BMI Members to Receive $100M Bonus From New Mountain Sale. How Will It Be Split?

BMI, which was acquired by New Mountain Capital in February, last night notified songwriters and publishers that its previous owners, mainly radio and TV stations, have followed through on their commitment to disburse a $100 million bonus from the undisclosed amount received for the sale — which sources say was over $1 billion — to songwriters and publishers. What’s more, it disclosed to each songwriter and publisher how much they will be receiving.

Songwriters and publishers expressed gratitude for the payout — after all, the sellers were under no legal obligation to share any of the sale price with BMI members. In fact, some consider it a very generous reward from the prior owners. However, other sources have suggested that morally, the previous owners should shared something, considering it was songwriters’ and music publishers’ rights that generated all the licensing revenue and created the value for the sale price to be achieved.

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In any event, publishers and songwriters contacted by Billboard Thursday (March 28) said they were engaging in mathematical analysis to try and figure out what their payment represented, even though BMI laid out on its website some details on how it arrived at each individual payout. According to the website, BMI looked at the most recent five years of payouts (2019-2023) and used that as a basis to determine how much each payout should be — after taking into consideration whether the songwriter’s catalog was there for all five years or is still there even if the songwriter has left. Then, it apparently divided songwriters into tiers based on undisclosed parameters and paid every songwriter or publisher in that tier the same amount according to the website. Only songwriters or publishers that had received over $500 in royalties were eligible for a bonus distribution.

BMI didn’t provide any information on how it calculated allocations other than to say it split the bonus payouts evenly between songwriters and publishers — and that sold catalogs’ bonuses would be pro-rated between the new owners and old owners. But it did disclose that the method it used “is different from how we calculate our quarterly distributions,” according to the letter signed by BMI president/CEO Mike O’Neill that accompanied news of the allocation. “We thought very carefully about how we determined this allocation and made every effort to be as inclusive as possible and have it applied to the greatest number of earning BMI affiliates,” O’Neill’s letter stated. “Your allocation is truly well deserved, and I’m very pleased to deliver it to you on behalf of BMI’s former shareholders. Moving forward, your future with BMI is brighter than ever.”

Meanwhile, publishers’ data teams spent the day analyzing the payouts, looking at instances where they could see payouts on multiple catalogs or songwriters with similar characteristics for the five-year terms in order to compare them. Others measured their bonus payout as a percentage of the $100 million or compared it to the suspected sale price.

Still others decided that the best way to measure the bonus was to add up all the royalties BMI paid for a song catalog for the five-year period to see what percentage of that amount the bonus comprised; and then to compare that percentage with other songwriters or catalogs. One such catalog, an A-level writer/producer with several No. 1 hits during the period, earned about $4.1 million from BMI over those five years and received a bonus of $47,000 — or a 1.15% bonus on the earnings for the period, according to one source who had access to that data.

Another publishing source says comparing songwriters on its rosters who are equally successful to what each received as a bonus created quite a bit of confusion. In one instance, when they compared two songwriters at the same level, both got the same amount even though one has been at BMI for all five years while the other has only been there for only a few of the five years. “BMI might file this under ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ or ‘looking a gift horse in the mouth,’ but so far I can’t see any rhyme or reason on how they are determining the payouts,” that publisher says, but quickly adds, “Having said that, I am very happy for getting the money.”

A BMI representative was unavailable to comment at deadline — the organization was holding its Trailblazers of Gospel Music Awards event in Atlanta on Thursday. But the O’Neill letter to those receiving bonus payments also noted that the new owners will give BMI increased capabilities and leave the organization in “the best possible position to tap into numerous growth opportunities that will ensure your long-term success…increasing your distributions, elevating the services we provide and exploring new revenue streams that will benefit you.”

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