Reality Check: EDM Vocalists Are Underpaid & Underappreciated

DJ’s are making a fortune these days as Electronic Dance Music, better known as EDM, submerges from it’s underground roots making it’s way into the mainstream music industry. Headlining at festivals, world tours, and international recognition, top DJ’s are not only earning, but demanding, anything from 66,700.00 US dollars (50,000 Euros) to 133,400.00 US dollars (100,000 Euros.) For many artists, that estimate doesn’t include earnings from recorded music sales, endorsements, merchandise sales, and sometimes even television. But the dance scene is keeping a secret from it’s fans – the beautiful melodies and lyrics to some of our favorite tunes, along with the lovely voices that sing them claim that it is very rare that they get paid for their work.

You’ll be surprised to find that the featured singers on many of today’s best hits, also have written the melodies and lyrics. It has been brought to our attention that these singers find themselves often being replaced by someone younger and prettier for tours, videos and sometimes even performances. Antonia Lucas is a singer featured on many trance tracks, recently her lovely vocals are on Tom Cloud’s “Do It Over.” Antonia has spent many years feeling devalued and disrespected by club music producers, and labels. Her most recent post on Facebook:

“There are many of us that have been in the industry for years and have watched these practices in play time and time again. It is nothing more than manipulation and bad business practices in an unregulated industry with no ethical construct. When over 300 professional vocalist/songwriters, who not only sing, but write the melody and lyrics on these tracks are all telling a similar story, there is something very wrong with our industry indeed. I say big respect and thanks to those labels who have worked in a professional, fair and ethical way and shame on those who choose to abuse it’s Artists.”

With that said, last year Lucas created a Facebook page called the Vocalist Songwriters Alliance (VSA). Within just a few days the group had over 60 members. Clearly, Lucas isn’t the only vocalist who feels this way. Today, the group has over 600 members all describing identical experiences about themselves being required to make up melodies, and lyrics on top of the beats. Getting paid close to 250.00 dollars, and no writing credits. Lucas adds that some of the tracks are still being issued.

Similar to Lucas’s story, artist and songwriter CoCo Star aka Susan Brice released a track in 1996 called “I Need a Miracle” by Greenlight Recordings the track became a hit in the US. It was re-recorded and released on EMI’s Positiva imprint in the UK almost a year later. In 1999, a British DJ mashed up her vocals from the song with German act Fragma’s track “Toca Me.” Brice says the mash-up was released on a bootleg for which she was never paid. This incident heated things up, then Fragma released their own version, Toca’s Miracle, on Tiger Records in Germany and Positiva in the UK in 2000. It went to No 1 in 14 countries worldwide. “Toca’s Miracle has reportedly sold more than 3 million copies, but I’ve never been paid for any of these remixes.” Says Brice. She also adds that her vocal was credited to Fragma, alleging that an impostor touring as the singer collected her PPL airplay royalties until six months ago. PPL collects their percentage for recordings, when they’re played in public, such as in clubs and on the radio. From the money PPL collects, 50% goes to the owner of the recording (usually the label), 45% to the featured artist (usually the singer), and the remaining 5% to the non-featured musicians.

Susan Brice

Apparently, Tiger Records, claims it owns the copyright to Toca’s Miracle, but it has so far failed to produce any sample agreement, licensing agreement or assignment agreement to Brice’s label, Universal Music. “Susan and I could have probably made a million, considering all the compilations that have featured our songs,” says Hawkshaw, who has also joined the VSA.  Hawkshaw concurs. When confronting a producer who had done a mash-up using her vocal, he claimed he had done “millions” of mash-ups and nobody ever told them they needed permission, adding that he had not taken credit or sold it, and so had not abused the artists’ rights. “I said, ‘If I used your backing track to promote myself without your permission, you wouldn’t be happy with me,'” she says. Although, like many other artists, singer/vocalist fear being threatened and blacklisted for speaking out on these issues.

All the VSA members have stated that they have not received any percentage from the record labels selling their work, and being “stonewalled” when challenging them on it. Lucas says that this kind of manner breaks down the individual. Brice says she suffered a nervous breakdown as a result, and that many members considered leaving the industry for good, before finding out that they were not alone, and coming together to confront the issue might just make the difference.

From what it looks like VSA is doing a lot more than just creating an alliance but also inspiring publishing companies such as LBZ with the mission “to ensure new or existing artist will be paid any current royalties they may be due through the exploitation of their music, by radio play, compilations, Dj set list, film, TV, games, and other media outlets. We offer simple agreements that are not one sided, in “perpetuity”, “sign away your rights” style of contracts. Our aim is to help you get paid what your owed. not to own the right of your music forever.

We have recently published an article on the top female EDM vocalists here. Just taking a quick glance at the article, you will already be able to come to the conclusion that some of our favorite tracks are being harmonized by beautiful female vocalist, and it’s clear to see that they truly make you feel something special with the way they use their unique instrument. Adding the proper vocalist can turn any DJ’s killer bassline, or smooth piano melody into an anthem. It’s obvious that these vocalist overwhelmingly hard work and talent might sometimes go unnoticed and unappreciated.

“Some of the biggest DJs out there are doing it [to their featured vocalist/co-writers],” she says. “They’re making the most money, yet they expect to pay the least. They believe they’re superior to us, but without us, what would the fans be singing?” I think it’s pretty obvious that many of these singer/vocalist deserve much more recognition, and possibly, a pay raise.

Source: The Guardian