Shadow-boxing with SoundExchange

p2pnet news | Music:- You have to really give the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) credit for one thing. They certainly know how to pick the playmates they share their sandbox with.

The SoundExchange Board of Directors is a wonderful example. Who else but the RIAA could put a member of its own Board of Directors, Mr Thomas Silverman, on the SoundExchange board and then count him as an “independent label representative?” That takes a certain amount of audacity.

But those “independent artist representatives” aren’t alone in helping out the RIAA. There are those “artist representatives” who can be counted on to lend a hand when the going gets tough.

These are the folks that the RIAA has handpicked to look out for the interests of the singers and musicians. These nine stalwarts were obviously picked because they had demonstrated the strength of character to make sure SoundExchange honors the promises it’s made to recording artists. Or they were picked by the RIAA because they could be counted on to roll over and play dead when the RIAA needed to use SoundExchange for its own purposes. There’s only evidence of one of these alternatives.

Here’s a cautionary tale that’ll explain why recording artists should never, ever, expect help from their RIAA-chosen “representatives” on the SoundExchange board.

For a couple months, I’ve been engaged in a conversation with an “artist representative” Board member. I’m not going to reveal his name because, according to him, his family thinks he’s doing a wonderful job. I’m not kidding about this. He’s given me the telephone numbers for his mother and cousin so I can verify his reputation in his own family. I figure they still have to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner, so I’m not going to ruin their holiday by letting them know their hero is not the guy he tells them he is.

A second reason why I’m not going to mention his name is that, so far, I’ve never run into an artist who knows he’s an “artist representative” on the SoundExchange board. I’ve never heard of him reaching out to artists to see what they think about the job he’s doing on the SoundExchange board. He apparently likes being the anonymous benefactor who already knows what his “constituency” wants and needs.

In early July, this low-profile “artist representative” Director called me on the phone because he’s read that I’m not getting answers to some basic questions I’ve put to John Simson and Neeta Ragoowansi on behalf of my clients who are registered with SoundExchange.

Mr Simson is the Executive Director of SoundExchange. Ms Ragoowansi is Director of Artist and Label Relations. He said that if I’d give him the questions, he promised he would get those answers. I agreed.

During that initial conversation, he also tried to convince me that Mr Dick Huey was a “good guy.”

Mr Huey had just engaged in an anonymous hatchet-job on me in which he posted outright lies about the reasons why I criticize SoundExchange. That should have been the tip-off that my correspondent had things other than getting answers on his agenda.

I just told him Mr Huey was a brainless thug and let it slide in the hope that finally there would be some actual dialog with SoundExchange on the real issues.

You see, SoundExchange has been dodging discussion, public and private, even while proclaiming they want to engage their critics. I thought that dealing directly with an “artist representative” Director of SoundExchange would bring the shadow boxing to an end.

Silly me. I paid too much attention to “artist representative” and not enough to “of SoundExchange.”

Back in May, Mr Simson had appeared on the Velvet Rope, a music industry Internet forum. He announced he was ready to answer any questions put to him, but first he had to correct a misimpression he claimed I had regarding SoundExchange policy and procedure on how royalties were allocated.

He said that SoundExchange had to use sampling because it wasn’t getting playlist information from many webcasters.
I pointed out that his “correction” directly contradicted information on the SoundExchange website. Mr Simson never returned to the Velvet Rope.

I subsequently wrote to him privately and asked him to explain the sampling process. He responded by telling me he’d turned over my question to Ms Ragoowansi for a reply. A couple weeks later, in mid-June, Ms Ragoowansi advised me by email that I’d be getting my answer “soon.” In early July, Mr Simson repeated that promise.
Nothing further has been forthcoming from Mr Simson or Ms Ragoowansi regarding the sampling process.

Neither of them have shown the slightest ability to tell the truth, so the broken promise comes as no surprise.

One of the most prominent characteristics of SoundExchange since it was established has been the ability of its spokespeople to say they are doing something while they are not really doing it. For example, they were insistent that they were doing a great job of looking for artists for whom they had collected money, even while failing to find more than 30% of those artists.

More pertinent to this report is the repeated promise to answer questions. They keep saying they will, but they never get around to it.

Mr Simson promised to answer questions on Velvet Rope. He never answered one before disappearing.

After completing his personal attack mission on p2pnet.net, Mr Dick Huey said he was going to answer questions anyone put to him. I gave him a list. Mr Dick Huey disappeared, too without answering any of them..

Two weeks ago, he resurfaced to say that he really, really, was going to answer those questions. Apparently, however, he saw his shadow.

According to legend, this means six more weeks of no information from Mr Huey.

However, all this duplicitous activity pales when compared to the conduct of that “artist representative” Board member in answering questions. Remember, his role is to look out for artists. Apparently, looking out for artists includes keeping everyone in the dark about what actually goes on at SoundExchange, because that’s all he’s done since early July.

I sent him the first set of questions on July 7. The second set went to him on the next day. He said he was going to take them to SoundExchange staff immediately.

On July 18, I asked for an update. He said he had asked all the questions I had given him, and that if he didn’t have answers in another week he was going to “get on the phone and get an answer.” Encouraged by that, I sent him a third set of questions the next day to keep the fire fueled. I was confident. This guy had convinced me that he really wanted to move the dialog forward and that he could produce answers from SoundExchange that would do just that.

I didn’t hear anything over the next two weeks. On August 3, I asked for an update and got a peculiar answer. He suggested that we talk on the phone so he could “prepare a series of questions for [SoundExchange].” Now, of course, he had told me three weeks before that he had already asked the questions, and, if he was telling the truth then, he had called them a week later to get the answers. Now he suggests that I “prepare a series of questions” again. When I said I thought we were beyond the stage of asking questions, I didn’t get a response.

That should have been the second hint that I was being played.

Even so, I sent him a list of questions on August 8. I have attached the specific questions at the end of this note so that readers can decide for themselves if it should take more than a month and a half to get answers, or why the answers should be kept a secret at all.

After several days without any response from the “artist representative” on the Board, I asked him what was going on. I made sure he understood that I was frustrated by the lack of cooperation and the failure to get any answers to any of the questions. I pointed out that in my own experience, any employee who did not respond immediately to a request for information from a Director was in great jeopardy of getting fired, unless, of course, the employee knew the Director asking the question had no real authority.

On August 16, the Board member wrote to tell me he was “trying to set up a call to get answers.” This, of course, was the same story he told me in the middle of July. It appears that his assertion of action in July was a lie. Telling me that he had sent the questions to SoundExchange was a lie. Telling me he was going to call them to get answers was a lie. The “artist representative” turned out to be part of the same stall campaign that Mr Simson, Ms Ragoowansi and Mr Dick Huey had been engaged in for months.

When I complained about this, I was accused of “bullying” him, and that he worked “his own way.” This is when he offered his mother and cousin as character references. I told him to let me know if he ever got the answers, but that I wasn’t holding my breath. He called me a bully again.

So, all this turns out to be just another broken promise from SoundExchange. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. This guy played on my expectations of action to just continue to build the wall between SoundExchange and the public.
Yes, the RIAA can sure pick their playmates. By this guy’s shining example, the “artist representatives” on the SoundExchange board are part and parcel of the effort to keep secret what SoundExchange does and how they do it. The RIAA has nothing to fear from these guys ever making them speak up. Those “artist representative” board members are either fools or cowards, or willing participants in the scam, who are too proud about just being SoundExchange board members to actually do the job they are supposed to do in that capacity.

So, the end result of me getting played again? We are right where we were in May.

No one who doesn’t sit in a SoundExchange Board meeting has a clue what the policies and procedures are that affect tens of thousands of artists. My “artist representative” Director apparently needs somebody’s approval to “set up a call” to get information from the people who ostensibly work for him.

And, as we’ve been told, the information is “proprietary,” even if it involves spending artists’ money that doesn’t belong to SoundExchange, so even if he gets answers, he isn’t going to reveal them to anyone. Heaven knows he hasn’t got the guts to challenge that “proprietary” nature of what he is told. If the people he represents don’t know what he is doing to protect their interests, that’s their tough luck. Artists should give him the benefit of the doubt, just like his mother does.

There is a solid stone wall between the people who run SoundExchange and the people they are supposed to serve. The RIAA built it, and the Board of Directors and the staff maintain it. That stone wall, which appears to exist by unanimous consent of the SoundExchange board artist and label reps alike, is an insult to every recording artist for whom they have collected a penny.

Unfortunately, the RIAA appointed members of the Board are beyond caring about insults to artists, because they can’t be reached.

Those inside the wall know they never, ever, have to admit anything to anyone, so they don’t care. They’re SoundExchange, so they don’t have to. In this regard, the “artist representatives” are standing foursquare with their RIAA handlers. The answers to my questions are things that they have decided no one outside the wall has a right to know.

I’d love to have SoundExchange prove me wrong. Nothing would make me happier than to have SoundExchange issue point-by-point relevant answers to the questions. Then the discussion about their actions can move forward. My clients want to know what SoundExchange is doing with the money they’ve collected on my clients’ behalf. They deserve to know.

The Directors and staff of SoundExchange don’t agree with me. Even the Directors appointed to “represent” my clients don’t appear to believe my clients have any rights to this information.

When the wolves get to appoint the shepherd, and the shepherd only get to keep his positions by keeping the wolves happy and keeping his mouth shut, the flock is not protected. I’ll bet even the shepherd’s mother will tell him that.

Here are those questions everyone at SoundExchange, including that “artist representative” Director, won’t answer.

A OUTREACH

1 How many artist members does SoundExchange have as of today?

2 Is this number based on the number of individual royalty accounts (and the number of checks sent out), or do groups count as a single member?

3 Based on a figure quoted on your own website in December, 2006, SoundExchange had 20,000 registered artists. As of 8/7/07, there are currently 8152 artists and groups listed on your “unfound” list. If we consider each “unfound” entry to be a solo artist, 28% of the artists SoundExchange has been able to identify over its first seven years have not been located. While this percentage is undoubtedly low, given the number of “unfound” groups on the list, is this 72% considered to be adequate performance by SoundExchange?

4 If not, what specific actions are being taken to improve it?

5 Who are the contract “outreach” people, how much are they being paid, what kind of training or guidance have they been given and how have each of them performed?

6 Why haven’t any of their efforts ever been visible to the public eye?

7 What is SoundExchange doing to use the artists it knows to find the artists it can’t find?

8 SoundExchange sent an email to every registered member asking them for support of the CRB rates, and included another request for help in the last check distribution. Will SoundExchange commit to a public campaign to use its artist registry in this way to find people?

9 Why hasn’t it done so to this point?

10 Will SoundExchange provide me with a list of the “many” artists that it says it has contacted but who have failed/refused to register?

11 If so, will SoundExchange provide me with a letter that I may show these artists authorizing me to act on SoundExchange’s behalf, without fee, to get them registered?

12 Will SoundExchange commit to an organized, unified Internet campaign to find artists that involves the participation of people outside the organization, including reaching out to message boards, forums and websites?

13 Will SoundExchange commit to an organized, unified publicity campaign focused on non-music industry resources likely to be read by sizable numbers of “unfound” artists, such as AARP, Jet/Ebony, USA Today, etc?

14 Will SoundExchange commit to a greater application of resources to foreign language initiatives to locate artists?

15 What is the current SoundExchange budget allocation for locating and registering qualified artists and labels? What are the historic allocations for these functions?

16 For comparative purposes, what is the SoundExchange budget allocation for public relations, lobbying and legal representation regarding the CRB royalty rates?

17 What is the current size of the SoundExchange staff dedicated to locating artists and labels?

18 Has the size of this staff changed during the history of SoundExchange?

19 What specific skills are possessed by the dedicated staff for this purpose? Do any of them have a background in searches of this type? How much and where?

B FORFEITURES

1 Explain why SoundExchange decided not to publicize the June 30, 2007 deadline for the most recent forfeiture.

2 Explain why the deadline was postponed at the last moment and why that act hasn’t been publicized.

3 Explain what SoundExchange did regarding the December, 2006 forfeiture, the unpublicized decision to postpone it, and the reasoning behind the incremental forfeiture ultimately applied to it. Specifically, please explain why these acts served the interests of the artist who were not found before the money was forfeited.

4 Please give detailed information regarding the establishment of the segregated trust accounts for unidentified and/or unlocated artists, including the institution where the accounts are maintained, and whether or not they earn interest.

5 If these accounts earn interest, please explain what is done with that income.

6 Will SoundExchange disclose how much money has been forfeited to date?

7 Will SoundExchange ever establish a policy by which it announces the amount subject to forfeiture before the forfeiture? (Gross amounts, not individual artist amounts.)

8 Explain how SoundExchange calculates the amount to be forfeited from an individual artist’s account.

C SAMPLING

1 Provide the metric and explain how it is applied.

2 Explain why it is being kept a secret.

3 Explain why there is no reference to it on the website.

4 Explain why public statements like Ragoowansi’s about “if you get played, you get credit” are allowed to stand uncorrected in light of the sampling.

D musicFIRST

1 Explain where the authorization from the members for these expenditures comes from.

2 Explain the source of the money used to sponsor musicFIRST.

3 Explain why the amounts expended by SoundExchange on musicFIRST is considered “proprietary” information.

4 Disclose the amounts already spent and unspent but budgeted for musicFIRST, plus any other commitments.

5 Disclose what services are being supplied to musicFIRST by SoundExchange personnel, and whether or not musicFIRST is compensating those individuals or if musicFIRST is reimbursing SoundExchange for their time.

6 Disclose what services are being supplied to musicFIRST by SoundExchange vendors under agreements with SoundExchange, including public relations and legal services, and whether or not musicFIRST is reimbursing SoundExchange for the services of these vendors.

7 Explain how musicFIRST fits into the limited legally permitted functions of SoundExchange under Section 114 of the Copyright Act.

8 Please confirm Mr Huppe’s statement that the board’s vote on approval of musicFIRST was unanimous.

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