When songwriter Tony Geiss died in January 2011 at the age of 86, the New York City native left behind a legacy that included 22 Daytime Emmy Awards across a 36-year career as a writer and composer for the long-running and much-beloved TV show Sesame Street, as well as children's films The Land Before Time and An American Tail. But he also left behind no immediate relatives, with his wife of 60 years, Phyllis Eisen, having died 13 months prior, and thus no obvious beneficiary for an estate that included the songwriting and publishing royalties for songs like "Elmo's World," which aired on every episode of Sesame Street between 1998 and 2009.
Now, six years later, Geiss' intentions for those royalties have become clear: in his will, the songwriter specified that 10 charities, including the New York Public Library, Doctors Without Borders and the American Cancer Society, should benefit from the money coming in from his life's work, which totaled just north of $100,000 in 2016. Last week, his estate announced a partnership with royalties auction company Royalty Exchange to put the earnings from Geiss' credits up for sale in an auction that started at $430,000 and closed on Friday (June 9) at $580,000, a move that both benefits the stipulated charities through a one-time payment and removes a major accounting headache for all sides.
Royalty Exchange is just one of the leading companies that, over the past several years, has made alternative financing for songwriters and artists their main business. Founded in 2011 and led by CEO Matt Smith, Royalty Exchange's auction-based approach allows songwriters and copyright owners access to individual investors interested in acquiring part or all of a song's available revenue streams in an open, transparent marketplace.