Write A Hit Song If You Want Money

By Mike Masnick, TechDirt

We keep hearing from folks how the collections societies in the US for songwriters and composers, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, are supposedly the “good guys” in that they actually give money to the actual musicians, and they aren’t like the RIAA at all.

But the evidence continues to be lacking on that front. In fact, it increasingly looks like they’re doing a lot more harm to most musicians. Earlier this year, we noted that their aggressiveness in getting just about any small venue to pay up fees was killing off open mic nights and other sorts of venues that allowed musicians to play live. Mike points us to the news that many venues are simply giving up on live music.

The problem? Well, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are all demanding huge fees. Even the restaurants that don’t bring in cover bands are being told they need to pay up, just in case a musician happens to do a cover in the middle of a wholly original set. The licensing organizations don’t seem to care, they just want you to pay, just in case. When asked how they know that covered music is being played, they admit they don’t:

“Basically, we don’t know,” said Dave Ascher, the SESAC Music Licensing Consultant who sent the letters. “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.”

But, just in case, you need to pay up. Of course, rather than doing that, the venues are just giving up on live music, providing fewer places for musicians to perform, hone their craft, and build up a following (and a business model).

As for the claim that these organizations help bring in money for those musicians, well, that’s not seen either. We’ve already seen how they only give money to big name artists in most cases, because that’s all they’re able to track. In fact, the article talks to one musician who’s upset about all the venues closing, but is still registering his songs with ASCAP. When asked if he’s received any royalty check at all, the answer was no. So, how do the collections organizations respond? They tell them to become more famous:

“I’m sorry to hear that, but what I would like to tell him is that he needs to write a hit song,” BMI’s Bailey said.

How nice. They funnel all the money to big name artists, force venues to close so new artists can’t become famous, and then when asked about giving money to those up-and-coming artists, they flippantly tell them to become more famous.

At some point, musicians and songwriters need to learn that these organizations are not doing things in their best interests at all. They’re simply bureaucracies to funnel money to big names, while limiting the competition.