By Kara DioGuardi
Videos by American Songwriter
As a songwriter myself, I recognize how difficult copyrights, licensing and royalties can be to understand, and I know all too well about the struggles many songwriters have encountered over the years trying to collect all of the royalties owed to them, particularly mechanical royalties.
Fortunately, New Year’s Day 2021 marked the beginning of a new era in mechanical licensing. That day, The Mechanical Licensing Collective (The MLC) officially began operations, which will significantly impact self-administered (also known as self-published or independent) songwriters and how they receive mechanical royalties moving forward.
Long-standing Issues with Mechanical Royalties
Mechanical royalties (which are separate from performance royalties songwriters may collect through performance rights organizations) have long been a source of frustration for songwriters and other copyright holders because there was no efficient way for them to be collected and distributed. For decades, mechanical royalties were largely a matter for publishers to deal with, while for smaller music publishers and independent songwriters, they often went uncollected entirely.
The emergence of digital service providers (DSPs) like Apple Music and Spotify offering music online, and their enormous popularity, complicated things even further. Securing the proper mechanical licenses required that DSPs research every single song they wanted to use and identify the copyright holders associated with each one. And in the case of songs with multiple writers, it often meant multiple copyright holders as well.
With millions of tracks available on multiple platforms and new music being added to them every day, securing that many licenses became essentially impossible. The DSPs struggled to keep up and as a result, songwriters, composers, lyricists and publishers missed out on the money they had rightfully earned.
The Solution: A New Era Begins
A solution was badly needed, and one finally came in 2018 when Congress passed the historic Music Modernization Act (MMA). The legislation implemented a more efficient and effective way for DSPs to license the musical works they make available on their platforms and ensure that rightsholders were paid the mechanical royalties they’re owed for that usage.
The MMA created The MLC, designating it to be the sole administrator of a new blanket mechanical license (also established by the law) and the exclusive distributor of mechanical royalties to rightsholders based on the usage under those licenses.
As part of its operations, The MLC built both a publicly accessible database of musical works and The MLC Portal, the online tool MLC Members use to register their musical works data and then maintain and update that data.
Here’s how it works
A fan listens to a song on their favorite music service. The service reports that usage to The MLC, which then matches that song to its database of publishers, composers, lyricists and songwriters. The musical works in the database have been checked for accuracy by songwriters and publishers themselves, making it easier for The MLC to match the usage correctly and compensate the proper rightsholder or rightsholders, which it does through monthly royalty payments.
As one of several songwriters who sits on The MLC’s Board of Directors, I believe the new blanket license will make the process of collecting mechanical royalties much easier and help The MLC accomplish what I see as one of its most important goals: getting that money into the hands of songwriters. But for that to happen, you must first join The MLC.
Joining The MLC = Money in Your Pocket
Joining The MLC is free of charge and if you are a self-administered songwriter managing your songs yourself and collecting royalties either directly or through a representative (business manager, accountant, lawyer etc.) you must become an MLC Member to be eligible to receive royalties:
- Start the Membership process at any time by clicking the Connect to Collect button on The MLC’s homepage, which will take you to a sign-up page for The MLC Portal. Songwriters Connect by joining The MLC and registering their songs data with The MLC so they are positioned to Collect any mechanical royalties they are owed.
- Once The MLC verifies and activates your account, you can add your musical works data (songs) to The MLC Portal. This can be done on a song-by-song basis, or in bulk if you have a particularly large catalog and as time goes on, you should add data for any new songs or musical works you accumulate. The Portal is accessible on both desktop and mobile devices so you can register your data anytime or anywhere!
- “Play Your Part” by making sure all of your data is as complete and accurate as possible. This is the most important thing you can do to ensure you receive all of your royalties because any data errors could result in delays in payments, and The MLC offers several resources to help you with it.
And remember: The MLC only handles digital audio mechanical royalties, so joining does not replace any affiliations you may have with performance rights organizations (like ASCAP and BMI), distributors, aggregators or other such groups.
Don’t worry if this all sounds a bit daunting, because The MLC has plenty of information and tools to assist with the Membership process on its website.
Visit the dedicated Membership page to review assets tailored specifically for self-administered songwriters, and check out the Resources section for detailed FAQs and fact sheets, archived MLC webinars on an array of topics, a selection of educational and “how to” videos and much more. And if you ever need help with anything along the way, The MLC has a trained and knowledgeable Support Team that you can reach six days a week over the phone or online.
The MLC has started paying out monthly royalties to its Members, so now is the time to put the positive changes to mechanical licensing established by the MMA to work for you. I encourage you to visit TheMLC.com to start the Membership process today and get the mechanical royalties you’ve earned and deserve!
About Kara DioGuardi
Kara DioGuardi is a music creator and industry veteran whose collaborations with P!nk, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Celine Dion, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and more have garnered 11 Grammy nominations and 23 BMI Awards. DioGuardi’s songwriting catalog includes 150 songs from RIAA Platinum albums and 50 charting singles, cumulatively surpassing one billion streams.
A trailblazer for women in music, DioGuardi co-founded Arthouse Entertainment two decades ago. The music publishing company nurtured the careers of three-time Grammy-nominated artist Ingrid Andress and hit songwriter Jon Bellion to name a few. Arthouse’s past and present copyrights include hits from Bruno Mars, Eminem, Chris Brown, Halsey, Kesha, and many more.
DioGuardi’s true passion is developing talent, something she did as a judge on two seasons of “American Idol” and still does today as Berklee College of Music’s Herb Alpert Visiting Scholar.
Understanding the Terminology
These are some of the basic terms associated with mechanical licensing that every songwriter should know:
Musical work: any work with music and accompanying lyrics, known more simply as a song or composition.
Mechanical Royalty: royalties due when someone copies and distributes your songs, generally paid to music publishers and songwriters.
Digital Service Provider (DSP): an entity that uses a technology platform to deliver music to consumers (via interactive streaming or downloads) and receives revenue through consumer subscriptions and/or advertisers, such as Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music.
Blanket License: a new license that DSPs secure to cover their use of every song they make available on their platforms provided they pay the mechanical royalties due for that usage.