mr. Probz is convinced that record company Sony Music Entertainment (SME) haswithheld a large amount of money. The singer, known for the hit Waves , istherefore suing the company for 10 million euros. mr. Probz suspects that therecord company has also funneled money intended for other artists andsongwriters. What’s up with that?
By Michiel Vos
mr. Probz broke through in 2013 with Waves. Not only the original version,but also a remix by DJ Robin Schulz became a hit. The success of the singer,who is actually called Dennis Stehr, was not limited to the Netherlands:Waves went all over the world.
The song became a number 1 hit in many European countries, including theUnited Kingdom. The remix has more than 817 million streams on Spotify and theoriginal another 114 million. The singer also scored a big hit with NothingReally Matters (89 million streams).
A lot of money has been made with the music. But according to mr. Probz didn’tput everything in the right place. Some of that money would have been left atthe mercy of SME and third parties.
The case against his former record company concerns the payment of royalties.A party that uses another person’s work must pay compensation to the author,artist, publisher or record company. This can involve sampling or coveringmusic, but also use in series, films or commercials, streaming or the sale ofan album.
To market their music, artists and songwriters work with a record company orpublisher. They lay down in a contract what percentage of royalties the artistor songwriter will receive and what he will give.
A percentage of something, but what is ‘something’?
“I always tell my clients: when you are offered a percentage, always ask whatthe percentage is calculated about. A percentage is always a part ofsomething, but it must be clear what that ‘something’ is,” emphasizes SanderPetit, who assists artists and record companies with his company De Dance-advocaat.
mr. Probz had an at-source provision in his contract, he says on his website.This means that when calculating the royalties, it is necessary to look atwhat is earned in total with the music and not only at what a record labellike SME has received. This provision ensures that a songwriter does notsuddenly have to give a higher percentage if the record company works withthird parties and local publishers.
“If you want to release your music in Japan, for example, you need a localparty that knows the market well,” explains Petit. Such a company charges afee for its services before passing on the revenue to the record company. “IfSony uses that amount – from which that fee has already been deducted – tocalculate the percentage that goes to the artist, then there is no longer anyquestion of at source As a result, the artist receives less money than whatis contractually agreed.
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Lack of transparency is the biggest problem
The problem, according to Petit, is that the music industry is not transparentabout this. For example, it is often not clear to artists how much is earnedwith their music and what part of that income is passed on to them. “In thestreaming era, this is accompanied by enormous amounts of data, especially ifyou have such a big hit like Mr. Probz. As an artist you need a specialist tobe able to turn it into chocolate.”
In 2020, Mr. Probz already confronted SME with his company Left Lane BV incourt. At the time, it was determined that the record company had to open upbusiness in the form of accounting. The copyright law has also recently beenamended, requiring music creators to provide an annual statement of income andcosts. Petit: “The fact that it concerns complex data does not mean thatparties such as record companies have no responsibility to make thistransparent.”
mr. Probz and his lawyer state – substantiated with research by accountingfirm Grant Thornton – that SME and subsidiary Ultra Records owe the singer 10million euros, because the company would not have adhered to the at-sourceprovision in the contract. That amount “is no finger work”, Petit thinks.”That’s at least an educated guess.”
‘Many artists have no idea whether the compensation is reasonable’
“This could be a deciding factor when it comes to how transparent the musicindustry should be,” says the lawyer. mr. Probz thinks he’s not the onlyartist this plays for. Petit confirms this, but also says that not everyonehas the financial means to set up a lawyer and an accountancy firm. “Thereality is that many artists have no idea whether the compensation they aregetting is reasonable.”
Petit is positive about Mr. Probz’s case. “From what I read, they have a goodpoint. Grant Thornton’s studies reinforce that feeling. At the same time, Mr.Probz’s arguments are well-known and we don’t know Sony’s defense yet.” Shouldthe singer win the case, Petit expects many similar charges. “Then the gate is