How can I find out if I'm owed royalties?

June 19, 2012

Dear Music Lawyer,

My father is the drummer on many famous songs and toured with several well-known recording artists. How can I find out if he is owed royalties?


Dear Michaela,

I'm afraid that there's no clear-cut response to your question.

If he was a session drummer, then he likely got paid a flat rate for his studio time and signed a work for hire release that waived his entitlement to future royalties.

If he signed a recording contract with a record label, then his entitlement to record royalties and accounting provisions should be set forth in a written recording agreement. However, bear in mind that most recording artists are only entitled to royalties if and when the record label has recouped their costs. Which costs can be recouped and from what income is often hotly debated in recording agreements so it's important to have a copy of the contract to properly evaluate his potential claim for royalties.

If he was a writer and/or had any publishing interest in the songs, then you could check with his performing rights organization (ASCAP/BMI/SESAC) to make sure he was listed on the song cue sheets and to see if there are any unpaid public performance royalties. It's possible the performing rights organization simply needs an address update.

You might also have some luck with SoundExchange royalties if he was listed as a featured or perhaps even a non-featured performer. They have a lot of information on their website about who is entitled to SoundExchange royalties.

Good luck!

—Amy E. Mitchell is maintained by experienced Austin music lawyer Amy E. Mitchell. Please feel free to ask any music law related questions. You will be notified by email when your question has been selected for response, and the response will be posted on this site.

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