Case Study: Background Vocalist
Previous: Recording Income
Reflections on Mailbox Money, Dependencies and Unions
One thing is clear from this case study: mailbox money makes a difference. This session musician makes as much and sometimes more from TV and film residuals as she does from the appearances themselves. Reuses, new uses and royalties from television and film appearances have a huge impact on this session musician’s ability to make a living. Similarly, record royalties – or recording mailbox money – has a positive impact on this musician’s bottom line, even if the amount received from recording mailbox money isn’t as substantive as that from television and film.
Session work has pros and cons.
However, income from mailbox money isn’t guaranteed. A reuse of a TV or film appearance depends on its ongoing success and audience demand to watch older content. Income from recording mailbox money is not only dependent on the popularity of the featured artists, but also on a willingness from the record label to license to new and existing interactive online music services. It also depends on the applicable union’s ability to negotiate rates effectively, and on the music services’ commitment to accurately maintain and report the music metadata that ensures that income can flow back to the right session musicians and singers. The increasing digitization of older catalog repertoire represents an opportunity for older sound recordings to gain a new audience, but without correct metadata to match sound recordings to the original performers, session musicians stand to lose out on potential income. Similarly, while it’s likely the appearance of new online music services in the marketplace represents a net positive for background musicians, it’s no guarantee. Though only applicable to the rare artist with the power to withhold licensing of sound recordings, a few very popular featured artists are choosing to forego making their music available on new digital music services (most notably, Spotify has experienced this dynamic). While not likely to become a trend because of the way contracts are structured, the incomes of the background musicians who perform on the applicable recordings may be negatively impacted as a result.
Next: The Value of Unions