Playing concerts as a sideman, working in studios, teaching… If you want to earn money as a drummer, there are plenty of ways to do so. However, one way you might not have considered is the opportunity to earn a regular income via collecting societies like GEMA or GVL. These organisations set tariffs for the use of musical works created by their members, collect the corresponding licence fees and distribute the money to the owners of the rights.
Despite the obvious benefits, many musicians pay minimal attention to how these societies work. What does GEMA do? What about GVL? When is it worthwhile to become a member of a collecting society? Who actually gets royalties, and what for? This post explains the most important facts – and will perhaps give you access to a source of income you’d previously overlooked.
What does GEMA do?
GEMA (or the Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte, to give it its full title) is a German collecting society and performance rights organisation that helps music authors (composers and lyricists) and music publishers to organise their interests. It oversees worldwide rights of use and the corresponding remuneration claims of its members. This means that whenever someone, somewhere, uses a piece of copyright-protected piece of music, GEMA will collect the corresponding licence fee.
These fees are payable whenever music;
- is performed live
- is reproduced on recording media (e.g. CDs, Vinyl or DVDs),
- is broadcast on the radio, on TV or online, or
- is played in public, e.g. in restaurants, supermarkets or clubs.
A huge variety of tariffs exist: for radio programmes, performance in theatres, use in TV productions, use as teaching material, leasing, background music and music on demand. With every new form of music use, the number of licensing options grows. Music users must report the performance, broadcasting and/or reproduction of musical works to GEMA, disclosing how frequently each individual work is used.
“Private copying levies” are another important source of income. This is where manufacturers of storage devices and blank media (such as USB sticks, DVD writers and smartphones) pay a fixed amount of remuneration per product sold.
How are royalties distributed?
In 2018, GEMA collected more than 1 billion euros of licensing fees. According to its statute, the organisation is not permitted to draw profit – which means that after the deduction of administration costs of approximately 15%, there was a considerable sum left over to be distributed among 73,000+ members and almost two million additional copyright holders worldwide. The distribution plan is as wide-ranging and complicated as you would expect. Today, more than 100 tariffs regulate the distribution of GEMA income among the various categories. And with the emergence of new forms of music use – such as video games, internet radio or on streaming platforms – the plan is constantly being updated.
The amount of remuneration received by individual authors or publishers depends on the type of public music use. Whether a song is broadcast all over the country on the television, played on a small, private radio station, used by a company for an advertising campaign or is simply played as telephone hold music – all this is factored into the calculation and used to determine the final amount. As a general rule, however, authors or publishers whose music is played or sold more frequently will receive more money. The distribution plan also determines the distribution of income between composer, lyricist and publisher.
Is joining GEMA worth it?
As the author of a piece of music, you are entitled to reasonable compensation for the use of your music when it is played in public, reproduced or otherwise exploited. However, determining who uses your music – and when and how often they do it – can be an almost impossible task. This is what collecting societies like GEMA do.
Perhaps you’ve been asked by an organiser to fill out a “setlist” before a performance: a list of songs that is passed to GEMA to enable the calculation of fees due. This, of course, gives rise to a question: if the organiser is required to pay the licence fees anyway, does it not make sense for the author to benefit from corresponding payouts? This is why, if you write or edit melodies, arrangements or lyrics for music, joining a collecting society is something you should consider.
And the costs? Well, when you conclude a GEMA deed of assignment, you, as the author of the work, pay a one-time joining fee of € 90.00 (plus 19% VAT, making an actual total of € 107.10). On top of this is a yearly membership fee for authors of €50.00. Memberships in GEMA can only be assigned to individuals, not entire bands.
On the earnings side, you can expect roughly the following: if your song is played on a big ARD radio station (that is, a radio station belonging to the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the working group of public broadcasters in Germany), this can easily earn you as much as €10; for smaller broadcasters, the reward can be as little as €0.50. If, as an author, your music is played live, payouts of approximately €3 are standard. In addition, it generally holds true that if you regularly play your own songs live, you’ll quickly recoup the cost of a GEMA membership. As few as two dozen concerts a year could suffice. You might even be able to win GEMA funding for musical projects or young artists.
Read more here about whether a GEMA membership could make sense for you.
What does GVL do?
The Gesellschaft zur Verwertung von Leistungsschutzrechten (GVL), or the German Performing Rights Society, represents a range of performers, including musicians, singer, dancers and actors. It also represents the promoters and producers of sound recordings. The goal of the organisation is to achieve fair remuneration for the use of productions in which their members have participated: to protect their so-called “second window rights”.
Didn’t help to write last year’s biggest summer hit, but played the drums or the bass track? Good news! When the song is used by others, you can share in the financial reward. Claims for remuneration can be asserted in all of the following cases:
- When radio and TV broadcasters make us of published recordings in which you participated as a musician (not as author of the work),
- The public playback of such sound recordings or of radio and TV shows in hotels, clubs, restaurants, supermarkets, etc.
- The cable retransmission of artistic works in television and radio programs,
- The lending or renting out of sound recordings, e.g. in libraries.
GVL also collects income from the private copying levies mentioned earlier in the article.
How is the licence income distributed?
In 2018, GVL took almost 230 million euros. More than a third of this income came from broadcasting royalties (from radio, TV and videoclips) or from reproduction, while 20% came from public playback. Here, again, it is the case that the more frequently recordings are used by radio and TV broadcasters, the higher the remuneration.
The distribution plan of GVL is not as expansive as that of GEMA, but is equally complex. It governs all details regarding the distribution of remuneration among producers and performers. The length of an artistic work is also factored into the point system, as is the reach of a radio broadcaster and the extent to which a musician participated in a studio recording. As with GEMA, members profit most if a song is played by large TV broadcasters. Note that if a song you helped to record is performed on the radio or TV, the artists (including you) and producers who worked on the recording will receive half of the licensing income each time.
Should I become a member of the GVL?
Today, around 160,000 artists, producers and organisers are members of GVL. Could it also be worth it for you? If:
- your own recording or a published studio production in which you participated is played in public,
- you appear as a band member or soloist; or
- you run a label whose musical productions are publicly broadcast,
the corresponding GVL licence income could represent a new source of earnings.
Perhaps most important to note is that concluding a GVL deed of assignment is free of charge – you simply need to state the productions you’ve played on. The next time the work is played, some of the income will go to you.
Earning money with collecting societies
If you want to earn money from working as a drummer, GEMA and GVL could certainly help you do so. Ideally, you should be a successful musician and a songwriter: this will enable you not only to collect to income as a performer, but as an author, too. But before you sign a GEMA contract, check whether your membership is really worth it. Do you play a sufficient number of concerts per year with your own songs? Is your music set to be played by regional or national broadcasters in the coming period? Asking these questions will help you suss out whether your income is (at least) enough to cover your fees. And of course, you can cancel your membership at any time if this is no longer the case.
What do you think? Do payments from GEMA or GVL account for a small regular part of your income? Have you had good or bad experiences with collecting societies the past? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!