comments about performance rights orgs


It’s no secret that most of the traditional “recording industry” really is structured almost entirely to help the big name acts, but whenever we write about the collections organizations like ASCAP and BMI we get angry people sending in emails and comments insisting that it’s unfair to lump those two in with the RIAA, since they’re really out to help the actual musicians, even the small guys. Uh huh. Of course, we’ve already shown how ASCAP and BMI and their overly aggressive attempts to collect royalties from just about everywhere actually have been known to harm up-and-coming singers, such as by destroying the ability for many venues to host open mic nights. ASCAP has been particularly aggressive lately in making bizarre claims about how embedding YouTube videos requires a license (despite the fact YouTube already pays ASCAP — so it wants to double count) and how ringtones represent a public performance. These are pure money grabs that make it that much more difficult for anyone to help promote up-and-coming musicians and songwriters. Is it any wonder, in the meantime, that the organization is spending time setting up efforts to try to push back against people who support open culture and content sharing? It apparently would prefer that the songwriters they “represent” not know about these efforts that actually do quite a bit to harm the vast majority of songwriters out there.

But, back to the original point. ASCAP, BMI and their supporters insist that they’re not as bad as the big, mean RIAA, and that they’re especially focused on providing important royalties to less well known artists. Except… even that may be questionable, at least when it comes to live performance royalties (admittedly, a smaller segment of overall royalties). Reader btr1701 sent in some email exchanges from a mailing list, which I won’t share directly since I don’t have approval, concerning a jazz musician trying to find out why she doesn’t receive any live performance royalties, despite knowing that these organizations collect them, supposedly on her behalf. In response, she’s told that ASCAP and BMI only distribute that royalty money to “the top 200 grossing US tours of the year.” If you’re smaller than that? Too bad. Except… they do have one minor exception. If you play “serious music” (no joke), then they’ll pay you your royalties. So, the musician asks what is “serious music” and is told it’s “generally considered to be classical music.”

The musician tried re-registering her own (jazz) compositions as “serious music” but it “does not appear to have made any difference whatsoever” and she notes that she is “yet to receive a single penny… for any US performance or radio broadcast of any kind” despite the fact that her music has been performed in the US for almost ten years, and “the vast majority of performances of my music take place in the US.”

I went looking for some more details, and it appears that, indeed, ASCAP and BMI have a policy in place to only provide performance royalties to the top 200 grossing tours in the US. If you’re a “smaller” act, the only way to get paid is to be an opening act on such a tour. Otherwise? Too bad, you’re on your own. Aren’t you glad you signed with ASCAP or BMI? Update Good clarifications in the comments on this. Despite what the musician was told originally, it appears that it’s not that ASCAP and BMI only pay the top 200 tours, but that they only monitor them (it’s not explained how they know ahead of time which are the top 200) in order to figure out who to pay. The end result, of course, is functionally quite similar. If they’re only monitoring the top 200 grossing tours, then the likelihood of them finding out about songs from less well known composers is close to nil. But those big names? They get more than their fair share.


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