‘We need to be good neighbours to our artists.’

The following MBW blog comes from Australia-based veteran neighbouring rights specialist Susan Cotchin, who recently launched Good Neighbour in partnership with The Mushroom Group. In the past Cotchin has worked with the likes of Beyonce, Radiohead and Rihanna.

As I work from home today, like many of us in this new covid world, it is to the tune of a neighbour drilling through the wall. Days seem harder to push through when you don’t have the right work environment, the right tools or good neighbours.

We the music industry are not averse to difficulties though. Fortunately, our time in the battlefield has made us survivors and we find ways to adapt.

20 years into my career in neighbouring rights, and a total of 35 years in the industry, I reflect upon my ongoing fight to the cause of helping musicians continue to be musicians. Starting out as a singer/songwriter, I acknowledge my reason for working in this field, has not been accidental.

A lucky chance to work at rights organisation PAMRA (Performing Artists Media Rights Association) in 1999, paid the rent and my band.

PAMRA was a not-for-profit neighbouring rights society set up by the Musicians Union in the UK, which paid thousands of musicians for their right to equitable remuneration.

Pink Floyd’s The Wall was my first project. Sifting through insurmountable historical claims for all performers on that recording, proved to be a great platform to begin my education.

Making tea for Joan Armatrading who sat on our board, taught me about the battle cries of the major artists, fighting to ensure all performers, featured and non-featured, were paid fairly.

The early days of this sector were fraught with obstacles. PAMRA fought hard to secure international money for the Brits, whilst wrestling with the politics of societies aggressively pursuing omnipotence in the domain.

“We the music industry are not averse to difficulties. Fortunately, our time in the battlefield has made us survivors and we find ways to adapt.”

As PAMRA fell under the colossal administration work involved with assisting 15,000+ performers in that environment, and the MMF’s AURA was crippled with fraud allegations, PPL swallowed the sinking ship.

Armed with valuable lessons I started International Royalties Rescue (IRR) in 2003. We were one of the first agents, alongside Damian Pulle to enter this sector. At that time, neighbouring rights was still seen as ‘bonus money.’

Neighbouring rights however has never been bonus money. It is an EU Directive that stems from a European primary law based upon the Rome Convention. It is a secondary law, a legislative act that sets out a goal that all EU countries must achieve. A Directive gives Member States a wide berth as to how the rules should be adopted, which is why variances to the understanding of this right have existed.

IRR’s first client; Australian band Jet, taught me that as a boutique organisation, I could focus on the band, advise management on qualification criteria and extend my knowledge of non-EU performers. We were jumping through hoops to help them qualify which was demoralising for management and musicians alike, suffering at the hands of the lack of an international framework, prepared to pay all performers.

It was a natural progression to help other non-EU artists, wade through the muddy waters of the variances of this right. IRR began working with Beyoncé, non-qualifying as a US performer; a ‘category 4’ in neighbouring rights administration terms.

My understanding of the performer categories was CMO’s placed performers into claims baskets, to build reciprocity between the paying countries. This concept worked to overcome resistance to pay due to the imbalance of paperwork. Complaints regarding the plethora of UK recordings played in other territories and minimal EU recordings played in the UK, resulted in the need for a process of sending only qualifying claims to the reciprocating country.

Attention to detail and service proved invaluable therefore, with our work for Beyoncé.

Recording with a qualifying UK artist elicited the compulsion to call upon the knowledge of the Distribution Policies in play at the CMO’s, to claim Beyoncé’s rightful share. This was money that could not be received utilising a reciprocal agreement or without a deeper knowledge of the societies adoption of how they paid performers.

A similar predicament gathered for our client Rihanna, as she hailed from Barbados and recorded mostly in the US.

Remixes of older recordings such as Kungs vs Cookin On 3 Burners smash ‘This Girl’ posed many issues too for the performers who were exposed to the 2013 change in UK policy, which saw PPL segregate Australians from payment as the right was not reciprocated.

As the world of neighbouring rights became noisier, continuing its fractious state due to the bedrock of legislation it sat upon, I took the opportunity to merge with The Mushroom Group to form Good Neighbour in 2019. By standing on the shoulders of giants, we can see farther the work that needs to be done.

“By standing on the shoulders of giants, we can see farther the work that needs to be done.”

The JV has given the freedom to consult to Lawyers, Business Managers – delving into the detail of their artists accounts and questioning why X only received Y when other data shows spikes in the airplay of this recording. Likewise, artists who have been caught up in the acquisitions of Neighbouring rights companies have tapped into our knowledge to ‘look under the hood’ of how their accounts were initially set up and whether their income had been maximised over the years.

In 2020, the European Court of Justice drew the line in the sand when 2 societies requested a ruling on the interpretation of Article 8(2) of the Directive. The conclusion was all performers, regardless of nationality, are entitled to equitable remuneration.

Whilst we are beginning to see positive changes at the EU societies, the UK & jurisdictions outside of the EU, will march to a different drum. Meaning there is still much work to be done.

Neighbouring rights is a burgeoning area of our industry and the lifeblood for many non-writers. Given the current state of our world, it is a vital component of an artists’ career.

In order to keep the music playing we need knowledge we need to ask more questions and not simply be dazzled by pretty statements or portals.

We need to be good neighbours to our artists and deliver that duty of care. If you’re a music lover, like me, we the industry, owe it to the musicians.Music Business Worldwide

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