How to Enforce Windowing
Spotify is actually very similar to the old record club model—the labels owned the company and they made significant revenues on hit product sold through the record club at a reduced royalty rate for both artist royalties and a ¾ of ¾ royalty rate for mechanical royalties.
It was common for record companies to agree to give a 90 day hold back on record club sales, meaning 90 days from the U.S. release, and in some cases that date could be pushed out as far as 12 months, or in some cases a “reasonable time”.
There really is very little difference between the functional issue that gave rise to the record club holdback. The record company wanted to sell the artist’s recordings in a way that profited the record company more but paid the artist less, and the way the artist protected themselves from this arbitrage was to create a window where the record company could not cannibalize front line sales.
An artist could also ask for downside protection on streaming services that would require a minimum payment of a penny rate to the artist. This is in part because it is very difficult to get record companies to give the artist the digital service accountings on audit, so at least if there were a per-play minimum, the artist could essentially handle the streaming service in a simple desktop audit of penny rate multiplied by number of reported streams (assuming the artist can even extract that information).
This is, to be clear, an issue for artists negotiating with a label or a distributor, less so for an artist with a digital aggregator.
For example, an artist could ask for a ad-supported service holdback of 12 months from the U.S. release date, and a per play royalty of a minimum of 1¢, going to 2¢ or more if the holdback was violated. This would mean that if the label violated the holdback and allowed the ad-supported service to stream the title during the 12 month holdback, then it would cost the label a penalty.
This of course is something that will only be discovered on audit, so be sure to draft your contracts so that your business manager or accountant can call up the label after receiving an incorrect statement and ask for an adjustment based on unequivocal contract language. (And good luck with that.)
Next: Part 4