Demand fees to compensate musicians and songwriters “just in case” a musician plays a copyrighted song, but rather than pay these huge costs many owners, 50% in St Cloud, Minnesota alone, are deciding to get rid of live music altogether.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that royalty collection societies really don’t care about a majority of the artists they claim to represent the best interests of.
Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), and SESAC (formerly the Society of European Stage Actors and Composers), the three major live music licensing companies in this country, require all venues where live music is played to to purchase a license or face penalties for copyright infringement.
It’s not necessarily because an artists played a copyrighted song, but rather just in case.
“Basically, we don’t know,” said Dave Ascher, a Music Licensing Consultant for SESAC. “To make a long story short, there’s no way, logistically, for us to know whether on a day-to-day basis they’re playing SESAC music.”
Individually the licenses are usually no more than $650 p/yr, but when combined with payments to the other two the amount grows untenable for many, especially if they’re also required to pay royalties for music played on a jukebox or radio.
So what has happened is that many are choosing to shutter live music altogether, by some accounts as many as 50% in the St Cloud, Minnesota area alone.
“Fully 50 percent of the clubs that we were gigging at five years ago have shut down their live music,” said Dan Preston of Preston and Paulzine.
Brian Lee, co-owner of The White Horse bar in St Cloud, was stunned to hear SESAC was demanding it buy a music license being that it doesn’t even use cover bands.
Jerry Bailey, director of media relations at BMI, said it has a “responsibility to the 400,000 songwriters and publishers affiliated with us to collect all the income they’re entitled to under the law.”
But, what neither it nor the other royalty collection groups mention is that they mainly focus on collecting royalties for big name artists since they are easier to track.
For this Bailey suggests they “write a hit song,” that the “world of songwriting is a very competitive business and if other people don’t perform your music, you’re not going to make money.”
So in other words, up and coming artists be dammed. Those that need these live venues the most in order to hone their craft and make that hit song or album are quickly finding the number of locations dwindling.
“They’re protecting Bruce Springsteen, who doesn’t really need a whole lot more money,” adds Preston.
The funny thing is that ASCAP, for example, says its “the only performing rights organization in the U.S. owned and run by songwriters, composers and music publishers.” If that’s the case then you’d think it’s be a bit more understanding when it came to the lifeblood of emerging artists.
But, I guess the lunacy makes sense being that it’s the same group that tried back in June to argue that a ringtone constitutes a public performance.