ASCAP Tells Artists It's Cutting Their Payments As It Brags To The Press How Much More Money It's Collecting

from the whose-interests? dept

ASCAP feels like the gift that keeps on giving to those of us covering it. If you’re an artist… not so much. We’ve covered many examples of how ASCAP’s aggressive efforts to shut down venues from hosting up-and-coming singers is harming local musicians. And, we’ve also pointed out how they use a system to overpay large acts at the expense of small acts. Now it’s getting even worse. Just as ASCAP is attacking groups like Creative Commons, EFF and Public Knowledge — who help artists find more ways to take control over their own careers, it’s also cutting back on payments to many of its artists:

ASCAP cut payments to some members of it’s ASCAPlus program by 20-30%. “Unfortunately, because of the fiscal climate, less money was available this year for the award program,” ASCAP said in a letter to those receiving checks.

Ah, right. The tough economic climate. We do know about that. But… wait. Here’s an ASCAP press release from just five months ago, claiming it was bringing in more money than ever:

“Music is performed more often, in more places, in more ways by more businesses than ever before. That expanded music use, combined with dramatic ASCAP Membership growth, market share increases and effective strategic management have led to stunning revenue and distribution growth for 2009.”

Okay, so ASCAP is collecting more money and distributing more money, but it’s cutting the amount given to ASCAPlus members by a huge amount. What’s ASCAPlus? Ah, right, the smaller artists who can’t make a big stink about this:

“writer members of any genre whose performances are primarily in venues not surveyed; and/or writer members whose catalogs have prestige value for which they would not otherwise be compensated.”

In other words, ASCAP appears to be taking more money away from small artists, and giving it to their biggest artists. No wonder ASCAP’s Paul Williams refuses to debate Larry Lessig, claiming he’d rather focus on “fair compensation to music creators.” Unless you’re a smaller, less well known artist. Then ASCAP wants your share to be a little less fair. Actually, quite a bit less fair. Like 20 to 30%.

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Comments on “ASCAP Tells Artists It's Cutting Their Payments As It Brags To The Press How Much More Money It's Collecting”

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Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Got it.

We get internet royalties

Internet royalties are paid, but do you get them? My understanding was that the royalties were all pooled, then divvied out wholesale. (That’s how ASCAP works with the royalties generated from radio and live performances.) If that’s the case, then the 20-30% cut to “ASCAPlus” members will affect internet royalties as well.

piracy can really fuck us.

Whether “piracy” (actually, non-commercial infringement) “fucks” you or not depends entirely on whether you can find a way to leverage your popularity into getting paid. Non-commercial infringement doesn’t affect that – in fact, given the right business model, it can actually help you make money.

If you want to look at what “fucks” you, look at the prohibitive fees the PRO’s and RIAA members are demanding, which makes it impossible to start up a new music service.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Its understandable from a business perspective. They are trying to keep their cash cows happy at the expense of the artists who bring in small sums of cash. Look for this to happen with all the other music collection societies in the near future, as CD sale continue to plummet, and online sales of music begin to decrease over the next year or so.
They will however keep the majority of their artists because a small sum of money is still money coming in for them.

I love the term critial mass. I’m on a horse.

BruceLD says:


Rest assured that the executives and lawyers of ASCAP are not giving themselves pay cuts due to the “economic climate”. In fact, I’ll bet regardless of what the economy is like…they continue to give themselves raises, continue to fly on private corporate jets around the world, enjoy the most expensive wines and champagnes, stay at the most expensive luxury suites in the best hotels in the world, etc.

But of course, pay the artists less or as little as possible. ASCAP are not in it to protect the artists–they’re in it for themselves and themselves only.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

At least they are consistent. ASCAP has pretty much shut down the small venues and open mike nites where these artists get their start. Now they are cutting their fees. Does having your fees cut by 30% matter if they have cut close to 100% of your ability to get into the business to start with.

Perhaps the small artists should push to the law changed make any audience with fewer than 250 patrons exempt from collection society licensing.

Bob (profile) says:

what about the long tail/short tail argument?

While I’ve had enough dealings with ASCAP to believe that they’re just sticking it to the little acts, I thought I would raise a possibility: it’s just how the markets are changing. Despite all of the hype of the “Long Tail” and the sing-it-they-will-come beliefs of this echo chamber, much of the evidence points to a further concentration. Maybe we all want to read/watch/listen to the same thing.

Here are some articles:

Perhaps the little guy is supposed to get less by an honest interpretation of the formulae?

Anonymous Coward says:

I noticed something in Asia due to piracy.
Distribution companies that tried to keep foreigners products out, are now trying to cash in on those products, it is piracy opening up markets and it is not having a huge negative effect on their own products how can that be?

In the past it took 3 or more years to TV series, books and music to reach some corners in Asia that time is reduced and it is not shown at 3 o’clock in the morning as it was before, now they got some prime time and the same thing happened to Asian products in Europe and America, somehow piracy is good for business because it does create the demand.

There is no collection agencies doing a better job at attracting attention to what people want to sell.

Tonsotunez (profile) says:

ASCAPlus Is A Unique Program

I think it is important to know that no other PRO in the entire world has such a program.

No other society pays songwriters (music publishers do not receive payments from ASCAPlus) for unsurveyed performances – for example performances of their own songs at ‘open mic nights’ in local bars, etc..

If payments from this program are reduced by a small factor to reflect the realities of our economic downturn and the impact of the move into the digital world, a songwriter still earns 100% more than he or she would from any other society because no other society offers anything like this unique program.

ASCAP, in fact, does more than any other society in the world to support emerging songwriters. The ASCAPlus program is a small part of that support.

You know a visit to the ASCAP website would give you a pretty good idea of what it offers all of its members irrespective of their current stature in the music business.

I know you find great joy in blasting away at ASCAP — just what is it you hate about songwriters, who, by the way, along with music publishers, own ASCAP – no other PRO in the US can make that statement.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: ASCAPlus Is A Unique Program

I know you find great joy in blasting away at ASCAP — just what is it you hate about songwriters, who, by the way, along with music publishers, own ASCAP – no other PRO in the US can make that statement.

Huh? I don’t hate songwriters at all. I’m huge fans of songwriters, and I want them to succeed and keep writing great songs. It’s why I don’t like the fact that ASCAP screws them over so often. I’d much rather they focus on ways in which they can actually make money.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: ASCAPlus Is A Unique Program

I think it is important to know that no other PRO in the entire world has such a program.

That’s because no other PRO in the world needs one.

For example, ASCAP divvies out royalties according to a sampling of radio programming. The result? Artists who are on the radio, but less often, are more likely to slip through the cracks entirely, and get no royalties at all.

This means that unless your song gets heavy rotation on terrestrial radio, ASCAP is useless to you. The ASCAPlus program was created, in part, to counterbalance the inherently unfair parsing out of royalties. That they are cutting back on the program – but not on other royalties – speaks volumes about how much they give a shit about non-label songwriters.

BMI, on the other hand, relies on logs from the radio stations themselves, which is a much more reliable method.

But neither PRO actually surveys the music that is played in live performances (except arena shows), relying instead on radio play to determine royalties from live venues.

The lack of live surveying also means that venues everywhere (even non-profits) are forced to pay royalties to all three PRO’s, even if no performer ever plays a single song in any PRO’s repertoire.

Many smaller venues can’t afford the royalties, and choose to shut their music down rather than go into debt to the PRO’s. This usually doesn’t happen with mid- or large-size venues, but with the smaller venues, where indie artists get their start – like those “open mic nights” in local bars, which are shutting down left and right due to aggressive PRO’s shaking them down for money.

The other main venue where songwriters can get their start is on the internet. Here, too, the PRO’s (along with RIAA clients) are demanding such incredibly high fees, that starting up a new music service is financially impossible. (Users, naturally, turn to piracy instead.)

Make no mistake about it: Unless you’re a songwriter on a major label, none of the PRO’s give a shit about you. Not content with fucking over their own members, by shutting down venues, they fuck over everyone else as well.

Just what is it that ASCAP hates about musicians, I wonder? Could it be that the publishers and songwriters running ASCAP are more concerned about lining their friends’ pockets than they are about their fellow musicians?

Tonsotunez (profile) says:

ASCAPlus Is A Unique Program

Alex …

Your ancient rhetoric – wrong from the start – is especially out of date today…

BMI’s log driven survey (which, by the way, was a sample survey) was always ripe for gaming or laziness. Gaming, in the sense that jocks would take payoffs to list songs they never played … and laziness, because jocks were prone to including the shorter titles when they were forced to do logs whether they played the songs or not. Just so you know … every jock didn’t do logs all the time … The log procedure moved from one group of stations to another and the results were expanded to cover all stations…. like, you know, a ‘sample survey.’

ASCAP NEVER has had a direct interaction with disc jockies, station managers, music directors and anyone else who had the power to determine the outcome of their surveys.

Today, ASCAP, electronically monitors every play on over 2500 stations in the US .. from college stations to major city stations … Full census … the other stations are taped and the tapes are reviewed. There is no broader survey in the world.

Perhaps, something else you might find interesting about your beloved BMI … they are owned by the people they license! Broadcasters!!

Now I wonder if there might be a little conflict of interest there … Broadcasters hate to pay songwriters … or any other creator (like artists) that provide the music they play.

BMI was established by broadcasters to create competition in the market place in order to drive down the cost of music … They have been very effective … For the most part broadcasters pay less for music in the US than anywhere else in the world.

Now, as for PROs favoring the artists on major labels, that’s pure nonsense … All PROs pay based on the number of performances they survey … They pay based on a percentage of the advertising revenues collected by the broadcasters. They pay more in big cities where advertising revenues are high and less in small cities and college campuses where advertising revenues are small … they are agnostic with respect to the source of the music played (ie indie or major label.)

In the 50’s and early 60’s when independent record labels controlled 60 – 70% of the market the writers of the songs on the indie labels got paid as much as the writers of the songs on the major labels … and that’s the way is remains today … only now the majors rule.

If, as an indie, you could get your song on major stations, you’d get paid the same as everyone else. PROs have NO input on what gets played on radio … or anywhere else … that’s not their function.

As for open mic nights … For every club that says it’s shutting down because of PRO fees, there are hundreds of clubs across the US that stay open and have no problem with the fees … Reality is that club owners, for the most part, pay about the cost of a glass of beer a night for their music licenses. If a club owner can’t make a profit on top of fees like that, I’m sure they are looking to get out of the open mic business and have a convenient scape goat in the PROs to blame.

Although the PROs – and especially ASCAP – offer all kinds of workshops, benefits, industry advise, protection, collection and legislative wherewithal, they are not designed to be your mama … It’s up to you to find your own way to success …

Ian Dunross says:

The monies they’re reducing is from an annual “bonus” that ASCAP sends to songwriters. The other two American performance royalty organizations don’t even award a bonus at all.

I got the letter in question from ASCAP, somehow my bonus was “reduced” to $1000, from $500 the year before.

What they meant by a reduction, is that my bonus would perhaps have been $1,200 – $1,300. These monies are paid directly to the songwriters that earn less than $15,000/year in royalties. If you make over that amount, you’re not eligible for a bonus.

How many people here actually received the letter? As opposed to hearing about it second-hand?

June says:

I received the letter. I understand this is not clear from the article, but your ASCAPlus award amount is totally separate from pretty much anything that happens on the internet OR with physical sales. It is about what’s happened during the past year based on your music’s merit (any awards; significant live performances, esp. in larger venues; publications/etc. — activity like that).

I’ll echo the poster above who’s saying ASCAP is the only PRO that has a program like this. A reduced award is better than no award, which I’d get with BMI. ASCAP is not saying you might as well pirate our music. Piracy / direct sales numbers have nothing to do with ASCAPlus amounts.

June says:

LOL at seeing this article again, five years later, while googling for the same reason. I posted the Sep 2011 comment above. Plus Awards seem to have kept decreasing every year since this article, even as ASCAP’s income has risen every year; they’ve just stopped saying so as explicitly as they did in the quotation above.

Anecdotal (though echoed by my friends): my Plus amount has steadily decreased each year, while my activity and “prestige value” (ASCAP’s term for the basis on which they decide Plus awards) have steadily increased each year.

So I definitely would no longer say “a reduced award is better than no award, which is what I’d get with BMI.” (In fact I’ve spent tonight reading up on switching to BMI.)

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