Music business and lockdown—has the industry gone digital?
GEMA has been in existence since 1915 and now supports more than 73,000 female musicians and other creative professionals in their work. In addition, female composers, poets and publishers are also members of GEMA. However, with around 87 percent, it is mainly female composers who are looked after by GEMA. In this article, we’ll show you exactly what GEMA does and whether one of the 137 GEMA tariffs can be worthwhile for you.
If you want to market your music and are interested in sustainable economic success, GEMA represents your interests. It is especially worthwhile if your music tracks are also used in public. For example, if they appear on the radio, on television or are shared by third parties via YouTube. GEMA will take over the administration for you and your music. It ensures that the intellectual copyright of your tracks remains and that your music is not used without your consent or appropriate remuneration.
In addition to managing the rights to your music, GEMA also represents your interests as a musician in other areas. For example, in the context of the Corona pandemic. As a GEMA member, you can apply for support if you received an amount between 100 and 30,000 euros in 2018. Should you have earned at least 50 percent with light music, serious and classical music or stage music, you can apply for an advance payment. This way, you secure 100 percent of your distribution amount and effectively protect yourself.
However, GEMA does not only take over advance payments and economic tasks for you. It ensures that you are involved for every use of your music and do not have to worry about enforcing your rights yourself. This applies to every track, as your membership in GEMA obligates you to represent all of your albums and songs. Payments are made directly from the respective broadcaster to GEMA, with variable costs depending on popularity.
Stations with 80 to 90 percent music must cede seven percent of their revenues to GEMA. For stations with a maximum of ten percent music, this share is only 0.8 percent. Accordingly, the cost of playing GEMA-protected tracks can vary from a few cents to many hundreds of euros. Copyright law also applies to use on the Internet, at concerts or in discos, which is why a contract with GEMA makes sense for every operator.
If you also want to protect your music and appreciate the economic advantages, a membership with GEMA can be worthwhile for you. Basically, the prices are the same for every member. Authors pay 50 Euro per year, publishers 100 Euro. Each new member also pays a one-time registration fee of 90 Euro or 180 Euro plus VAT. To become a member, you must also meet the following requirements:
The regular costs are not particularly high for you as a musician, especially at the moment. In 2020, the annual dues were reduced to only 30 euros for a period of two years and the basic fee was completely cancelled for this year. The aim of this measure was to relieve and support the artists and musicians hit hard by Corona as directly as possible.
Whether a membership with GEMA is worthwhile for you from a financial point of view depends primarily on the intention to make a profit. The more often your tracks are called up or streamed, the higher the sums you can receive from GEMA. The actual payment always depends on the number of clicks. For example, if a song generates 15 euros in royalties, you as a composer usually receive 6.25 euros. The lyricist receives 3.75 euros and the publisher 5 euros. There are differences depending on the contract model and the respective genre.
However, as a musician, you do not have to worry about direct costs to GEMA. The organizers of concerts and events are always responsible for paying GEMA, and they have to pay up to eight percent of the ticket price per person to GEMA. Although this indirectly affects your fee, there is no direct payment from you to GEMA.
One of the biggest problems for artists with GEMA is the timing of payments. For example, if you have released a new album in 2021, which is played up and down on the radio, you will not be paid until the following year. As long as you also earned well last year, this is not a problem. If not, however, you may have to experience a lean period.
Nevertheless, the regular payments from GEMA are the most important source of income for most musicians. Above all, the associated organization makes life easier for you as a musician, since GEMA has more than 1,100 employees working for your rights. This means you don’t have to negotiate individually with each promoter or radio station, but benefit from GEMA’s respective contract models.
In addition to organizing royalties and the associated copyright, GEMA also supports you as an artist in other areas. You can take advantage of the following services with a concrete proof of need and rely on quick help:
In many cases, your success as a musician depends on new productions. However, if you lack the financial means to do so, you can get support from GEMA. At this point, however, it is important that the reasons for the financial shortage are explained exactly.
To motivate musicians, GEMA awards prizes at its own events at regular intervals. These are not only directly related to music, but also, for example, to specific research projects and projects that are important in the sense of music.
If you are at risk of poverty in old age, you can apply for a pension after ten years of uninterrupted membership. In this case, you will receive help from the GEMA social fund if the income of you and possibly your partner is not sufficient.
If musicians decide not to become members of GEMA, rights management will not be handled by GEMA. The burden of proof then lies with the organizer. The organizer must prove with the help of song lists that the music used is GEMA-free. This is an important means of saving expensive GEMA fees, especially for smaller broadcasting stations. Without complete proof, however, there is little that can be done about bills.
Another exception for payments to GEMA are tracks that originate from authors who have been deceased for more than 70 years. After this time, the copyright also expires, which means that GEMA can no longer demand money for rights management. Even though it is not difficult for broadcasters and event organizers to provide proof at this point, it must be properly documented.
To earn money as a musician with new works, GEMA is the easiest way. While platforms like Spotify, iTunes and Amazon Music already have a separate agreement with GEMA, this is not the case for all external providers. The debtor always remains the respective platform, which means you can make your music available without any problems.
If you are interested in more details and background information, we recommend our blog. With our musician search you can also find musicians right here on the platform who can accompany you in your projects and perhaps share their experiences with GEMA with you.
Originally published on May 26, 2021, updated on January 7, 2022