Streaming services and songwriters have not always seen eye-to-eye, but the unlikely pairing of Digital Media Association (DiMA) and Songwriters of North America (SONA) found common ground with Credits Due, an initiative the two trade groups pushed during a songwriting camp in July.
For a day, 24 songwriters, producers, and artists who had never met before worked in groups of three to compose new songs together. While many camps like this are usually organized by labels or publishers with specific goals for the songs (i.e. pitching the songs to a specific artist, targeting a certain genre, etc.), SONA’s executive director Michelle Lewis said she wanted to give the writers a blank canvas.
“We didn’t have any instructions for the writing,” Lewis explained. “we just wanted to host a camp and to introduce Credits Due while doing it.”
Established by the Ivors Academy of Music Creators and the Music Rights Awareness Foundation in 2021, Credits Due is a global initiative that tries to bring the entire music business together to establish a standard for accurate song metadata “from the start,” says songwriter and producer Nicholas Molinder, who’s been an advocate from the beginning. Getting accurate songwriters names, percentages of copyright ownership (known colloquially as “splits”), and other key data points from the inception of a song can be the difference between collecting thousands or millions of dollars in royalty payments from sites like Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and more or — in severe cases — getting nothing, simply because platform does not know or is mistaken about where to send the royalties for a song.
Though these errors plague so many music professionals, Lewis — who is a pro songwriter herself — says one major barrier to change is that “songwriters’ eyes glaze over” when trying to talk about money and splits in creative settings. “We need to make better data sexy because getting paid is sexy,” she laughs.
With the support of DiMA and Credits Due, Lewis and the SONA team created a camp for young, rising songwriters and introduce best practices for metadata collection in a way that feels non-intrusive to the creation process. “The idea is to give creators the information they need, where they need it, and to do it with a micro-learning strategy,” says Molinder. He, too, is a professional songwriter and has made it his mission for the last seven years or so, with the help of partners like Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA and hitmaker Max Martin, to find pathways for creatives to get paid through better data entry, an ambition that’s led him to team up with the United Nation’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, Switzerland.
With their help, WIPO and the music-specific Credits Due launched “WIPO For Creators,” a consortium that builds free educational tools available to all creators, both in music and in other creative industries. “We want to create the standards for the next generation,” he explains.
So the youth-focused SONA camp was a no-brainer to help introduce the tools he has been creating. “The younger songwriters are receptive to these changes,” says Molinder, but eventually he hopes the older songwriters, who are more set in their ways, will come around too. For the SONA, DiMA and Credits Due camp, any improvement or education was a win.
“We do not expect perfection,” adds Lewis. “I think if we do as much as we can in the right direction, over time we will set the standard.”
And in this pursuit, these songwriters have found an unlikely friend in the streaming services. Though the two sides regularly spar over royalty rates at the Copyright Royalty Board, DiMA President and CEO Garrett Levin says, “I think that there are areas, like improving metadata, where we have a lot more in common between us that there is in opposition. Partnering on those initiatives and trying to solve them with combined resources, I think only will benefit us all in the long run.”
After the camp ended, the team hosted a panel, featuring some of the songwriters who participated in the camp to talk about their experiences. The video can be viewed here.