Exclusive: Record label pays double royalties during Covid

Exclusive: Record label pays double royalties during Covid


norman lebrecht

April 13, 2020

The BIS owner Robert von Bahr has sent this letter to his artists:

Dear BIS Artists, dear friends,
we all know about the total mess that the Corona virus has put us all in. However, if the sales side of the recording business is crumbling, the situation for free-lance artists is even worse. I have been reached by several troubling testimonies about this, testimonies that have made a deep impression upon me. And they have made it abundantly clear that the situation is urgent – something must happen, now.

This, then, if ever, is the time to show loyalty towards you. As BIS Artists you are part of the BIS family, and families take care of each other.

Here is what we will do:

We have calculated your royalties, accrued in the period July 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020.
We will double these royalties and call the extra 100% an advance on future royalties.
We will pay them out as soon as we can after you have accepted this and given us the exact bank account, to which they should go, incl. IBAN, BIC and all the rest…. We will deduct the advance part from your future royalties. We will stand the risk of future earnings not reaching the advance; in no case will we demand a pay-back of the advance other than through earned royalties. Of course we will not charge any interest.

You will regardless receive the usual Statement per June 30, 2020, followed by the usual payment…

Again: we do this to try, as far as we can, to contribute to your well-being in these trying times. For some the sums will not be very significant, but for others they will hopefully be a helpful contribution in a difficult situation.

Now is the time to stay together. It should be good to belong to the BIS Family.
Keep safe!

Robert and the BIS team

Von Bahr with the late composer Rautavaara



  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    Bless this good man ! Thanks for sharing

  • Suzanne says:

    Robert von Bahr is an amazing individual. What a wonderful thing to do.

    • Ramesh Nair says:

      Also, a special thanks to Robert von Bahr for supporting the work of living composers ( including a significant percentage of women ). Indeed, it has fallen to classical labels not generally considered ‘major’ to give international distribution to contemporary composers who do not have much of a crossover or ‘easy-listening appeal’.
      Contrast this to, eg, DGG who disseminated the work of Stockhausen and Henze over multiple LPs, and now have signed up Max Richter, a composer whose utterances go down like a lead balloon for me. Sure, the fault is mine…

      Not only has BIS recorded what seems like most of Schnittke’s oeuvre, they are the main label for Kalevi Aho [ is there any greater living composer of multiple symphonies? ], and have recorded numerous works by Sally Beamish. Contemporary classical music already has a tenuous ear-hold on the general classical-listening public. It is anyone’s guess how many of today’s ‘difficult’ composers will fare in the coming global recession. People may want more easy-listening ‘comfort music’ during economically insecure times, rather than make an effort for more adventurous and strenuous listening.

      As someone of Asian ethnicities, I’m also grateful how BIS took a chance decades ago on a chap called Suzuki, and a band based in Nagasaki, to record the vocal output of JS Bach — the commercial risk of how the Western classical music-buying public might respond to the pronunciation of a Japanese chorus, given the usual jokes about the mangled accents of East Asians.

  • yujafan says:

    Does paying an advance really equal paying double? An advance now implies nothing later, at least until the artists’ recordings surpass the level of the advance, and who knows how long that might take in the current and likely future climate. Musicians need and deserve constant support.

  • Wai Kit Leung says:

    Robert von Bahr is a class act.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    I’ve always been partial to BIS recordings because they always sound so damn good and usually the performances are strong. Now there’s even MORE reason to be partial to BIS. Thank you, Robert!

  • Gustavo says:

    And to all others:

    Keep buying the high-end labels instead of paying for streaming shit!

    • Tamino says:

      Isn’t that an apples and bicycles kind of comparison?
      High end or low end.
      Streaming or Physical.
      Not sure I get what you want to say.

  • Jon D. says:

    This is no deal for the artist. They are getting anything but an advance against future sales which they will have to pay back. Did anyone read the letter. He is helping himself and his label to stay afloat during this pandemic. You are just shifting money from one time to another. The artist will be left without any income in the future and has to pay back the advance. I mean, come on…

    • John Borstlap says:

      Don’t agree. It is advance money on future income which is not secure at all. For a temporary measure, it is a fine gesture. It is not presented as a gift but as a risk taking which provides some extra income to artists, which may bridge the gap of these days.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Jon, you’re missing the point. Robert is helping with artists’ CASH FLOW. In the long run it will not change their INCOME as you correctly point out, but having the cash *now* when other sources may have dried up could be difference-making for some. This is a very kind and unnecessary gesture. Maybe you could show a similarly kind gesture to someone.

      • John Borstlap says:

        A rather confused reaction…… what could be wrong with providing a cash flow help? How could a very kind gesture be unnecessary in the same time if it is meant to help people with cash flow problems?

        As for my own ‘similarly kind gestures’: if I would make them, I would not mention them.

    • MacroV says:

      You need to re-read it; they are paying an advance on future royalties. So yes, they won’t pay the same royalties twice, but if future royalties don’t reach the amount of the advance, they won’t demand the money back.

      Since classical recording royalties are, I imagine, pretty modest, this is probably not a windfall for anyone, but it’s a gracious gesture.

  • Tamino says:

    Maybe it’s a nice gesture.
    Maybe it’s a way to lower the bottom line in times where government aid depends on how low your bottom line is?
    So win-win for him then, more government money now, less obligations in the future?
    Hope all get through this crisis fairly and unharmed.

    • Robert von Bahr says:

      I was not going to debate this, and people may be as suspicious as they like, but this really hit rock bottom. For your information, an advance royalty doesn’t change our bottom line at all now (outlay, not cost), only possibly later, if the future royalties fail to fill the advance, a risk we indeed are taking with this. If that happens, it will be years from now and have no influence on any Government aid, for which we are not applying anyway. It really feels shitty to have one’s intentions being dragged into the mud like this, and how we could possibly could be helped to “stay afloat (Jon)” by paying out huge sums of interest-free money now really escapes me, but luckily our artists think differently, as it is for them that we started all this. With that I withdraw from further comments. Wow!!

      • Tamino says:

        OK then, I said maybe. Didn’t want to offend anyone. Maybe we shouldn’t speculate at all then.
        Wish you and your wonderful company the best anyway.

      • Herr Doktor says:

        Robert, please tune out the voices of the idiots. Most people with functioning brains can understand that this is a wonderful gesture for you to make. Thank you for your kindness to others at such a difficult time!

        P.S. – If you see an upward blip in sales of BIS recordings of Orphei Drangar, I may be the reason why. They are fantastic! I’ve had the Schubert disc for a LONG time (and it gets listened to regularly), but recently added to it with a number of other Orphei Drangar recordings. There’s not a bad one in the lot!

        • Tamino says:

          You don’t call me an idiot, “Herr Doktor”! I’m wondering about the gesture, and there are good reasons for that. Nothing is black or white only. Giving proportionally more money to artists who collect high royalties in the first place and proportionally less money to artists who collect the minuscule royalties (most of us) seems a bit strange. The artists who get the big cheques with royalties don’t need the money now in the first place. But the artists who already get little to nothing would need it most. Also there are a lot of freelance people in that business who do not get royalties in the first place and who would need the money as much or even more. So I’m wondering, if as a record company one would want to help people one is related to, this seems not the most obvious way to do it. In my very humble opinion.
          Also I can’t follow RvB’s statement, this wouldn’t change their bottom line now. It’s less money for them now in the bank. (and more later, when they subtract the advance)
          Sorry, I have seen too much nonsense and too many good men die in this business, to believe this is 100% selfless.

          • Tamino.

            Please write to me privately robert@bis.se, and I will set you straight, when it concerns facts, book-keeping laws etc.

          • Bill says:

            Just because one artist collects more in royalties than another gives you no certain insight into their respective financial situations! It is extremely unlikely that any of the artists are only receiving income from BIS, and they didn’t necessarily start in the same financial position, either. The artist who is already well off is in a better position to devote time and effort to a recording project which may not sell many copies; another equally-fine artist without a well-paid spouse or family connections might have to decline because the offer to record some off-the-beaten-track rep would take too much time for the anticipated return if they can’t expect to interest promoters in booking them to perform it.

            As for whether this is selfless or not, I suggest that RvB would benefit from his label being known as one that takes care of its people when the chips are down. That seems entirely appropriate! That benefit may be paid only in intangibles, like the ease of getting to sleep at night, or they may actually sell more disks as a result. The impression I get is of a decent businessman who has taken a look at the numbers and chosen a course of action which will help without putting the company’s long-term health at undue risk, and he’s doing it without asking the taxpaying public for a dime (except via their future voluntary purchases).

          • Gustavo says:

            Looking back at what BIS and their artists have made accessible to a wider public over decades – while my finger glides along the oaken CD shrine – the result presents itself as priceless cultural heritage!

      • Vaquero357 says:

        Hi Robert~ Well…. *I* recognized the generosity of your gesture! It means you’re digging deep into your company’s cash reserves to help your artists – at the very sort of time when the prudent business decision would be to reef the sails, keep expenses to a bare minimum, and ride out the storm.

        As you and others have said, if future sales don’t cover the advances (and we *are* facing a potential major recession when CDs may not be at the top of everybody’s weekly shopping list) you will suffer a permanent financial loss.

        And you still went ahead and did the generous thing. Bless you!

        P.S. Thank you for all the *marvelous* Minnesota Orchestra recordings! Wonderful to see our “home team” getting such royal treatment.

      • Tamino says:

        I think I asked a legitimate question. Why would you give advance money to those who don’t need it, your artists who already make a lot of money and collect high royalties, and not to those who actually need it, your artists who make very little from royalties and otherwise, and then also those who get no royalties in the first place?
        If the motivation is to help those who need it the most, doubling royalties as advance payment seems totally counterintuitive, sorry.

        • Emil says:

          You did not – you insinuated that he was doing it to wiggle more money from the government and that he was being dishonest.

          And he is clear that it is subject to the artist’s approval – if they don’t want the advance, they can decline it.

          By the sound of some comments here, if he’s not selling his own kidney he’s not doing enough. You might try appreciating the gesture instead of frantically looking for a catch.

        • Bill says:

          Far from convinced that any of the BIS artists are pocketing huge royalty checks given the state of classical music sales. Even further from convinced that should any be fortunate enough to be collecting the hypothesized huge royalty checks that they are undeserved.

          RvB is trying to help a class of people he is in a position to help: recording musicians on his label. Of course they are not all in an identical financial situation, and some will be helped more than others by just about any way you might choose to distribute some funds. If you don’t like how he chooses to help his associates with his money, you should feel free to help them out yourself with yours. When you do, be sure to share your methodology with us so that we might question your motivations!

        • Saxon Broken says:


          You really did not ask a legitimate question. Sure, it won’t help everyone, but it helps some people. A label like BIS does not make huge amounts of money; the recordings are largely a work of love for which the owner works hard and gets a reasonable living (not much more). The owner has done something simple, that should provide a small amount of help.

  • Paul says:

    This is a nice gesture, and perhaps not standard practice, and therefore I am not writing here to criticize at all. However, it reminds me of something Sir Charles Mackerras once told me. He said that he was paid an advance for the future royalties of his recordings with London/Decca, and that his actual current royalties (in particular for the opera recordings) never reached what the amount was that he had received in his advance. That was, of course, a very good deal for him, but the point he clarified after that story was how poorly his opera recordings were selling, and thus why they were no longer able to produce as many full-length opera CDs.

    • Bruce says:

      …which makes it an even more gallant gesture on Mr. von Bahr’s part. He knows he may never get that money back. (See his comment in reply to Tamino, above)

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Much of the repertoire that he records, I would think, sells fewer than 1000 copies. Nobody is getting rich from these recordings. We are lucky that labels like BIS exist at all.

  • JohnG says:

    It’s a very thoughtful and principled gesture. Not quite the same situation, but I remember that when the equally wonderful Hyperion Records were in dire straits they suggested that buying an extra disc or two would be the best way of supporting.

    I’m off to buy a couple of BIS discs.

    • JohnG says:

      p.s. I think – testimony to the principle – that BIS deserve recognition for their commitment to plastic-free CD issues. Inspiring leadership from Robert von Bahr and his team. Long may they flourish.

      • Vaquero357 says:

        Heh, well there’s a *little* plastic in the disc itself, but plastic-free packaging is brilliant. Everybody would have benefited. I would need fully half the shelf space for CDs if, from the beginning, they had come in simple cardboard sleeves like LPs! Manufacturers and wholesalers would have saved zillions in shipping costs in the last (nearly) 40 years. And yes, the environment, too.

        Now, I’m going to look over the Bis catalog and see what I “need” for my collection.

        • Gustavo says:

          The new Prokofiev disc (Gambler suite, Autumnal Sketch, Stone Flower suite) with the Lahti SO is very good!

          The first time since probably the early 90ties we get to hear new versions of these works.

          SACD arrived just in time, irrespective of any crisis.

          It made my Easter!

          • Vaquero357 says:

            Hmmmmm….. sounds interesting. Lahti Symphony – Osmo Vanska’s old crew. Yeah, I’ll add this to my list. Thanks for the tip, Gustavo!

      • John Borstlap says:

        Agreed. But more important is their courage to record unusal repertoire, things that you don’t hear elsewhere in concert life.

      • Robert von Bahr says:

        Thank you, JohnG. Yes, I am pretty proud of them – 100% certified reused cardboard, soy colours, eco-glue and water-based varnish. More beautiful, much lighter (saves fuel), unfortunately more expensive to produce than the plastic jewel case, but we find it’s worth it – we swallow the difference.
        But, JohnG, not CDs (except very occasionally), SACDs. BIS basically only release SACDs, which, for those with such a player, gives a much higher sound quality and surround.

        • Vaquero357 says:

          Embracing SACD – another thing I love about Bis. Well, hybrid SACDs, so they still play on Redbook players. These days, whenever there’s a choice, I go for the SACD!

  • Vaquero357 says:

    The accountants will tell you to cut expenses to a bare minimum, lay off staff, and hunker down for the storm. This gentleman is reaching into his own pocket and sharing what he has with others.

    Maybe he gets his money back down the line on future sales….. maybe some of these advances turn into gifts. The artists give up some future royalties for money they may desperately need right *now*. At least in the future, they will be (we hope!) working again and have other income.

    Three cheers for #TeamRobertvonBahr!!

  • psq says:

    This is not directed at anyone in particular on this site, but you know who you are.
    Even in the present stressful and unhappy time, every gesture of kindness and graciousness reported here still elicits snarky comments from the usual suspects. Could you, yes you, you know who you are, post pictures of yourselves so that we can see the halo above your head?

  • psq says:

    Another model to change the grim picture of cash flow.
    Shops that are closed at present have zero income. But in our neighbourhood we are urged to buy vouchers from our (favourite) shops and restaurants online, if they are available. Yes, some of these shops may still go out of the business when better times return, but that is like BIS paying an advance but never recoup it from later sales. These shops define our neighbourhood and we hate to lose them. Ditto the artist recorded by BIS.

  • Jon D. says:

    Well, it was my intent to stir the pot and it did indeed work.
    To add fuel to the fire, how many records does say a classical pianist really sell? It cannot be that many with the proliferation of all the pianists past and present to choose from. I am sorry but I have never met an altruistic businessman in my life…

    • Harold Wilkin says:

      What a cynical and sad comment! How do you imagine that paying royalties in advance benefits BIS? There are many good and humane people in the world and Robert von Bahr is obviously one of them.

    • Emil says:

      First he’s not helping, now he’s helping but not enough, then if he’s helping there must be a catch. Bit of shifting goalposts isn’t it?

    • Paul Carlile says:

      Well, now you have!