BMI, ASCAP fees = lose my gig

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BMI, ASCAP fees = lose my gig

Post by kweis7 » Sat Dec 26, 2009 12:02 pm

I have a solo guitar gig at an Italian restaurant on Sunday nights. It does not pay a lot althought the tips can be good. I like the food and the paid practice a lot and having a steady Sunday is sweet.

ASCAP hit the owner up for ~$400 bucks for licensing. I worked out a deal to play for a little cheaper for a month to defray the cost of this. Now BMI is harassing the owner for another $400 and I might very well lose my gig over this as the owner is not gonna cough up the dough. I bring in a few tables each night, no small fete, but I can't really argue over another $400 with the owner for a few tunes on a Sunday night.

The plan is to play only ASCAP licensed tunes. So BMI and ASCAP both have search functions to see if they license a particular tune. Does any one have experience with playing only ASCAP tunes at a gig? If a tune is licensed by both BMI and ASCAP are fees due to both? I need to have some set lists in case BMI really makes a stink. I wouldn't make an effort if it was a bigger money venue but $800 a year seems like a lot for such a modest gig.
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Re: BMI, ASCAP fees = lose my gig

Post by Nick Sevilla » Sat Dec 26, 2009 6:17 pm

kweis7 wrote:I have a solo guitar gig at an Italian restaurant on Sunday nights. It does not pay a lot althought the tips can be good. I like the food and the paid practice a lot and having a steady Sunday is sweet.

ASCAP hit the owner up for ~$400 bucks for licensing. I worked out a deal to play for a little cheaper for a month to defray the cost of this. Now BMI is harassing the owner for another $400 and I might very well lose my gig over this as the owner is not gonna cough up the dough. I bring in a few tables each night, no small fete, but I can't really argue over another $400 with the owner for a few tunes on a Sunday night.

The plan is to play only ASCAP licensed tunes. So BMI and ASCAP both have search functions to see if they license a particular tune. Does any one have experience with playing only ASCAP tunes at a gig? If a tune is licensed by both BMI and ASCAP are fees due to both? I need to have some set lists in case BMI really makes a stink. I wouldn't make an effort if it was a bigger money venue but $800 a year seems like a lot for such a modest gig.
Try playing non-BMI/ASCAP tunes.
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Post by cgarges » Sat Dec 26, 2009 8:41 pm

Is the owner charging you for the fees? That's a new one on me. I've played in places that have been shut down for not paying the fees and I have played in places that require you only play original material, but I've never heard of an establishment passing the fees on to the performers. I'd bail and find another gig if that's the case.

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Post by JGriffin » Sat Dec 26, 2009 10:52 pm

Does this establishment not ever have any other entertainment, not even a jukebox? Kind of amazed they're just now running into this. And like Chris said, bullshit that they try to pass the charge on to the performer.
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Post by kweis7 » Sun Dec 27, 2009 6:58 am

No, they are not charging me, although I did play for a discount for a month to cover a bit of the ASCAP charge, which I suppose is the same thing. They have Musac, which covers the licensing. I often sell a CD or 2 and always walk out with good tips, on top of getting paid and fed.

I'm making a list of ASCAP licensed tunes, just interested if anyone has done this before. Finding gigs in this little town is not so easy and I've kept a Wed. and a Thurs. night going for over 3 years now. Over time these owners saw their head count grow and these sorts of issues went away and I have been able to get better money. The exposure has led to private work that is fairly lucrative.

Just trying to keep this one going too. Playing regularly has been super for my chops, over the years and it is a nice little venue, right down the street. The pasta e fagole and lasagna rock it.
Last edited by kweis7 on Sun Dec 27, 2009 7:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by BostonBassist » Sun Dec 27, 2009 7:12 am

I remember playing at a club years back in Rhode Island that ended up having to close its doors because the licensing agents caught up with them after not paying for years. Keep us posted on how this works out - there are fewer and fewer places to play and I think we are going to start seeing the agencies looking around at smaller establishments more.

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Re: BMI, ASCAP fees = lose my gig

Post by Randy » Sun Dec 27, 2009 8:59 am

noeqplease wrote:
Try playing non-BMI/ASCAP tunes.
That would be a noble effort, but in venues like restaurants where the patrons are eating and talking, the last thing they want is to be confronted with new songs. I know this sounds idiotic to musicians, but civilians are strange beasts indeed. Sadly, anything that the average patron will recognize is probably signed up with BMI or ASCAP.

Anyway, that might not even work. After my band played one gig here in Chicago, an ASCAP rep came up and demanded we pay him royalties. We just laughed at him- we were playing originals. He tried to convince us that we needed to pay anyway. Maybe he was just some drunk trying to scam cash, but he had paperwork and envelopes addressed to ASCAP. I think he'd get caught trying to cash a check addressed to "ASCAP." I told him I was already signed up with BMI and that I never got any benefit for it. None of the stuff I wrote and recorded ever got much airplay beyond a few times on a local college station. I'd hate to think WHPK would have to pay ASCAP any money to play my songs now.

Nevertheless, unions are great things, but ASCAP is not a union, I have no idea what to call it, but it doesn't work and needs to be fixed.
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Post by RefD » Sun Dec 27, 2009 9:55 am

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Re: BMI, ASCAP fees = lose my gig

Post by ubertar » Sun Dec 27, 2009 10:04 am

Randy wrote:None of the stuff I wrote and recorded ever got much airplay beyond a few times on a local college station. I'd hate to think WHPK would have to pay ASCAP any money to play my songs now.
College radio is exempt, as far as I know.

edit: Actually, never mind... I think that's probably wrong.
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Post by Gentleman Jim » Mon Dec 28, 2009 10:25 am

kweis7 wrote:
I have a solo guitar gig at an Italian restaurant on Sunday nights. It does not pay a lot althought the tips can be good. I like the food and the paid practice a lot and having a steady Sunday is sweet.

ASCAP hit the owner up for ~$400 bucks for licensing. I worked out a deal to play for a little cheaper for a month to defray the cost of this. Now BMI is harassing the owner for another $400 and I might very well lose my gig over this as the owner is not gonna cough up the dough. I bring in a few tables each night, no small fete, but I can't really argue over another $400 with the owner for a few tunes on a Sunday night.

The plan is to play only ASCAP licensed tunes. So BMI and ASCAP both have search functions to see if they license a particular tune. Does any one have experience with playing only ASCAP tunes at a gig? If a tune is licensed by both BMI and ASCAP are fees due to both? I need to have some set lists in case BMI really makes a stink. I wouldn't make an effort if it was a bigger money venue but $800 a year seems like a lot for such a modest gig.
Here are a few thoughts:

I'm curious how this particular restaurant got on the radar screens of both ASCAP and BMI. I know that they have the right to go in on their artists' behalf, but it seems an unlikely coincidence. Did the owner advertise live music?

Regardless of whether or not there is live music there, the owner will be obligated to pay ASCAP and BMI if they play songs that are registered through both companies - even if it's just background music. It's probably worth the owner's while to just pay them both and be able to play almost whatever he wants. (We haven't mentioned SESAC in this thread yet.)

Are there any other nights the owner would be agreeable to having live music? Perhaps you can recommend a friend to play Wednesdays or Thursdays with similar terms to yours and the owner could have the costs of both defrayed. While I don't think paying the annual fees should be 100% the responsibility of live performers, if the terms work for all involved then it doesn't really matter what anyone else's opinion is.

Bottom line, it seems like a good situation. The owner should be happy you're hustling a few tables into their restaurant every week. I can certainly understand why you like the gig. Maybe a little more of a good thing can help you keep it going. But while doing only ASCAP songs is possible, it would make it hard to take requests. A husband doesn't want to hear that you can't play "Michelle" by the Beatles on his anniversary because the owner of the restaurant can't have any Beatles songs played.

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Post by chris harris » Mon Dec 28, 2009 1:09 pm

If you're getting paid to play the songs, it only makes sense that the people who wrote them should be compensated as well....

There are plenty of legitimate complaints about how these organizations conduct their business... but, in the end, in theory, they're representing those who write the songs.

These discussions usually swing to talk of "extortion" and such. But, to me, $800 a year sounds like a pretty reasonable rate to make sure that your customers can hear music that they like while they're dining.

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Post by roscoenyc » Mon Dec 28, 2009 5:23 pm

subatomic pieces wrote:If you're getting paid to play the songs, it only makes sense that the people who wrote them should be compensated as well....
But the people that wrote the songs do not get compensated from these restaurant/bar/club "licenses" in the US.

There is no tracking system in place in the US.

The money goes into a pool. It does not go to the writers or publishers of the songs that get played.

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Post by b3groover » Mon Dec 28, 2009 6:21 pm

Exactly.

ASCAP does not give a shit about the little guy at all. Our last CD hit #1 on the CMJ jazz charts. I have PDFs full of data about how many stations played us how many times, which tracks were played, who played them, etc. In my statements from ASCAP barely 1% of those plays showed up. I never got anything for the most-played tune on the record.

I still get one or two emails or Facebook messages from people per week saying they heard us on Comcast's MusicChoice channels and yet my last royalty statement from ASCAP was a measly $1.29 for cable/satellite play.

I've emailed them about this and talked on the phone. They basically admitted that the system is not set up to benefit me.

The system is broken.

For them to come into a small restaurant where a solo act is performing and demand money is akin to racketeering, imo.
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Post by kweis7 » Mon Dec 28, 2009 6:54 pm

Gentleman Jim wrote:kweis7 wrote:

I'm curious how this particular restaurant got on the radar screens of both ASCAP and BMI. I know that they have the right to go in on their artists' behalf, but it seems an unlikely coincidence. Did the owner advertise live music?

Regardless of whether or not there is live music there, the owner will be obligated to pay ASCAP and BMI if they play songs that are registered through both companies - even if it's just background music. It's probably worth the owner's while to just pay them both and be able to play almost whatever he wants. (We haven't mentioned SESAC in this thread yet.)

Are there any other nights the owner would be agreeable to having live music? Perhaps you can recommend a friend to play Wednesdays or Thursdays with similar terms to yours and the owner could have the costs of both defrayed. While I don't think paying the annual fees should be 100% the responsibility of live performers, if the terms work for all involved then it doesn't really matter what anyone else's opinion is.

Bottom line, it seems like a good situation. The owner should be happy you're hustling a few tables into their restaurant every week. I can certainly understand why you like the gig. Maybe a little more of a good thing can help you keep it going. But while doing only ASCAP songs is possible, it would make it hard to take requests. A husband doesn't want to hear that you can't play "Michelle" by the Beatles on his anniversary because the owner of the restaurant can't have any Beatles songs played.
The owner did promote and so did I (web based and free press locally). Having more nights of music multiplies the fees so it doesn't get cheaper to have more nights of music. I got an email from the owner today saying that the BMI guy is getting more aggressive, talking about fines and lawyers. Dunno for sure yet, but I think my gig might be toast. I'm gonna try one or two more angles (all originals or discount another month) and will post the results. I will actually pay for the pasta e fagole (damn tasty) if I lose the gig :{
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Post by JGriffin » Mon Dec 28, 2009 7:13 pm

b3groover wrote:Exactly.

ASCAP does not give a shit about the little guy at all. Our last CD hit #1 on the CMJ jazz charts. I have PDFs full of data about how many stations played us how many times, which tracks were played, who played them, etc. In my statements from ASCAP barely 1% of those plays showed up. I never got anything for the most-played tune on the record.

I still get one or two emails or Facebook messages from people per week saying they heard us on Comcast's MusicChoice channels and yet my last royalty statement from ASCAP was a measly $1.29 for cable/satellite play.

I've emailed them about this and talked on the phone. They basically admitted that the system is not set up to benefit me.

The system is broken.

I've heard dozens of stories just like this one. The system is indeed broken.
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