One of the most popular songs of last year, if not ever, is reaching a new milestone this week, but Gotye’s hit single “Somebody That I Used To Know” is still sharing its huge financial rewards, reaching over approximately $1 million in returns, but even with those figures, Gotye is waving goodbye to more than half of the royalties.
According to the Courier Mail, next week finds “Somebody That I Used To Know” celebrating its one year anniversary on the ARIA Top 50 singles charts, coming in at a pretty solid #43. The news comes after the acclaimed single has landed a #1 ranking in 24 countries over the past 12 months. Originally released on July 5th 2011 in Australia and New Zealand, debuting a week later at #27 on the ARIA Singles Charts despite an initial lack of airplay on major radio stations.
While we can only imagine Gotye swimming in a gigantic gold swimming pool filled with $100 notes thanks to the enormous success of the single, it appears that his royalties of the (overplayed) track are split with another artist, and we are not talking about Kimbra.
Luiz Bonfa is a Brazilian guitarist and composer, best known for a track he wrote for the 1959 film Black Orpheus, and an adventurous pioneer in South America’s jazz scene, and it is his guitar playing that opens Gotye’s world-beating song. The ubiquitous single samples Luiz Bonfa’s “Seville” in the beginning of the track and can be heard throughout.
As such, despite its ongoing chart success and enormous sales, before the single became a worldwide phenomenon, Gotye was more than willing to split the song’s royalties with the Brazilian almost equally. So now there are two happy chaps swimming in Gotye’s money pool… or perhaps not. Luiz Bonfa has been dead for over a decade. Luiz Bonfa is a Brazilian guitarist and composer – and it is his guitar playing that opens Gotye’s world-beating song… [He] was more than willing to split the song’s royalties with the Brazilian almost equally.
As previously reported, Gotye remarked in a Billboard interview that “Luiz Bonfa’s sample directly prompted the first line of lyrics,” adding that “the back and forth left me thinking about these different break-ups and different relationships over the years, and the lyrics flowed from there.”
So what does this mean in terms of divided royalties? As the Courier Mail reports, before the release of the track in 2011, the decision to all but halve the royalties with Bonfa would have been very reasonable for the small-time Australian artist. With a dividing percentage of 55/45; Gotye and Bonfa are also both credited as co-writers of the track.
The track (that almost was never released) went on to push Australia’s Wally De Backer into worldwide fame, with the help of the gorgeous guest vocalist Kimbra. The duo landing themselves a shelf full of awards, including Record Of The Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 2013 Grammys, not to mention becoming one of the most downloaded tracks of all time and one of the most watched Youtube clips of all time. The rest of course, is history, with “Somebody That I Used To Know” exceeding everyone’s expectations, and putting creative Australian musicians back on the world map.
So, assuming that the APRA royalty, of 8.9 percent, is split evenly between the two and that the track sells for an average price of $1.20, the Bonfa estate would have collected more than $1 million so far, with that figure steadily growing.
So despite having died in 2001 at the age of 78, Bonfa has now become a millionaire thanks to a small sample repeated on Gotye’s most popular track, which his estate can now enjoy.
The royalties figure does not include radio airplay, streaming and Youtube hits, which also extract a small percentage for each play. The figure is not a lot, until you consider the over 500 million YouTube views, each earning a quarter of a cent.
Independent music analyst Gavin Ryan stated that at the time, sharing Gotye’s success with the late Luiz Bonfa would have seemed like a “viable option but I guess now, in hindsight, not so much.” The decision would have been made in an attempt to save money for the then-struggling musician, but as his lawyer David Vodicka has revealed to The Age, the songwriter preferred to pay the Bonfa estate a split of the royalties as opposed to paying a fee upfront. Assuming that the APRA royalty, of 8.9 percent, is split evenly between the two and that the track sells for an average price of $1.20, the Bonfa estate would have collected more than $1 million so far,
With Kimbra (who was a fill-in for another female vocalist pulling out at the last minute) also receiving a small percentage of the royalties for the #1, Gotye is just a man who gives and gives, and with the estimated sum of tens of millions of dollars to be earned over the next 50 years, it seems that Gotye will become the most generous artist of his generation.
Instead of diving headfirst into a sequel to Making Mirrors, the Grammy Award winning Melbournian has used his leap into international fame to highlight his genersity in other ways, recently preaching his affection for Australian community radio in an attempt to reverse the cuts in national digital radio budgets.
Sending an open letter to Minister Conroy, about the Federal Budget shortfall of $1.4 million that could see up to 37 digital community radio stations falling silent, Wally De Backer wrote that: “We are fortunate to have one of the most diverse and vibrant community radio landscapes in the world, something that has become clearer to me since travelling… I urge you Minister, rectify this budget shortfall. It will ensure that young musicians starting to develop a unique sound and vision can find an audience.”
Highlighting his musical credibility to stand up for the little guy in Australian music, Gotye adds, “recently my music has enjoyed a great amount of success both locally and internationally, garnering hundreds of millions of views on YouTube, selling 10+ million records worldwide and receiving a number of awards” – he goes on to emphasise that “Australian community radio has been instrumental in my recent international success.”
It’s not the first time the internationally recognised musician has thrown his support behind music initiatives at a community level. De Backer also showed his support for live music by contributing to SLAM’s cause through their crowdfunding campaign, recording an a capella cover with Perfect Tripod of The Reels’ ‘Quasimodo’s Dream’ to help raise money for the live music activists.
“People like Gotye may never need to play a small gig again, but he understands how important they are for the development of a vibrant culture,” enthused Helen Marcou of SLAM.