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Know Your Rights! with Lee-Anne Wielonda

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re missing out on something? Maybe you are missing out on some money. I got the opportunity to sit down with Lee-Anne from ACTRA RACS, who’s a great supporter of artists and many music organizations. She will shed some light on Neighboring Rights.

Sam Arraj: Why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself and how you got yourself into the music business?

Lee-Anne Wielonda: I’ve always been a fan of music; it was big in my family. I would sit in front of the radio and flip through all of our LPs, and then I would pretend to be the D.J. and introduce every song. I believed that the artist actually lived in the car radio and I was fascinated by all of that. I was three, I’m allowed.

My first cassette that I ever bought was AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. I traded that for Billy Joel’s Glass Houses. Don’t ask. Growing up in Durahm region, there was a country and adult contemporary influence. Radio stations weren’t as genre-oriented as they are now. I've always listened to all different types of music. Once I was introduced to the Toronto music scene, I wanted to work or volunteer in it.

Sam: Give me a brief background of how you got to be at RACS?

Lee-Anne: I started in television. The administrator for the programming department and I became good friends. She left the television station to go to ACTRA. She knew I was bored at the station, so she recruited me to work on this new tariff that was coming out at the time called Neighboring Rights, which was right up my alley, because it was music-oriented. So, in 1998 I moved over and was one of the first people at ACTRA to oversee the Neighboring Rights collection. It was great learning about this tariff and then teaching artists about it.

Sam: Neighboring Rights, do you mind telling me a little bit about it?

Lee-Anne: Neighboring Rights is actually based on the rights that SOCAN administers on behalf of songwriters and it allows ACTRA RACS to collect for performers (musicians and vocalists) in Canada. It’s called a neighbouring right because the right is an extension of what was already in place for composers in Canada

So, if they’re a performer and not a songwriter they can still get money. If they were just a session guy brought into the studio that was paid scale, they get additional money from us. The majority of the money does come from commercial radio in Canada, they pay a percentage of their advertising revenue, their gross advertising revenue, to us. Just registering with one of the performer collectives– there’s three of us in Canada that do this for the artist, and it’s… [up to] the performer… [to choose].

Sam: [Is there] anything these musicians need to know about it? For instance what they need to do when playing on a record.

Lee-Anne: Just know there are additional streams of revenue… [and] make sure that your logged somewhere that you’re appearing on that track. If you can keep any paperwork or if you can keep anything that’s showing that you were there, that is a huge help.

Also know it’s hard, because you may show up in the studio and record your riff; and then the producer at the end of the day says, “You know what? I'm not too happy with how that guy or that girl did that piece.” They’ll bring somebody else in that you don’t know about, then that person may get what the producer was looking for and take you out. You may not know that [you were taken out].

We mainly rely on honesty from the recording artist, but we also work to verify information through research and by reviewing different data that we receive. Most performers are honest; I've paid them incorrectly and they’ve come back said, “No, that’s not me”

Sam: Do you mind telling us some of the differences [between] the performer collection organizations?

Lee-Anne: There are three in Canada: Musicians’ Rights Organization Canada (MROC), Recording Artists’ Collecting Society (RACS) and La Société de gestion collective de l’Union des artistes (ArtistI).

MROC and ACTRA RACS are both based in Toronto, and Artistl is based out of Montreal. At the end of the day, it’s the artist or musician’s choice who they want to be with. We all offer the same service; we want you to have your money that you’re due. That’s our goal for the three of us. Each of us has different services. Artistl is mostly French. If you’re a bilingual recording artist, and you feel comfortable with French, you may want to go with Artistl.

At ACTRA RACS, we offer benefits to our artists. There’s gear insurance, there’s health insurance, and there’s also… member discount [services]. There’s a bunch of partners where you can go shopping and say that you’re a ACTRA RACS member and you can get discounts on merchandise.

One of the main things that we can offer, that the other two organizations don’t offer, is health insurance. It’s huge, because it’s very hard for an independent artist to receive any insurance because they never know where their next income is coming [from]. Also, another benefit that the other two don’t have, is… 40 reciprocals throughout the world, including the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands, Japan, and other big markets too.

Sam: You’re only dealing with artists, right? You’re not dealing with publishing companies?

Lee-Anne: We only deal with recording artists

Sam: How does ACTRA RACS work?

Lee-Anne: RACS collects and distributes royalties to our registered eligible recording artists. These royalties are from users of music such as commercial radio. The users supply their music logs. The logs received are compiled to form one ‘working’ log for us. We have logs from commercial radio, satellite radio, pay audio (the music stations included with your cable subscriptions) and CBC Radio, to name a few. Each tariff we collect from has its own log. To date , the RACS team is matching the repertoire in our database to songs captured on the working logs in order to pay our recording artists. To date there are close to 70 logs. RACS not only does this domestically but we are also matching our recording artists’ repertoire internationally. We have 40 reciprocal agreements in place. The RACS team is always working for our recording artists.

Sam: And so how do you forward it out to the artist? Do you do it quarterly or monthly?

Lee-Anne: It depends on the artist. In the beginning, it was more or less, “We have a lot of catching up to do,” so we would send out cheques whenever we [could]. Now, we’re more quarterly based because there’s a lot more logs.

Sam: Do you have any specific advice for artists about Neighboring Rights?

Lee-Anne: Neighboring Rights exists everywhere in the world. You might not be big here in Canada, but you could be huge in another territory. RACS can go into that territory and collect for you. It’s an additional stream of revenue that a lot of recording artists don’t even know exist.

I’ve been doing this since ‘98, [and] I still can pick up the phone and no one will have any clue what I'm talking about. I’m not a prince from Africa; I really exist, and I do want to give you money.

Sam: Are you still looking for people to pay?

Lee-Anne: Yes, we’re still looking for artists to pay. There are some artists especially that were big in the early ‘90s… people that were, I hate this term… one-hit wonder[s], and they gave up on music. We’re trying to search for them.

Sam: Is there a time limit where they can no longer go back to claim what is due to them?

Lee-Anne: There isn’t right now.

Sam: Thanks Lee-Anne, this is good stuff.

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