Non-profit performance rights organization SoundExchange announced today that distributed nearly $88 million to more than 18,300 payees during the third quarter of 2011, the largest quarterly distributions since its 2000 founding. For perspective, total distributions made by SoundExchange in 2010 were $249.2 million, up from $155.5 million in 2009.

The PRO collects royalties paid by statutory licensees like Internet radio, satellite radio and cable TV music-only channels and distributes them to recording artists and sound recording copyright owners.

About $15 million of the current quarter’s payouts were the result of claims and adjustments made through the SoundExchange website, which includes searchable databases of unclaimed royalties along with tools for correcting the missing, incorrect or conflicting information inevitable in a database formed from so many multiple sources.

Additionally, many artists – particularly legacy artists who may be unfamiliar with things like statutory licenses for digital music – are unaware that they should register with SoundExchange.

As one example of what this means, a recent initiative by online music store and digital distributor CD Baby and SoundExchange identified 14,380 CD Baby-affiliated artists and labels who collectively are owed more than $1 million. This week, CD Baby began sending emails to all matched artists and labels, explaining the royalties and encouraging those artists and labels to register with SoundExchange to get paid.

“The reason that CD Baby exists is to make it easy for independent artists to get paid for their hard work,” said Brian Felsen, president of CD Baby. “That’s why we’re excited to help our artists claim their royalties through SoundExchange. Nothing makes us happier than to see new revenue streams flowing to independent musicians.”

SoundExchange president Michael Huppe said payments from the PRO are the result of billions of digital performances by thousands of music services every month. “We’ve processed an unprecedented amount of digital performance data this quarter, which is proof positive that consumers are listening, purchasing and enjoying music in more ways than ever,” hes aid. “It is our responsibility to ensure that this upsurge of digital performances can be converted into a reliable revenue stream for those who created the music.”

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Photo by flickr user MikeCogh, used under Creative Commons license