date, Alone has clocked up more than 5 million views on its official YouTube channels. When you add its presence on 15k+ more ‘fan’ channels, that figure rises rapidly.
Over on Spotify, Horn says Alone has been played “in the multi-millions”. It was the sixth single from van Buuren’s last album, Intense – and a key factor in it hitting No.2 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic chart.
Yet Horn, who wrote 20% of the track, has received a worryingly small amount of money from all of this success.
Today, she shares her royalty statement with MBW: evidence that in the first half of 2014, Alone earnt her just £772.14.
That equates to £128 a month, £32 a week or £4.50 a day. A tenth of the UK’s minimum wage.
Is this possibly the fault of a greedy publisher, gobbling up all of her income?
No dice: Horn, who lives in Los Angeles, runs her own publishing company, Lady V Songs Ltd. It’s administered by Fintage House, which takes what she calls a “fair, transparent” cut.
Horn points the finger for her worryingly small royalties payouts at streaming services, but also at the tiny share that songwriter/publishers receive from the likes of Spotify by law, thought to be somewhere between 5% and 10%.
No wonder she’s fully behind BASCA’s ‘The Day The Music Died’ campaign; a crusade to get songwriters a fairer slice of the pie from streaming services in the UK.
The British trade body is fighting for a 50/50 split of gross royalty income – with the other half going to labels/artists – from digital services in the UK. That would be in line with royalties received from ‘terrestrial’ broadcasters such as the BBC.
But that’s just the start. Horn says songwriters of major pop songs – many featured in her own Songwriter Awareness Collective group – are livid with what they’re earning in pop’s new digital age. And they know exactly what needs to change.
“In the past, before streaming, the minimum I would have earnt from [Alone] would be £12,000,” she says. “For all of those plays it’s had on YouTube, I’ve barely received a penny.”
Her statement illuminates why she’s so angry: just £359.83 was collected in mechanical rights in the six months from all services, including iTunes.
“The joke is, the public thinks we’re all earning so much money, and we’re bloody not. How am I supposed to pay my bills?”
Although Horn primarily blames YouTube for the pittance on her balance sheet, she also says that the collection societies must improve their activities on the service.
“We all know that the collection societies are not capable of processing more than 50% of the [song] data on YouTube,” says Horn. “The rumour is that it can be as low as 35%. Meanwhile, YouTube is attaching asset package metadata to these songs [to track and collect advertising]. Where’s that money going?”
PRS For Music says it “manually matches as much members’ music as possible [on YouTube] up to the point where manual-matching stops being cost-effective”.
Horn is hopeful that a new Swedish company co-founded by ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus, Auddly, will help to dramatically increase the amount of videos being accounted for in songwriter collections.
She adds: “We need the collection societies and when they’re working they’re great. I don’t want to attack them in any way whatsoever. But you cannot be stopping your processing at less than 50% of data when you are the hub – a monopoly – in the music business.
“Could you imagine if a supermarket was only paying back its [suppliers] 40% of the money they were owed for their sales? It would be totally unacceptable. Why is it acceptable in our industry? Or the bank: what if you went to withdraw some money and they only give you 40% of it?
“How could that ever be legal?”
She’s also been told that record labels have taken multi-million dollar advances from certain digital services, in exchange for accepting less-than-favourable royalty terms.
“That’s a whole can of worms,” she says. “It’s possibly telling that the artists and the songwriters are the ones demanding more transparency. Because if transparency happens, any little naughty business things that have gone on behind-the-scenes will have to be aired.“
Another area which Horn (pictured) says needs to be rectified is live music. Songwriters whose work is aired at a music show are supposed to split 3% of gross ticket sales as a performance royalty.
But Horn’s statement shows that clearly hasn’t happened: in the six month period in 2014, she was paid a ridiculous £2.77 in performance royalties.
That’s in total.
“My song’s been played in nightclubs all over the world, yet I’m receiving no payment. Where’s my money gone!?”
“In all of the nightclubs around the world, they never collect the money,” she says. “That’s been going on for 30 years, which is obviously unacceptable. “I know that Armin packed out [Amsterdam’s] Ziggo Dome.
“He’s played my song to countless people around the world who are paying at least £40 each on tickets. Yet again, I’m receiving no payment. Where’s my money gone!?”
Horn fully supports AFEM’s attempts to ensure that every song played in DJ sets in nightclubs are accurately accounted for. The trade body believes that £100m a year has been ‘lost’ in unclaimed royalties from nightclubs.
She is also very clear that she doesn’t blame Armin van Buuren for her plight – the megastar DJ who, with $17m per year, is No.12 on Forbes top-earning DJs list.
“Armin is nothing to do with where it’s going wrong,” she explains. “He’s doing nothing unfair. It’s all the other pieces around the table that are screwing us.”
She is, predictably, also furious with the emergence of piracy, and the role played by YouTube’s parent company in its continued rampancy.
“Why is it allowed that people can just steal my music? Not only that: when you search for my song in Google, the pirate stations come up first! Why is no-one stopping that? It’s madness.
“If someone made a gadget where you could press a button online and have a BMW arrive at your house for free, the car industry wouldn’t allow it – no other industry would allow it.”
As well as being angry, though, Horn is tired.
Tired of the continued erosion of her monthly income, tired of the feeling of powerlessness in the face of huge corporations – and tired of the NDAs protecting those who she assumes are pocketing her money.
“It’s heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking, to receive such little compensation for your work,” she says. “But then you know others are making so much money off it; someone’s getting paid from all these adverts on Spotify and YouTube.
“The joke is that the public thinks we’re all earning so much money in this industry, and we’re bloody not. How am I supposed to pay my bills and survive? It’s getting really hard for me now.”
Horn says she has more than 30 writing placements professionally secured around the world as we speak. It’s a vast amount of success for any songwriter, and it’s helping her keep her head above.
However, she says many of her peers aren’t so fortunate.
“I mean, please, just look at my statement: it must be obvious to anyone that we, the songwriters, are now being completely devalued.”Music Business Worldwide