Michael Huppe is the President and Chief Executive Officer of SoundExchange, the non-profit organization at the center of the global digital music business that has distributed more than $4.5 billion in performance royalties to recording artists and rights holders since its inception. Huppe also is the Chairman of SXWorks, a new subsidiary of SoundExchange. SXWorks is the music publishing arm of SoundExchange, which formed the subsidiary when it acquired the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency Ltd. (CMRRA).
For Michael, leading such an important component of the music industry ecosystem is the perfect job, combining his love of music with his legal and business skills, all with a goal of bettering the overall music industry. “For the past eight years at SoundExchange, we’ve been fighting to ensure that creators get paid fairly in the most efficient manner possible. With the rules of the music industry in a constant state of change, I have had some sleepless nights, but leading the team at SoundExchange to help shape the future of our industry is the best gig in the world.”
With a board of directors comprised of artists, major and independent record labels, artist managers, union heads and trade associations; SoundExchange represents the entire recording industry. The company is charged with protecting the long-term value of music for the recording artists and record labels in the United States. It is the only entity in the United States entrusted by the Copyright Royalty Board to track, collect and distribute digital performance royalties for sound recordings from more than 2,500 digital streaming services, including satellite radio (such as SiriusXM), Internet radio (such as Pandora & iHeart Radio) and cable television music channels (such as MusicChoice).
Michael, who began his career as a commercial litigator, joined SoundExchange as its General Counsel in 2007, helping to forge the policies that would move the organization forward through advocacy, efficiency and strong partnerships. He also oversaw rate proceedings that brought increases of almost 40 percent to artists and labels for the use of their music on Internet and satellite radio. Four years later he was promoted to President and CEO. During Huppe’s tenure at SoundExchange, royalty collections have increased more than 2000 percent, to a point where the company’s distributions make up as much as 17 percent of record labels’ income and a top account for virtually all content owners. Similarly, the number of radio services working with SoundExchange has grown from 855 in 2007 to more than 3,000 in 2016.
“We are still in the early days in the development of streaming services and Internet radio,” Michael says. “The growth potential is just huge, and at SoundExchange we are right in the middle, fighting for creators’ rights to ensure that they get paid fairly for their work.”
Identifying, tracking and distributing the royalties for billions of streams from digital radio are complex tasks. More than 40 percent of SoundExchange’s personnel resources are dedicated to technology, which enables the company to develop new products for the whole industry on a continuous basis, rolling out more innovation in the past 18 months than at any other point in its history. One example is the company’s recently launched SoundExchange Direct, an online dashboard that gives artists and labels around-the-clock access to their SoundExchange accounts, enabling them to instantly review payment details, track recordings or research which services are playing their music most often. The company has also been a leader in pushing for industry-wide technology standards that enable efficient and accurate distribution of royalties.
Some of the changes within the industry are being decided far from any studio or record label, in Washington, D.C. That is why SoundExchange’s headquarters are just blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The company is fierce when it comes to pushing for policies that protect creators. SoundExchange supports the recently introduced Fair Play for Fair Pay Act, which aims to secure performance rights for recording artists and record labels across every platform, including terrestrial radio. Michael has penned op-eds supporting the legislation and the fair payment of artists every time their work is played on every platform. Billboard published his piece on “Fair Trade Music” and The Hill ran “Watershed Time for Music.”
And while SoundExchange’s core mission is to distribute revenue efficiently and cheaply, fight for fairness and protect the rights of creators, Michael has set the organization on a course that will enable it to serve other areas of the music industry, and perhaps even beyond that. “At its heart, SoundExchange is just as much a data or technology company as we are a music company,” he says. “Our focus on developing new data resources for technology platforms positions us well for all kinds of evolving business needs.”
“Nobody knows exactly what the next decade in our business is going to look like,” says Huppe. “What I do know is that we are stewards for the artists and labels who are the lifeblood of our industry and so our technology platforms enable us to be ready for anything that comes our way.”
Michael Huppe is a graduate of the University of Virginia, and Harvard Law School. He is an adjunct professor teaching a course on Music Law at Georgetown University, and has also lectured at Harvard Law, George Washington Law School, and George Mason University. He is a member of the Community Advisory Board of The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Connect with Mike on Twitter: @MikeHuppe