Recently Sony Music launched its “Artists Forward” initiative that that ignored any unrecouped balances for acts that were signed to the company before 2000 and have not had an advance since. The move garnered widespread applause across the industry, and now it announced it will extend the program to heritage songwriters as well. The new Songwriters Forward program will extend to apply retroactively to January 1, 2021.
What this means is that songwriters, just like Sony artists, will start receiving streaming royalties even though they may still owe the company money from previous royalty advances. The exception being that if a songwriter has received a recent advance after the year 2000, then they’re not eligible for the program.
While the details of this plan have yet to be released, if it’s exactly like Artists Forward then the outstanding songwriter debt is not canceled and returned to $0, it’s just ignored. For an artist, if money comes in from physical product, that’s applied towards the debt, but streaming royalties are passed along. Most likely for a songwriter, a windfall from a sync license would probably be applied toward the debt as well, although that hasn’t been spelled out yet.
Yes, the devil is in the details here but the fact of the matter is that this a huge step in the right direction for both artists and songwriters. It’s a win for Sony in that much of the money owed could be considered “dead money” in that the bulk of it probably won’t be repaid anyway. It’s also a great recruiting tool as new songwriters will see the company as less corporately ominous than other major publishers. There’s an increase in accounting work, but it doesn’t seem like that much (only in transferring money – the actual royalty accounting has to be done anyway) so the move is mostly all upside.
For songwriters it’s a step in the right direction as well. While as a whole these heritage songwriters won’t see huge amounts of money coming in unless they happen to catch some luck with a cover that becomes a hit (like Maneskin with “Beggin”), it’s better than nothing coming in at all.
A gesture of good will always goes a long way.