by on January 16, 2007


I read with interest your recent piece by E. “Doc” Smith on SoundExchange. I am one of those people who he refers to who publicly criticized that entity for not finding artists they had money for as they had promised they would. Mr. Smith did diminish the criticism by saying it appeared just on a “blog.” He apparently missed the articles in the LA *Times*, the NY *Times, *and even the *International Herald Tribure. *

SoundExchange broke that promise to artists. Worse, they barely did anything to keep it. *Beyond Chron* is obviously happy to circulate articles like Mr. Smith’s mash note to Neeta Ragoowansi rather than anything that resembles the truth about what her organization did and didn’t do.

Let’s start with some basic math as presented in the article.

Ms. Ragoowansi told Mr. Smith that SoundExchange “had located” 2,000 of the 9,000 people on the list they finally published on September 15. Someone should have checked their website, where they are only claiming to have found 1,387 names. Ms. Ragoowansi, or Smith, or both, overstated SoundExchange’s performance by a mere 44%, and you published it.

Beyond that, I really have to question what they did to “locate” all those people. It is pretty clear that a majority of those names contacted SoundExchange (and not the other way around) because of the bad publicity given the list after it was released in September.

Think about it for a moment. In five years, SoundExchange ran up a list of 9,000 people they could not find. They finally publish the list last September. In three months, nearly 15% of the names on the list are removed. Do you really think they got that much better at their jobs in the last 90 days? Other than a couple SoundExchange press releases, is there any evidence they did anything to upgrade their own search efforts other than hiring Mr. Holland to help find people?

Other numbers in the article raise even more serious questions about the way they are meeting their obligations to artists. Unfortunately, Mr. Smith is oblivious to those issues.

Ms. Ragoowansi has frequently told people that SoundExchange has 26,000 artists on its roster. If that number is accurate, then *over five years*, that list of 9,000 “unfound” artists means *SoundExchange could not find 1 in 4 of the artists they were charged with working for. * Even after all their supposed hard work in the three months before the default deadline, they ended up not finding over 20% of the people they had money for. No matter how you spin it, and they spun it hard, this is a dismal record.

And, if Mr. Smith, or anyone else at *Beyond Chron, *had done some basic fact checking, you would have noticed that when Ms. Ragoowansi told you there was $500,000 still undistributed, *this was over twice the amount they were admitting to six weeks ago in their own press releases*. Now someone who knew the facts might have asked why the big increase in unclaimed funds now that the deadline has passed. This obviously didn’t occur to Mr. Smith, and you’re the guys with the blog, so he must have a reason for just accepting what he was told, and you must have an equally good reason for not bothering to check how accurate your contributor’s articles are.

But this is what I really took issue with:

Near the lead of your article, Mr. Smith said “In a [sic] recent blogs, SoundExchange was taken to task for not doing enough to get royalties for artists like, T. Bone Burnett, Ton-Loc, Flock of Seagulls. As Neeta explained to me in a phone conversation last week, “Many of those artists, when informed they were due a few dollars, opted to donate their royalties to the pool of the less fortunate…” A noble way of giving back in the music world if ever there was one.”

The free-form punctuation aside, it appears Smith is seriously suggesting that some artists, when SoundExchange finally found them, donated money they were owed to “the pool of the less fortunate.” This is somehow offered as a justification for not finding about 7,500 *other* artists who were not given the option of taking the money or helping others.

SoundExchange never found them, so they never had a chance to say where they wanted the money to go. But, according to Ms. Ragoowansi and Mr. Smith that organizational failure had a noble end, so everyone should just stop criticizing SoundExchange.

How are the actions of several artists a justification for not finding thousands of other artists? Ms. Ragoowansi clearly sees a connection, and apparently so does your writer. The utter lack of logic in that paragraph stuns me.

But even worse, is the fact that the statement is totally false.

I have submitted applications to SoundExchange for nearly 100 artists and groups, and helped many more apply on their own. In all those cases, SoundExchange never discussed donating money to “the pool of the less fortunate.” Why? Because there is no vehicle at SoundExchange for doing it. Ms. Ragoowansi sold Mr. Smith a bill of goods, and he accepted it, and you published it without the slightest verification.

You would think, if they were serious about this wonderful endeavor, they would ask if anyone wanted to contribute, wouldn’t you? They haven’t asked anyone.

And you would think they would talk about this on their website, wouldn’t you? There isn’t a word about this charitiable initiative anywhere on there. I’d tell you to go look for yourself, but you didn’t bother before posting the article, so why would you bother now?

And on the other side of the ledger, some of those artists I helped out got less than $50 from SoundExchange. Beyond that, by any financial standard you want to use, a number of them are needy. Now, based on what Ms. Ragoowansi told you, you might think that they were at least wading in that “pool of the less fortunate” that were going to benefit from those donations that justified not finding people.

If you think that, you would be wrong.

SoundExchange hasn’t sent them any extra money from T. Bone Burnett, or anyone else. SoundExchange hasn’t even hinted that this money might be available. Once again, there’s nothing on the website to tell anyone how to apply for a share.

Frankly, I think Ms. Ragoowansi is trying to put the best face possible on a really bad situation, and she used Mr. Smith to promote that image. As far as I can tell, it is all an illusion. Your writer got suckered.

Here’s what I think is really going on with that “noble” activity.

Shortly after SoundExchange announced the forfeiture date, some critical articles noted that they got to keep any money they didn’t distribute. I even said that, for SoundExchange, “nothing succeeds like failure.”

Seven weeks later, SoundExchange got around to announcing that the money they kept wouldn’t be going back into the general budget to pay executive bonuses or for the staff Christmas party. No, sir, it was going to be proportionally allocated among all the artists who *did* register.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? There’s one problem. Not one penny is really going to get to that “pool of the less fortunate.” There is no such thing as a “pool of the less fortunate” at SoundExchange.

They are going to take the money that was collected for “The Los Angeles Voices of Watts,” who they couldn’t find, and allocate it to the artists who signed up. Aerosmith gets a share of the undistributed money. So does Madonna. So does Eminem. If those artists are swimmers in the “pool of the less fortunate,” it’s time to call for “adult swim” and try to make sense of this.

To use Mr. Smith’s phrasing, Robin Hood took from the “pool of the more fortunate” and gave to the “pool of the less fortunate.” If what I surmise is happening here, SoundExchange has turned Robin Hood on his head. And your writer not only didn’t notice the inversion, he praise it as a “noble way” of “giving back.”

What is particularly sad about this is that Ms. Ragoowansi wants you to believe the 7,500 artists they never found are happy to be “giving back” to Britney Spears and Clay Aiken. Despite his listing of her many attributes and talents, Mr. Smith never mentioned she was a clairvoyant. What is even sadder is that Mr. Smith and *Beyond Chron* are willing parties to her spin campaign.

*Beyond Chron* has proven the adage that the only thing more dangerous than a child with a loaded .45 is a true believer with a blog and blind editors. Your mission statement says “We believe that a reliable, progressive daily news source is long overdue.” It is unfortunately clear that the need for a reliable news source is still there.

You should be embarrassed. Mr. Smith should be embarrassed.

Fred Wilhelms

You can submit letters to the editor by clicking on this link: rshaw@beyondchron.org
or by writing to:
Beyond Chron
126 Hyde Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
415-771-9850 (phone)
415-771-1287 (fax)

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