It's no secret that I'm not a fan of music collection societies in general. I tend to think that once they get the right to collect they begin to abuse that power in ways that actually harm musicians and songwriters
more than help them. That's because once they're given a right to demand payments, they continually look to expand that right: covering more areas and increasing the amount they can demand.
While, at first, that might seem like a good thing for the musicians and songwriters they represent, what many don't take into account is the wider repercussions and unintended consequences. For example, by making music more expensive to play, they actually take away a lot of the incentive for many places to play music -- thereby cutting down on promotional venues for certain artists. This has hit coffee shops and other small venues especially hard
, and that's quite a problem since so many musicians actually get their start performing at various open mic nights. The second problem, of course, is in distribution. How do these collection societies accurately distribute money. By their very nature, they really can't track how often songs from less-well-known artists and songwriters are played, and so they often just focus on bigger acts
-- effectively taking money that should go to smaller artists and giving it to bigger artists! If you catch representatives from those groups off-guard, they even seem willing to admit that
, such as the time that a BMI exec responded to such criticism from a songwriter who wasn't getting paid: "I would like to tell him is that he needs to write a hit song."
Andrew Dubber has been thinking about this issue, and is wondering if there might be a slightly better solution that would help up-and-coming artists
. His idea is that these collection societies should take 20% of their overall pot of money, and divide it equally among the lower 80% of the musicians and songwriters who are members. It wouldn't be that much money, but it would give them all some
money. The remaining 80% of the collection revenues would still be handed out as usual, using whatever techniques the collection societies use to figure out who gets what. My first reaction on hearing this is that it would get people to sign up for a chance at "free money," making it something like a welfare system for musicians. But, Dubber points out in the comments that in order to qualify, you'll still need to have a song that was used somewhere else. You can't just say you're a musician.
I'm still not totally convinced that this would work, and I'm also not convinced that the collection society setup is even worth saving at all. But if such societies are going to be around (and it's almost certain they're not going anywhere), then we might as well look at ways to make them actually help more musicians, rather than simply propping up the top of the top, while holding back new comers.