Journalist accused of paying artist royalties “unequivocally apologizes”


Photo credit: Eric T. White / CC by 4.0

A Pultizer-Prize reporter has been criticized for allegedly depriving hundreds of artists of streaming royalties.

Musician and YouTuber Benn Jordan uploaded a video on Dec. 2 highlighting the issue. Jordan says reporter Ian Urbina (New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker) collected the majority of streaming royalties from his Outlaw Ocean Music Project. More than 400 artists are involved in the project, and Urbina initially denied receiving any profit.

What is The Outlaw Ocean Music Project?

This is a series of albums and EPs inspired by Urbina’s book and reporting series – The Outlaw Ocean. The work focuses on piracy and ocean lawlessness, including human rights and labor abuses. The video call indicates that “at least” 462 artists have signed contracts with Urbina to be featured. Over 2,000 songs have Urbina listed as a co-artist. Jordan says Urbina received more royalties than the musicians who wrote and recorded the music.

Jordan alleges that the musicians were promised a 50/50 royalty split between the musician and the label. An FAQ page on the Outlaw Ocean Music Project website includes a section: “Should artists join the project hoping it will result in more dissemination of their music?” “

“No. That shouldn’t be the main motivation for an artist to join the project. Why? Because the artist donates 50% of all income from his music to Synesthesia in order to support more reporting and awareness. ”

Urbina being listed as a co-artist, he is entitled to part of the artist’s royalties. But he is also at the head of Synthesesia Media, the label behind the project. Urbina therefore had to dive on both sides of the split. Jordan says Urbina has not been fully transparent with artists about running the label, and alleges he used “distracting language” when referring to it.

Jordan also says Urbina has written about the potential for future promotion of Netflix, podcasts, and big live events with big crowds. But these events never materialized. Urbina responded to the YouTube video on December 4, calling the allegations “inaccurate.”

“Neither Synesthesia nor Ian Urbina have profited from music,” the statement said. “All the money that has been made through music goes back to the musicians or is used by Synesthesia to expand the reach of journalism by covering the costs of new albums.”

The label also offers to release artists who no longer wish to participate in the project. “If only [artists] no longer wish to devote a portion of the streaming income to this project, we will release them from this agreement and redirect 100% of all this income to the artist. We are committed to the idea that journalists and musicians work together to bring more attention to the important topics we cover.

Why did Ian Urbina apologize?

“You convince the artists to invest their time, their group, their effort, their audience, their confidence and their creativity in your project, it is important to communicate fully with them, to ensure that they receive royalty statements. and that they are paid on time, to respond quickly to their questions “, explains Urbina. “I failed to do these things. The label that I created to run the project and the subcontractor that I hired to do these things also failed. I apologize unequivocally.

Urbina blames the company that manages the distribution of Synesthesia – Naymlis Inc. “To date, Synesthesia itself has not received any payments or royalty statements from Naymlis Inc. since June 2021,” the label writes. Naymlis director Kyle Dick has contacted Rolling Stone to refute the claims.

Dick says the fault of any late payment to artists lies with the label. “Our access to information necessary for the preparation of royalty returns was cut off by Synesthesia in August,” Dick told Rolling Stone. “This access was only restored very recently. As a result, this delayed the preparation of royalty returns. Dick says Naymlis is now considering legal action against the label.


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