Many up-and-coming dance music creators say that hearing one of their songs during a festival set is a dream come true. For those with writing credits, however, collecting the public performance royalties can be a nightmare.
Every time a DJ plays a track by another artist during a live set — whether at a massive festival or a tiny nightclub — the songwriter and publisher of that track are entitled to public performance royalties. (The same goes for music played by garden-variety wedding or bar mitzvah DJs.) This money is paid out from the license fee paid by the festival promoter or venue to PROs, or performing rights organizations. These PROs — which in the United States include ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR —monitor public performances of their members’ compositions at licensed venues, then compensate members out of the money they collect.
In the world of dance music, however, that process gets tricky. Because DJ sets typically feature many different songs by many different artists and writers — often remixed, altered in pitch or sampled only briefly — PROs have a harder time monitoring what gets played. As a result, collected fees often end up in the wrong hands — or not paid out at all. In 2016, the nonprofit Association for Electronic Music (AFEM) projected that dance music producers missed out on an estimated $120 million in royalties from live performances.