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An insight into Indian music publishing in the US



The Royalty Network is a US based independent music publisher headed by its President Frank Liwall.

The publishers have a long standing association with the Indian music industry, having started sub publishing Indian music in the US 14 years ago. It started with Saregama and is now directly associated with a number of Indian artists like Hariharan and Jolly Mukherjee and represents labels like Times Music, Yash Raj, EROS, Venus, Turnkey’s group of labels, and numerous others.

According to Frank, the overall revenue from Indian repertoire has grown between 15-20 times over the course of time.

Since its inception in 1994, The Royalty Network’s client roster has increased dramatically with a growing catalogue of leading songwriters, producers and artists across genres.

The Royalty Network educates artists, songwriters and producers about music publishing, copyright ownership and operations of the music business. This can eventually help them collect all money rightfully earned and prevent them from entering potentially dangerous deals.

In an exclusive interview with Music Plus, Frank Liwall talks about the current scenario of music publishing in the US and shares a few interesting tips for Indian independent artists trying to explore the US music market.

About eight years ago, the digital business was struggling in the US. Was there a significant dip in Indian publishing revenue at the time?

Frank – We cannot say there was a significant dip in income, since the majority of income generated by us on behalf of the catalogues we represent, comes primarily from synchronization, performance, and mechanical income. Before the digital revolution, income from mechanical income was extremely limited and was solely limited to third party licensing. Prior to digital, there was virtually no mechanical income to collect since it was primarily limited to the products released by the labels we represent.

There are three collecting societies in the US, viz BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. Songwriters are confused which one to become a member of. Which would be best for Indian writers? What should one be looking for when signing with a society?

Frank – It is hard to say which is the best PRO for a writer to join. They are all fairly inept at collecting domestic royalties for the use of Indian repertoire, though, I do recommend that any India based writer sign directly with one of the U.S. PRO’s since it will result in a quicker and direct collection of their earnings. Strictly speaking from a customer relations standpoint, I would recommend BMI over the others.

Indian artistes perform extensively in the US but the complaint from publishers is that they never receive money from these performances. What actually happens? Do these shows get licensed? And which of the three societies licenses the shows since the works could be divided between them?

Frank – It is true that none of the “live” Indian performances are monitored and paid by the PRO’s in the US. This is a long standing problem. In the U.S., only the top 200 Grossing Box Office shows are required to report playlists. The rest of the shows fall under the annual “blanket license” fee of the venue. That blanket fee is grouped together with other blanket fees collected by the PRO’s and paid out by them on an overall market share distribution basis. Therefore, and unfortunately, the Publishers of the most performed songs and popular monitored concerts, are the ones who again receive “market share” payments in the greatest amounts.

As a corollary to the above, for American / western songwriters how does the system operate? As a publisher, do you inform the societies about concerts and register the set lists?

Frank – BMI has implemented a system whereby writers (only) are able to upload set lists for any “live” shows and BMI claims they will make “some” distribution based on the live performance information submitted. We have not witnessed much coming from this and the set list submission is limited to writers only. Publishers are not able to submit this information.

How do big sync deals like the iPhone X deal happen? The choice of a Bollywood song is curious to say the least, who chose the song? How difficult was it to negotiate?

Frank – Most Sync deals, and especially larger deals, happen based on relationships. 80%-90% of the time it is either due to the Music Supervisor or Ad exec reaching out to Publishers they have done business with for years, or are aware have repertoire they need. Most often the bulk of deals are done due to existing relationships.


Are Indian music sync deals easier to do or western music ones, in terms of the Indian labels interfering and pushing? Or does that not happen?

Frank – No Sync deal can be classified as “easy”. There’s always multiple hoops to jump through. Just because a Music Supervisor likes a song, does not mean the editor will like it, the producer will like it and the accounting team will like the price at which it’s available. The key is relationships first. Someone who has an understanding of the market, market pricing, wants and needs of the show/film, are absolutely mandatory as a first step.

More than 90% of songs get eliminated almost immediately simply based on unrealistic quotes from a licensor who is not aware of the “fair market” pricing for certain uses. We secure placements both from a “push” and “respond” perspective. We push new repertoire, or customized playlists to our user base of Music Supervisors and Ad execs we have long term relationships with, and we “respond” to the numerous pitches which are sent to us directly.

To effectively sub publish Indian music from a songwriter or label here, what are the requirements you have?

Frank – The only requirement is the Publishing rights must be available for Administration by us. In cases of existing catalogues, our initial interest would be finding all the sources on which the works are being exploited and attach our claims in order to monetize. In cases of “new” artists or writers, it becomes more a matter of the material and whether we believe we will have the ability to exploit it in our market and thus, monetise it in a meaningful way for the client.

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