• Clement S. Sealy, Jr.

How to Avoid the Ominous "Black Box": Get Your Royalties

What is the Black Box

Black box or black box income is a blanket term for money that is earned but never paid out to any artist.

How It Happens

Your hard earned royalties ending up in the black box category can happen in a number ways and here are the main reasons.


Breakage happens when a licensing service like Spotify or Pandora pays money to a label to use its catalogue. At the end of the contract, if there is a discrepancy between royalties earned and the initial advance, most licensing services will let the label keep the money, being hopeful that the service will secure a deal to re-contract the license. That money is not earmarked for a specific artist or group of artists and is considered unknown and disappears into the label's books. In 2016, more than 46 million Notice of Intents (NOIs) have been filed regarding unidentified songwriters and copyright owners.

OverSeas Hit Makers

If a song has not been registered with the PRO or mechanical collection society in the territory in which it is getting streamed/sold/performed, the society doesn’t know who to direct the royalties to. Occasionally the money will make it to the writer’s home society, but only if they have been provided with the proper metadata to make that connection.

Lack of Representation

If a writer has no affiliates with a PRO or registers their songs anywhere, royalties earned by their songs will enter the black box.

What happens to the money in the Black Box

Good question. Usually the labels, PRO, and publishing companies give their block box money to the highest performers in order to keep them satisfied customers and they stay with them. If artist is unregistered or has no affiliations it sites in the house that acquired it.

Get What Your Owed

Here are some steps to take in order to stay out of the void of the “black box”.

1. Register with a PRO or mechanical rights agency

2. Make sure that Your information is correct. Errors in your paperwork can cause your paperwork or royalties to get lost. A change of Address should be be submitted and verified. A change in title should be submitted and verified. Any changes should be submitted and verified and you should have your on documentation of who you spoke with, when you spoke with them, what was said, and when you should follow up if verification is not confirmed.

3. Check with publishers if your documentation has been changed with their mechanical rights agency. Publishers may get a request that the song should go under another name or they should change their catalog id to match the mechanical rights agency to guarantee organized payment practices.


It is harder to get your money owed from the “black box” than it is to retrieve a black box from the bottom of an ocean.


It is considered to be UNKNOWN.

Metadata is your ID like your social security or driver license. it is the only way someone will know who your are and that you actually exist.

Stay Diligent In Your Record Keeping!

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