Wednesday, October 8, 2008

ASCAP: Legalized Mafia?

I went to the Black Rose Caffe tonight to pay owners Mariah and Demetrius a visit, and to find out exactly what had gone down with ASCAP. The few details I'd heard about their decision to nix live music came to me secondhand. Maybe my earlier post on the subject was unfair, too hasty, too inflammatory. Maybe there was another side to this story.

Turns out my last post wasn't inflammatory enough. Mariah and Demetrius were happy to regale me with tales of the organization's misbehavior:
  • ASCAP lawyers have been hammering Black Rose with phone calls and e-mails, pressuring them to pay the $800-or-so yearly licensing fee, plus back pay for the three years they've been in business. (BMI calls them too, but they're not as relentless.) Sadly, this is the most honorable tactic on the list.

  • Sometimes Mariah and Demetrius get calls from people that go something like, "Hey, my buddy and I have a bet going. What band played at your place last week? There wasn't a band? Sure there was. You know, the band that played covers?"

  • On one occasion, a homeless guy came in asking what the event was going to be for the night. When told that there was no event, he insisted there had to be one and looked around the room searching for it. (It's possible that this man was simply a little unbalanced, but in light of everything else, that's not my first guess.)
In my last post, I tried to give these guys some benefit of the doubt, saying I understood that they don't have the resources to send spies out to every little coffeehouse in the country. But if the above is any indication, they do have the resources ... and it doesn't matter. Truth be damned, their goal is to keep the pressure up until Black Rose caves and pays them.

"It's like the legalized Mafia," Mariah said.


Kevin said...

It gets even worse. ASCAP allocates the royalties it collects mainly on the basis of radio play. So if you cover little-known songwriters, chances are they won't see a penny. Instead the vast majority of royalties will go to popular artists, whether they are getting covered or not.

cinderkeys said...

That part doesn't bother me as much. They can't set up telescreens in every venue to monitor exactly which songs people are covering. And if they made owners report every song, or required artists to submit their set lists before performing and not deviate from them, it would be a royal pain in the ass. Chances are that the more radio play an artist gets, the more people will cover them (though probably that's becoming less true in the age of the Internet). It seems like a reasonable proxy.

But. BUT. If the system is necessarily inaccurate, then ASCAP and BMI don't have the moral authority to hound every tiny coffeehouse in the nation. I don't think Mick and Keith have been lying awake nights, worrying that Cinder Bridge will slip and play "Miss You" at the Black Rose Caffe.

On another note, it occurs to me that you, Kevin, are the only person who has ever covered a song I wrote. I'll tell you where to send the check. ;)

David Powell said...

The music industry's tactics with regards to IP are clearly shortsighted and ultimately self-destructive, but I've got say that $70/mo. for a blanket license (if that is, indeed, what they're offering) does not strike me as fundamentally unreasonable.

cinderkeys said...

I had the same thought at first. "$800 for a year? That wouldn't be so bad." And it's not ... if you want your bands to be able to play covers. Black Rose Caffe doesn't, and they should have the right to make that decision without constant bombardment from the IP police.

Charging for a service that a business needs is reasonable. Charging to make the harassment stop is more like a protection racket. I don't care if it's for $70/month or $5/month.

DeppityBob said...

"Real nice coffeehouse ya got here. Shame if something happened to it."