Artist and producer Eugene Mthethwa has chained himself inside the offices of the South African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) in Braamfontein, Johannesburg demanding that the organisation release artists’ royalties.

Mthethwa says he wants what is due to him from 1998 to 2021. He’s vowed not to leave the offices until the matter has been addressed.

“SAMRO has kept me as a slave. It has kept me as their dog that eats crumbs that are falling from the master’s table. I’m saying, I’m here to get all the answers that I deserve and also to get my money that I’m supposed to get because I’ve been waiting for too long. I’ve been talking decently for the past two years and even before that.”

Mthethwa adds: “If I cannot be paid my royalties then I have a problem. I’m going to sit here until they finish. If it takes them 6 months to sort out my undocumented work, I’m going to stay here for the next 6 months.”

In the file video from last December, SAMRO speaks about the royalties distribution for musicians: 

COVID-19 pandemic on artists 

Failure to understand contracts and administration has led to a lot of artists losing out on their royalties. The music industry has come under scrutiny following a number of artists who received food parcels, and some artists warning that they would not survive the national COVID-19 lockdown.
With the call for more local content to be on high rotation to support artists, who stand to benefit? The answer all comes down to paperwork as Stanley Khoza from the South African Music Industry Council and Vice President of Association of Independent Record Companies of South Africa (Airco) says, “The business is on the administration side. What royalties are you entitled to? What percentages are you entitled to and how do you go about achieving each and every fair deal in the component of the sector, more especially on distribution. What’s your agreement? Some sign their life off.”

Khoza says before you sign, you need to understand the law, and the attached clauses which should be fair and balanced for both parties.

“A lot of artists right now are exposed to dangerous circumstances with no income coming in. Some depend on loans and it is even on loans they can get exploited because of the terms and conditions. It’s one thing to be known everywhere and be popular, but it’s another thing to be earning equally relevant to your work and fame (sic).”

Artist and music producer, Sean Pages, says artists are so quick to record, but never register their songs so they can get royalties should they get airplay.

He says while this is the first step, there is a long list of things to check.

“Who is going to be the owner of the song? How much of the song is he going to own, and are they going to get paid for collaborating in the song? Some are not getting their royalties because of the contracts they signed. They could have signed away their publishing rights to the label or management. They sign today and 5 years later they are crying.”

He advises artists to take time and research, get legal advice or speak to those that have walked the path before them for knowledge.

However, it’s not all black and white. There are multiple layers to the creation of the song and ownership. Who wrote the lyrics? Who composed the melody? The producer; idea behind the music; hiring of recording studio; performance of the song. All that should be noted on a split sheet signed by all parties involved before leaving the studio.

General Manager at Sheer Publishing, Karabo Motijoane, better known as “Mr K”, says it’s important to know the terms of the contract and the purpose of the deal.

“A licensing deal or distribution deal means you own the master recording. It means you have paid for the recording and you own it. More administration is on your side than a label. But if you are an artist signed to a record label, there’s less admin involved. The record company owns everything that you do. They will pay you based on what you agreed on. They have to deduct the money that they spent before they can even pay you.”

Mr K says it is only through understanding this that you can protect your rights and create and begin to collect royalties from collecting societies.

He advises artists to secure their royalties through Samro who collects from broadcasters and other entities that play music.

“That money gets paid to the songwriter. The second part is mechanical royalties based on the copy of the copy being made. It’s either digital or physical. The last part is synchronisation royalties. That’s the placement of music to an advert or film. You need to have a different deal for that. You get paid for them whatever you charge them for intellectual property.”

Protect your song, have a song split sheet and International Standard Recording Code from Risa, so when anyone uses the song, it will be recognized. Notify all royalty collecting societies on time.