December 21, 2005

Good tidings we bring...

by Chris Randall

Schism sent me a link to this story, knowing it would incite me to rant, while small flecks of spittle formed in the corners of my mouth, and my eyes rolled back in my head. (I know that's why all of you visit this site; that, and gear pr0n.)

However, I think you'll be surprised at how I'm going to take something like this. First, you'll need to read the article, then come back here. [Go ahead. I'll wait.]

BoingBoing is, by far, the worst offender, but the Interweb At Large simply doesn't understand what performing rights societies are all about. To most of the self-styled intelligentsia, ASCAP == RIAA. This is fueled by various reports you see that read like the following: "John Doe has a really cool little store, that sells cool things we like, and he recently got a visit from [performing rights society], saying that since he plays cool music in his cool store, thus contributing to the overall vibe of coolness, he has to cough up $300 a year or some such. The OUTRAGE!!!"

I'll explain it in simple terms for those of you (and I'm talking to you, Cory Doctorow) that don't have the faintest idea what the fuck you're talking about. It's like this: I'm a musician that (barely) eeks out a living writing songs. It is a proven fact that people buy more shit in a store if there's music playing. They're playing my music so people will buy more shit in the store. Their profits go up as a result. I am (justly) entitled to a piece of that, because I helped sell more cheap-ass Chinese clothing.

That, in a nutshell, is what performance rights societies are all about. They make sure that if music is used to sell a product, the musician gets a piece of the action. Nightclubs bitch the most about this, because they have to pay the largest licenses. But you have to realize that a nightclub is simply a fiscal mechanism for turning beer in to money. It has nothing to do with music at all. Customers come to hear the music, and during the course of this, buy beer. In almost every nightclub in the country, the entertainment, be it Superstar DJ Blowme or Bob's Local Cover Band, is a loss-leader for the alcohol sales.

Which brings us to this fellow. (Or bloke, rather. He is British, after all.) Now, if there was a loophole by which a store that sold musical instruments didn't have to pay a license, well, then all Wal-Mart would have to do would be to have a musical instrument section. Sorry, dude, but it's for the greater good. Pay your fucking hundred and fifty quid, and get off your high horse.



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Dec.22.2005 @ 11:24 AM
So do you think that the asshole hip hopper bouncin down the street in his convertible with two 24" sub woofers in his trunk can constitute as a public performance ? I think 50cent should get some money for that. :)


Dec.22.2005 @ 11:54 AM
Chris Randall
Heh. You're funny.

In any case, I can't speak for PRS/BMI/SESAC, but as far as ASCAP goes, if you are actually out working your shit, and you still aren't getting paid, you're able to get a cut of the pool at the end of the year. (ASCAP is a non-profit; thus they have to give away anything they don't distribute every year.) I did this several times when I was younger and didn't have the income I do now. I believe the cutoff is $5000 a year for writer members. One year I got $3700, but most years it was a few hundred dollars. There's a form in Playback every year. All you have to do is fill it out, and provide some sort of proof that your music was performed during the year.

So, yeah, if you are a struggling artist, and can actually prove that you're actually struggling, then you do get a cut of that money. All you have to do is ask for it. This entire thread is proving the article linked in the original post, and my comments thereof: people don't take the time to educate themselves on what performing rights societies do before jumping to conclusions.



Dec.22.2005 @ 11:58 AM
D' MacKinnon
--the small artist generally does not receive a portion of that money.--

Everytime I hear that justification it makes me shudder. Stealing is stealing, even it's from a big entity.


Dec.22.2005 @ 12:01 PM
personally , I think they should jack up the fees so much no restaurant, coffee shop, bar, club will play recorded music and be forced to have live musicians playing their own music if they want music. I hate dining out and having to hear top pop picks playing loudly over their shitty speaker systems. I boycott it.

On the other hand I am a small business owner, a glass blowing school, where students and glass artist regularly play their music (whether on a IPOD or cd ) over our PA system. We do this as a courtesy to our students, teachers, staff, and artists.

I have seen many a times when someone would bring in a cd of a regularly unheard of musician, someone else in the glass studio hears this and go buys the album . Chris, you being one of those musicians;-)


Dec.22.2005 @ 2:09 PM
I do disagree that the owner should be forced to pay for his teenage customers' shitty renditions of "Smoke on the Water", on the grounds that they're not "performances" unless they unintentionally become one; the owner is providing a venue to test equipment rather than to perform. It would be like a bar having to pay royalties if a drunken bunch of college kids started singing "More Than a Feeling". The problem is, as Chris says, that that's not what he's being asked to pay for; it's the music he plays in the background. He (and the writer of the piece) completely misinterpreted what he was paying for and that's why he's kicking up shit about it.

Say, though, a store owner simply left the radio on the oldies station as background music, rather than playing a CD. Does he have to pay for that too, or is he covered by the royalties the radio station is already paying?


Dec.22.2005 @ 2:18 PM
Dave McAnally
I dunno, its kind of a wierd deal just cos its music (I wonder if actors get paid royalties from Best Buy because they put a DVD in to show off the plasma TV's...does anybody know?). If there's a standard fee for performance royalties that's cool (and in this guy's case, that's what it sounds like). I think the square footage should count too (so the big dumb stores like guitar center are held accountable for subjecting me to their shitty client base guitarists). But all in all, I can't imagine this is as big a deal as the guy is making it out to be...its not like they are asking for the known world...its 150 it and move on!

Dec.22.2005 @ 2:23 PM
Chris Randall
If a store owner plays music at all, the big three are eventually gonna come knocking, at least in America.

The comment from gashoagie got me thinking, though. While music does increase productivity in the workplace, I don't believe that shops that aren't open to the public have to pay. I've never heard of one that did.

A bit of a funny story here. When you're at a certain level of performing live, where your shows are mostly bought by big promoters and put in to theatres, you (the artist) are usually charged the fees for both ASCAP and BMI, persuant to what the club has to pay on any given night. This will show up in the expense report the club gives you at settlement time. We would strenuously argue the BMI fee, saying that we were an ASCAP band, playing all ASCAP music, and thus shouldn't be held responsible for the club's agreement with another performing rights society. Sometimes we'd get away with it; usually, not.

On one tour, we had it in the contract that we would pay no fees to ASCAP _or_ BMI, as we were an ASCAP band and thus paying ourselves, which was stupid, and we didn't have anything to do with BMI. As a result, most of the promoters took out the line item, and just lowered our guarantee accordingly. You get it coming and going.



Dec.22.2005 @ 2:39 PM
Wow, this is an interesting issue, Chris. People do seem to be confusing several things here. So is the "riff performing" at music stores a red-herring? and that the license is to cover all music (performed or on the PA) played in the store?

And what's the answer to whether the shop-owner playing the radio ONLY has to pay for the license? What about Muzak?


Dec.22.2005 @ 3:14 PM
Chris Randall
A retail store that plays music has to pay, whether it is Muzak, CDs, iPod, radio, hurdi-gurdi, whatever.

And yes, the "performance" aspect is a red herring, which is what I've been trying to say since the beginning of this thread. There's only one retail license, to the best of my knowledge. Music instrument stores get a discount, because they're part of the business, but they still have to pay.



Dec.22.2005 @ 3:23 PM
Ok, thanks for explaining it, i am pretty ignorant about these issues. i admit to having fears of government overreach but the more i understand it, the more i see that the licensing at least tries to compensate the artists for the use of their works. And these businesses ARE using the music to make more money.


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