Case Study: Background Vocalist


Posted on February 24th, 2014 by Chhaya Kapadia in Financial Case Studies, Participant Data. 2 Comments

Previous: Mailbox Money: An Overview

How Television Mailbox Money Works

This Background Vocalist only taped 13 TV appearances in 2010, but the income continues to flow long after the original taping. She’s typically paid for appearances by the production company or a third party payroll company that the production company has hired to administer its royalty payments. She receives the mailbox money from different sources depending on the kind of reuse and the union administering the reuse. This income is often received as individual checks for each TV episode and production company.

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Television Appearance Income vs. Mailbox Money

Here is this Background Vocalist’s income distribution for 2009 and 2010 for her television and film work.

Salaried work for TV and film appearances makes up about half of this Background Vocalist’s television and film-related income in 2009 and 2010. The other half of her television and film-related income is mailbox money.

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This singer earns nearly as much from mailbox money from TV/film appearances as she does from the appearances themselves.
The mailbox money provides a significant, long-term revenue source that can grow as TV and film content is repurposed, made available on new platforms and in a widening number of markets.

Kinds of Television Mailbox Money

In addition to the annual payment scale negotiations, SAG-AFTRA also negotiates and oversees residual payments – the mailbox money – for vocalists who appear on commissioned music or live performances on television or movies. After the original taping, artists can receive additional payments if the show is rebroadcast on network television or cable, goes into syndication, is shown on foreign television, or reused in other ways. Below is a chart that explains different residual uses, how the artist fee is calculated, and the payment schedule for such uses. These are examples that apply to all SAG-AFTRA members, but not necessarily to this Background Vocalist’s particular situation.

Residual Use Example Calculation When Paid
On Traditional Broadcast Television
Network TV: anything re-aired on ABC, NBC, FOX, or CBS. Usually for work originally done for the same network. FOX re-airs Glee episodes (featuring commissioned performances of music). Percentage of the artist’s original payment. Paid per episode aired. Within 30 days of airing
Syndication Exhibition, local broadcast: Usually originally produced for network and sold to a local free TV station. CBS’s I Love Lucy (featuring original music) is broadcast on free local Me-TV stations. Percentage of the artist’s original payment. Paid per episode aired. Varies, but no more than 1 year from rebroadcast
Cable/Basic Cable: replay on a cable channel. Usually for work originally done for a network Reruns of NBC’s Saturday Night Live (featuring a live band and musical guests) are broadcast on VH1. Percentage of the artist’s original payment. Paid per episode aired. Varies, but no more than 1 year from rebroadcast
Pay TV: Reruns of works, usually originally produced for Pay TV (HBO, Showtime). Showtime re-airs Weeds (featuring commissioned performances of music) on Showtime. Percentage of distributor’s gross, divided among all the performers on the show Varies, but no more than 1 year from rebroadcast
Foreign Markets (Traditional Broadcast TV)
Foreign: reused in foreign territories CBS’s The Late Show with David Letterman (featuring a live band and musical guests) is broadcast in Sweden. Either: 35% of original scale is paid up front to cover multiple uses and reuses in multiple markets. This is a one-time only reuse fee. Most do this.
Or: Each market is paid for individually (around 5-10% of original scale) when each episode airs.
Varies, but no more than 1 year from rebroadcast
Physical Distribution
Home Video, Videocassette or Disk The Muppet Show (featuring commissioned performances of music) goes to Home Video. Percentage of distributor’s gross. This percentage paid is divided among all the performers on the show. Varies, but no more than 1 year from purchase
Internet Distribution
Electronic Sell Through (EST): TV show downloads and other permanent copies (ringtones etc) distributed through the internet iTunes Percentage of distributor’s gross, divided among all the performers on the show Varies, but no more than 1 year from purchase
Download to Rent or (DTR): Online Subscription Services that stream TV Netflix Percentage of distributor’s gross, divided among all the performers on the show Varies, but no more than 1 year from purchase
Ad Supported Streaming: Online stream on demand services that require you to watch an ad before accessing content Hulu, or a distributor’s official YouTube Channel Percentage of distributor’s gross, divided among all the performers on the show Varies, but no more than 1 year from purchase

Here’s a chart that represents the breakdown of this Background Vocalist’s identifiable TV/Film mailbox money from 2009-2010. Nearly half of her residual income is from domestic syndication, and 11% comes from foreign syndication. Forty percent of residual income comes from the digital marketplace. The income generated here is from dozens of episodes of nine different television shows.

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Total Income Over Time from One Television Appearance

This chart illustrates the Background Vocalist’s income from one episode of her main television show. The receipt of this income is spread over six years. Each column of this chart represents an amount of income received from residuals at a point in time over those six years.

If measured as one financial transaction, 39% of income from this television appearance derives from mailbox money, though the income trickles in over an extended period of time.

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Next: Recording Income


About the Case Studies

Graphs do not have a Y-axis dollar value in order to observe the conditions of our privacy policy. In addition, graphs and visuals in case studies are not comparable within or between case studies. For more details about this, read about our financial case study protocol.

Information detailed in case studies is based on data received directly from the artist or their authorized representative. The data analysis and lessons learned here are based on individual experience, and do not necessarily reflect the experiences of all musicians in genre or roles.

Case studies are one of three ways this project is looking at music creator income.




2 responses to “Case Study: Background Vocalist”

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