ASCAP, BMI and SESAC Force Local Coffee Shop To Shut Down Live Music

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Maria Antonowisch and Jon Bennett aren’t your typical venue owners. The majority of the money they make on their concerts they donate to charities. Pictured above is them handing a check of their concert proceeds to the Backstoppers, an organization that helps the families of fallen police officers and firefighters.

“We don’t do this to make a lot of money. We do this as a community service. We do this for the kids who are trying to break into the music business. And now it’s gone. And that’s the damn crime of the whole thing,” Bennett confessed, “they (the PROs) wouldn’t negotiate to a point that made it more realistic for a small venue like ourselves.”

The couple owns a coffee shop, Bauhaus Kaffee, in the sleepy town of Farmington, Missouri – about 45 minutes south of St. Louis. Population 18,000. The coffee shop seats about 55 people, but the fire department capacity is 96. So that’s the number that the PROs used to calculate the blanket license rate.

Antonowisch explained that once ASCAP got wind that they had live music (even though they were only holding about 12 concerts a year), ASCAP began their crusade. “They called us everyday. They sent two letters a day. They threatened us with a lawsuit because they said we had violated copyright,” Antonowisch lamented. As not to get sued, the coffee shop owners conceded. They agreed to pay ASCAP the $600 yearly license for the right to have live music.But then they found out that there was another PRO that required the same license. BMI. They actually contacted BMI directly, “they were very surprised that we called them,” Antonowisch remembers. BMI charged them about $500.

Now their total was up to $1,100 a year.

Then, as luck would have it, SESAC got in touch. And they demanded just over $700.

They pay $350 a year for the commercial version of Sirius/XM (which includes PRO recorded music fees) for their in house music.

So their total cost for music was just over $2,100 a year. When they don’t make much (or anything) from their live concerts, as most of their shows are ‘pass the hat’ kinds of performances, they couldn’t justify having live music anymore.

This couple, like many other small business owners, don’t know the music industry. And why should they? They don’t know music copyright law (hell most songwriters don’t know copyright law). Bennett worries that there will be more organizations in the music industry that will come and try to shake them down. Currently, there are only 3 PROs in the US. However, with Sony/ATV threatening to pull their catalogs from the PROs and go at it on their own, who’s to say they won’t go after Bauhaus for yet another license? If Sony/ATV is successful, will other publishers pull out of the PROs as well? Time will tell.

ASCAP sent me the document that outlines their approach to licensing small businesses. It explains what’s required of the small business under the law, and explains that 88 cents out of every dollar goes back to the members (songwriters and publishers). ASCAP and BMI are non-profit Performing Rights Organizations (PRO), SESAC is for profit.

*Update 10/30/14 3:28pm – Legally, any songwriter is allowed to play his or her original music at any establishment without that establishment having to pay for a license, HOWEVER, this doesn’t matter in the PRO’s eyes and won’t deter them from going after the venue. Bauhaus actually explained to ASCAP that all of their musicians play original music and ASCAP shot back “how do you know? Do you know every song ever written?” So the PROs won’t believe a venue if they claim that they only host original music. And all it takes is one musician to play one cover song for a PRO to sue for serious damages. 

All it takes is one musician to play one cover song for a PRO to sue a venue for serious damages. 

The coffee shop owners were most disappointed that there was no negotiation allowed with ASCAP. Should a 100 cap venue that hosts concerts 7 nights a week at $25 a head be treated the same as Bauhaus – with their 12 free concerts a year? In the PRO’s mind yes. I’m not so certain.

“They were not interested in negotiating with us,” Bauhaus Kaffee owners

Full disclosure, I’m an ASCAP songwriter. I appreciate the ASCAP checks I receive. I know that a tiny, minuscule fraction of that $600 that Bauhaus paid went to me. But at the same time, I don’t want my performing rights organization to force small businesses offering a service to the community to stop.

There are no places for up and coming musicians to play in Farmington. The couple mentioned that the local community college students even got school credit for performing at the coffee shop.

It’s kind of ironic that these PROs are inadvertently preventing potential future members from getting their start by forcing venues to stop hosting songwriters.

“Some of the best music has come out of the coffee shop scene,” Bennett professes. “We wanted to create an environment reminiscent of Cafe Wha in Greenwich Village.”

There has to be some middle ground. Bauhaus should not have to stop offering their occasional concerts. I’ll take a few fractions of a cent less on my ASCAP checks if I know that the establishments (similar to those where I got my start) can continue offering up and coming songwriters a chance to showcase some of their material. Would I be where I am today had I not had an opportunity to play at the European Grind or the Steak Knife in Minneapolis? Probably not. (They’re long gone, no need to go after them, guys)

I think a new license breakdown is necessary for all three PROs.

Instead of calculating fire department capacity, why not business gross? Those numbers are filed with the government. Or what if it’s based on the number of concerts offered a year. 1-24 = x amount. 24 – 52 = y, 52+ = z. With the data that BMI receives from BMI Live and ASCAP receives from ASCAP OnStage (where performing songwriters can input their setlist and venue data from previous shows), it would be easy to notice if these venues were seriously fudging this info. And with one click of a mouse the PROs could take a look at the venue’s concert calendar to see how much live music is actually a part of their business.

The PROs have been helping songwriters sustain a living since their inceptions in the early 20th century. They fight for us in Washington to (attempt to) make sure the laws accurately reflect the current realities of the musical and technological landscape. Could they alter their policies a bit to look out for the establishments that provide a supportive environment for songwriters?

The Bauhaus owners respect songwriters. They respect copyright. They willingly paid once they realized they had to. But with all of the fees from all of the organizations, it got to be just too much. I encourage the PROs to include a few more shades of grey and update their outdated policies.

* a previous version of this article incorrectly implied that Bauhaus’ Sirius/XM subscription was a consumer subscription. 

222 Responses

  1. Chris H

    Ari, I rarely agree with you on anything, but this is just common sense.

    Since we seem to have statutory rates for everything, this should be part of the upcoming CRB, the “give”. Cap fees on small venues on more logical grounds. The places will always cry poverty and the PRO’s will always cry it’s the law, but there are much more reasonable terms that could be worked out, which would bring a lot of venues out of the dark. 1000 bucks a year for a coffeehouse type venue under a hundred seats seems reasonable, for ALL 3 PRO’s. I rather have 2x the licensed places then ugly lawsuits and accusations that make us look worse.

    • Jeff Robinson

      Two things to note here:

      1. Bands rarely if ever send their playlists in to BMI, ASCAP or SESAC for performances in such venues for compensation. I know SESAC will compensate, but do not know whether BMI or ASCAP would do the same. Expecting an entry-level musician playing a coffee house to do is ludicrous.

      2. The BMI and ASCAP scam has to stop. They collect from all kinds of venues ONLY TO PAY FOR PLAY IN THE TOP 100 markets of radio. I’ve had direct conversations with folks at ASCAP about this. They collect from small college radio stations and do not track those playlists. If you are not getting trackable airplay in the Top 100 markets, you will NOT be paid by ASCAP. This is a pyramid scheme based upon exploiting many to pay but a few.

      3. One could go further and say that venues using CDs as house music or Pandora should pay the PROs and that has traditionally been the case. But honestly, if you want songs tracked, and artists, songwriters, labels and publishers paid, then it should be acceptable to simply used Zune or Xbox as an in-house music service as those pay the highest royalty rates of any out there and spins are GUARANTEED to be tracked and the appropriate parties paid.

      4. Further research might delve into showing who the middle-men were that set up BMI and ASCAP and who is related to those agencies today. Maybe we could flush a bit more corruption out of the music industry by doing so.

      • Ari Herstand

        To clear up the record, that is exactly what BMI Live and ASCAP OnStage do – allow artists to input setlist and venue information for every concert they play (big or small) to get paid on every show. It’s not much, but it’s something.

        Every performing songwriter can login into their account and input this data to get paid on every show. So that money actually will make it’s way back to the songwriter.

        • Rob Lytle

          No a single songwriter I know does this unless they know that the venue is paying. Doing so just gives the PRO info they can use to hassle these small venues. I agree with what the author said completely. The fees should be based on the number of shows.

          Personally, I think the PROs should have an exemption for live music under 100 seats – and double the fees for DJ’s and online services…:)

          • Chris T

            My band is signed up for BMI Live and yes we submit our set list from every show we do, regardless of venue size. Once a quarter, we get paid for it. Given, it’s not a ton of money. There are some venues like the Madquerade in Atlanta that take a % of your pay and put it towards performance royalties. I have actually seen some venues like the Melody Inn in Indy that says right on their site that they will not book bands that participate in BMI Live etc. I don’t understand how a venue like the Melody Inn is allowed to operate like that and a coffee shop who rarely has shows can’t.

          • Jeff Robinson

            Pro-actively speaking, why wouldn’t the club owner offer to fax in the playlist at the end of the night? Or scan and e-mail it right after if occurs?

            Further, if BMI and ASCAP do this for live performances, then why can’t college radio send complete playlists weekly if this is the case? It’s infuriating for an artist to NOT be paid for college radio airplay especially when a label performs weekly tracking calls to the Music Director at the station. Label tells band they got X amount of spins in a weekly on Y amount of college stations and then ASCAP says “If you didn’t get played in the Top 100 markets, then you won’t get paid. Oh, but we pay for EVERY song performed at every venue where 10-song playlists are presented.”

            Get real. If you do one, then YOU MUST be able to do the other.

          • Tom Raymond

            The only difference between college radio and live venues Jeff, is that most college radio is nonprofit so they’re exempt from paying royalties, but those that do pay royalties do send in their lists every quarter through csv formats. Internet radio such as Shoutcast and Icecast, the company that allows those, tap into the servers for the lists, then any shows you play on your network or station, you have to send song lists.

    • Carol

      I am a small venue that hosts an event for 3 days once a year. We have about 400 ticket sales. My problem is not paying the fees. My problem is I am charged for 10000 ticket sales. That is the group we are clumped into and no way to fight it. There is a lot of $ difference in 400 to 10000 so while they pay less per person we pay many times more for person. That is what is not fair and hurts small venues which support so much of the music industry. It should be a crime to do this and artists should be fighting for small business rights as well. The bigger venues should pay more than the small venue but we pay the same. How does that make sense at all?

  2. Anonymous

    Some misinformation in this post that should probably be cleared up.

    If you’re using Pandora in a commercial establishment, you’re supposed to use the service Pandora offers through DMX. Not sure if the info in this article is still accurate, but at least as of the publish date of the article, it cost $24.95/month for Pandora plus you needed to buy the DMX receiver, which was another $80 or so. That said, this includes all PRO fees.

    Don’t know off hand if Spotify has a commercial product, but I suspect you’re probably not technically supposed to use the consumer version in a business. And if you do, then that use would need to be considered in your license fee from each PRO (i.e., cuz it’s just like playing a CD). So the cost of that is probably higher than you’ve stated as well.

    There’s a reason why Sirius/XM is popular with businesses. It’s a turnkey solution that includes PRO fees in the price. As long as you don’t perform other music in your establishment, you shouldn’t have to pay any other fees.

    • hippydog

      Quote “There’s a reason why Sirius/XM is popular with businesses. It’s a turnkey solution that includes PRO fees in the price. ”

      Exactly! and this I think is part of the problem in this case..

      it seems they are paying for the venue version of Sirius and then getting dinged by the PRO’s
      ON TOP OF THAT. and instead of having a license more suited for the size of the place they are paying what a 200 person restaurant would pay that had live music everyday..

  3. DNog

    So by “force” you mean gave them the same legal option they give all small businesses which they chose not to take because it didn’t make sense financially for them. That’s what force means to you? Your headline suggestively paints a metaphorical picture of big companies coming in with bats threatening to pay or smash up the place like the mob.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I hate that word “force”. I remember some people bitching that Google was trying to “force” musicians into accepting its terms”. Don’t like the terms, don’t do it. It’s simple.

      • DNog

        I agree with the article and not being a solid flat line if it were possible on the fees. It’s just hard to talk about the actual point when you have to get past the big bold bs at the top.

        • Nina Ulloa

          Three people showing up and telling a small business to pay $500, $600, and $700 sounds EXACTLY like “force”

          • DNog

            Really? It sounds like they had two options. Pay the fees to legally do what they had apparently been doing illegally all along or to not do it at all. It seems like they had a choice and they chose the latter. So if having options and being able to choose one or the other is force then again, you’re right. But, it isn’t and your wrong, sorry.

          • kevster

            Ah… but they were NOT doing anything illegal. even the PRO’s admit that if the artists playing are doing their own work and are not members. They are exempt.

          • sunrayjack12

            I always thought you would want your music played in public so you get more exposure, then people ,loyal fans could learn of you and seek you out to buy your music.
            It sounds like a case of greed to me.
            I had quite the time tracking down a music cd of Lobo”s greatest hit’s, I like the music so much, I would like to open a sandwich shop,just so I could expose people to some of the great music of past days.
            That’s how I ended up here, only to find one more major regulatory hurdle in the way of sharing and enjoying life.
            I guess I am just too simple minded about life,it should not be this complicated.

          • sunrayjack12

            We are doomed as a country, people have lost all common sense!
            I guess if you buy a used mr coffee at a flea market, then the mister coffee people should sue your ass off because of you are making coffee with it at a christmas play for the school.
            Makes as much sense!

          • hippydog

            no.. Being “forced” means having no other option..

            they have other options..

            they can play terrestrial radio (no license fee is required in that case)
            they can make sure that they dont use any music in that PRO’s catalog..

          • kmsoap

            Or they can do as they are doing and speak up in order to help change the system.

          • coffeeshop

            Ahhh…yes…however, the Pros don’t accept that as an option. Even if you say, “We only play original music,” and you actually do just that, they don’t accept it. They continue to send threatening letters, emails, and phone messages. They cannot conceive that anyone can arrange their business practices to abide by the law. For a fledgling business, the minimum annual payment to all three Pros is now over $1000 per year; yet, each gushes that it’s just $1 per day. If that were true…if the total cost were just $1 per day (for an establishment fire coded for less than 50 people which hosts maybe 2 live bands every quarter), they would have no trouble getting people to sign up. Instead, they hound small establishments until they cry uncle and decide to eliminate live music all together (has happened NUMEROUS times in the Omaha area), pay the legalized mafia, or simply give up altogether because there’s no way to fight off their relentless attacks. The profit margin for independently owned coffee shops is dismal at best, but people run shops for the love of it. The practices of the Pros are simply killing small business and hurting the live music scene in smaller cities.

    • Babs

      It is force. It is extortion and intimidation. I own a very small bar. It seats 18 people, but the fire department deemed it’s occupancy at 39. If 39 people crowded into my little bar it would be a shoulder-to-shoulder health hazard.

      One night a week, Wednesday, we let local up and coming musicians come in a play. It gives them the opportunity to play using mic and amps, they sometimes play together giving them the chance to perform in a band-like setting. The usual audience is 6 to 12 people. Most perform their own original songs. We don’t charge a cover and we make no money from their performance. Yet, my little bar has to pay the same fees as one that has door fees and hosts bands in a much larger venue.

      Multiple times I’ve requested a full list of artists represented by these locust, extortion “Pros”. If I don’t pay up immediately, they call multiple times a day, and threaten me with lawsuits. If that’s not force, then you need to open a dictionary.

      Like the coffee shop in this article, we may have to stop giving musicians a place to hone their skills. These extortion companies give professional artists a bad name.

      • Mark

        Recently our church has come into the radar screen of SESAC. We have an open mic once a month. No charge, we pass the plate (of course). People play original songs. Seating is 200 in the sanctuary. But we usually see around 15 to 20 attend. They are asking for $1,000. Are we in the same category as other venues?

        I am a theatre artist. We only pay royalties for the plays we perform. How do they get off charging for their whole catalog of music whether we draw from it or not?

        • Rich

          So your church steals. That’s nice. Thanks for admitting it, though. BTW, what’s your monthly utility bill come to? $500? $1200? What’s your preacher and staff salary come to? $100,000/year? More? Yeah, it’s the darn songwriters who are ruining everything.

          • Andrew

            After reading this article and the comments it is very clear that something in the system does not work properly. Many of the comments are from people whose ignorance to their own bias shields them from seeing the big picture. What I can say from my view is that I am a small business owner (40 seats) who is currently being hassled by BMI because we have hosted around a half dozen live performances (FREE) over the past 15 months at our store and was completely unaware of any needs for licensing. After BMI contacted me and told me that I would have to pay over $1,000.00 in licensing costs I told them that they are just putting small time artists out of business and we would just cancel all of our upcoming live music. I have done so and have switch from regular Pandora to Pandora DMX. I am still getting messages and calls left from BMI harassing me telling me that I need to be aware of the consequences of playing music without a license. These companies need to have some sort of consequences for their harassing techniques of extortion. I have made good on my end to be in compliance with any licensing issues and they need to back down. I look forward to the day when these licensing requirements are simplified and made affordable to businesses like mine so we can support the small time performers trying to make a living.

          • Kevin

            Explain to me where you see Mark’s church “stealing”. Pretty clearly stated that the open mics are all original music.

            The he noted he is in a theater group they (the theater group) pay the fees for the plays that they perform and then poses the question of how can the PROS get away with charging for a full catalog when if don’t use a full catalog. That question appears to be unrelated to the church’s open mic event and directed toward the misguided fee structure of the PROs in general.

      • Steve

        So all the stories like yours is sickening. I played for 25 years and I’d say maybe half the bars, etc. paid off those scammers. Maybe they are more relentless in their strong arm tactics but back then they just got chased out of the place.
        Also, they are supposed to be collecting for use of already published songs. If one is presenting all original stuff how is it they are supposed to pay use fees?
        Too bad bar owners couldn’t charge back for the advertisement value doing these songs ultimately are.

        • Anonymous

          Absolutely, the whole thing is ridiculous. Kill the tree at the root. New artists can’t get started because it makes it impossible. I’ve played for over 30 years. Greed is so disgusting. The cover music I’ve played is popular. They’ve made more money off that music than I could make in a lifetime but it’s not enough. Squeeze every penny out of it you can. And make no mistake, legal or not, the tactics used might as well be extortion.

      • RogerThat

        Babs, give me a break.

        You set up a venue and you want music but you don’t want to pay for it- end of story.

        Tell me how many of these so-called “talents” at Open Mikes are amazing – they’re not. They mostly suck, and will never amount to anything. But you, the venue owner, benefit from having the amateur hour, the musician and their dopey friends cheering on yet another awful version of whatever classic rock song they choose to destroy.

        You are not a music lover. You are a business owner attracting bottom-of-the-barrel “talent” to sell your wares.

        Nothing wrong with selling your wares, Babs. But don’t pretend what you do is for anything but your benefit, and then you cry because there is an organization who watches out for people like me, who do this for our food, lights, phone and gas.

        • Sean

          Rogerthat quick question. How does an original piece performed by a group of dopey friends fall into the category of “classic rock”? Maybe our view is different but I don’t remember said dopey friends along with maybe a few other dopeys really benefiting any establishment what with their usual lack of money.

  4. Anon

    Wow, $5.75 a day for music that helps them bring customers into their shop. With $5.75 you could almost, ALMOST, afford one breakfast sandwich at the Kaffee.

    The price is from their menu, where the advertise free live music. Because some of the people who buy their food and coffee may want to come back for the live music, and ya know, buy more food and coffee.

    • hippydog

      Quote ” Wow, $5.75 a day for music that helps them bring customers into their shop. With $5.75 you could almost, ALMOST, afford one breakfast sandwich at the Kaffee.
      The price is from their menu, where the advertise free live music. Because some of the people who buy their food and coffee may want to come back for the live music, and ya know, buy more food and coffee.


      found this on another forum that answers your post nicely

      Quote ” It’s not a question of a latte a day, it’s trying to fit not one, but at least TWO bills of $900-$1200 each through a checking account that can’t accommodate more than a couple hundred at any given time.

      For a 30 or 40 seat coffeehouse to shell out $2000 for annual licenses means they would need to make, on average, $13,000 in return sales (assuming 15% average net profit ) per year.

      That’s $38.00 in daily sales required to produce the profit in order to pay for the licenses. That’s not a latte a day, that’s nine to 10 lattes a day. Big difference.”

      • jj

        huh? pulling numbers out of your ass? How does five dollars a day turn into your ridiculous figure? even with interest, accrued credit charges, or whatever other bullshit you want to throw in there, your numbers don’t add up. 5 bucks a day for. SOMETHING THEY WERE ADVERTISING AS A DRAW….!live music! right on their menu.
        Guess what… us songwriters aren’t asking the world either.. we just want to eat (but can afford this restaurant’s prices..)

        • Zooid

          Hippydog is not pulling numbers out of anywhere, he’s dead nuts right. Jj you do not understand the cost of labor and goods, net profit and the cost of doing business.

          • jj

            You aren’t fuckin employing the electric bill, you pay it. You don’t need to house your taxes, the irs just accepts a check…
            PROs aren’t asking the world here, and THEY DO NEGOTIATE BTW, instead of playing the victim anytime a bill shows up in the mail, how about you inquire what it is for. “Don’t know how to run a business..” You have zero clue about what you are talking about. There is Zero overhead on a straight up fee.

          • hippydog

            the rule of economics doesnt change because your unhappy..

          • Rich Briere

            Jj……You seem to have a fairly severe “short fuse”…..easily angered, etc. You sure you’re a musician? If so, kindly clean up the language. You’re making the rest of us look bad. :-/

          • Rich

            JJ is spot on. How much is their business phone bill? $1200/year or more at least. How many lattes does their phone sell compared to the songs played in their establishment? Yeah, it’s the songwriters who are ruining everything.

          • Christopher Bingham

            It’s not the songwriters – the songwriters are generally the ones performing these days, and every one that I know is happy to be paid for performing their own stuff from what they make at the door. Every time we lose a venue to the PROs it makes our life more difficult so Miley Cyrus can buy another hit of meth.

            ALL of the money from venues goes to the top 200 grossing concert acts as calculated by Pollstar. That means that even most of the acts on the radio aren’t getting $$ if we cover their tunes – which most of us don’t anyway. The PROs are thieves.

          • Tom Raymond

            I own an internet radio station and that’s one reason why I won’t pay into them, one because you have to be in the top list in order for your artists to see a dime and if the artists aren’t getting paid, then it goes to ASCAP and BMI so they can strongarm some more.

  5. David

    Cheapskates. $2000 a year is less than $10 a day/night. If live music brings in just two or three extra customers it pays for itself. Do they also complain about the price of coffee beans?

    • David

      Sorry, I didn’t notice they only had about 12 concerts a year. The charges do seem more questionable in that context.

      • Ari Herstand

        $167 a concert in fees. When they make $0.

        Remember people, these fees were JUST the live music fees. Recorded music fees are calculated differently (and were covered by their Sirius/XM commercial subscription).

        • marketing 101

          They are using music as a promotional tool to draw people to their business. If you call that “$0” then you are clueless about marketing.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah these stupid whiny people need to shut up and pay up. No one wants to read this crap! Wanna get mad at someone, get mad at the internet…erm..I mean Google!

    • jj

      Hey small venue with live music that sometimes donates to charity:

      We songwriters are probably worse off than any charity you give to. Don’t think o f it as a fee to use our product for you to raise money (the destination of which doesn’t really matter now does it? you could be fueling your coke habit, sending your kid to college, or donating to charity, business costs are business costs, why should we subsidize you?)
      Think of it as donating to starving artists…

      • Caffeinated

        Okay, JJ. As a small business owner who works at least 80 hrs per week to make a pittance (if that!), $2000 is highway robbery for a little mood music. With the cost of rent, labor (wages, medicare, social security, etc), grinders, espresso machines, purified water, property taxes (on all that equipment), biodegradable cups (for the hipsters who like a “green” coffee shop), etc., I guess my profit of less than $2 on your 16 oz latte seems just exorbitant!

        Coffeehouses are a great venue for artists just starting out. It provides a positive experience in a casual environment. It used to be a celebrated stepping stone, and since I have a bleeding heart, I want to give everyone a chance to get over their stage fright and show their friends and families what they’ve been up to.

        Unfortunately, this coffee shop’s story is not a unique one. Instead of squeezing more money out of these places, most small time shops are just eliminating music altogether. Like so many other corporate giants, SESAC, ASCAP, and BMI are throwing around their weight, preying on the little guy and ultimately shooting themselves in the foot. This is a lose, lose situation for the shops and artists alike. There are increasingly fewer venues for new artists (even a lot of bars are shutting down live music). If these shops are opting out, that means $0 for everyone.

        Because there are no realistic options for a shop or our size, we too are changing our policies so that we have a chance to grow as a business. I grew up with music and am a musician myself. My husband and sister-in-law are both musicians and song writers, but I refuse to be bullied by a corporate giant who has no realistic accommodations for small venues and small businesses. I’m willing to participate in a program that honors all parties, but currently, that’s not an option.

        • axgrindr

          I agree with what you’re saying here and I dislike the mafia-like tactics of BMI, ASCAP and SESAC more than anyone. I even created a service for people that just need mood music in their place of business (RoyaltyFreeMusicRadio dot com ).
          But what I don’t get is that you are saying that coffee houses give musicians a start. If these musicians and bands are playing originals then there is no problem, correct? They should be playing their own music if they are starting out in the business.
          If they are playing other composer’s music to entertain and draw business then someone needs to pay the composers who have written that music.

          • buzz

            Caffeinated has it exactly right. I’m a coffee shop owner and we had live music, young artists starting out playing their own original music, coming to play until we got the shakedown notice from ASCAP. And no mistake, it was a complete shakedown. We refused to pay the blood price and have eliminated live music, its not worth the hassle or risk because they will sue, just to settle and we’re too small to afford that. We pay a streaming service, that is licensed, and use radio/tv – which is permitted. These people are complete extortionists.

          • Caffeinated

            According to the law, you are permitted to host musicians who play original music (meaning, the musician both wrote the music and is performing it), but according to the Pros, it’s simply not possible and they will not accept that as a viable business practice. As a business, that’s what we’ve been doing and that’s what I communicated to SESAC; however, they act as if I have communicated nothing at all and continue to make veiled threats (in letter form) and not so veiled threats (messages on my shop answering machine). When I talk to other business owners about the Pros, their eyes start darting around as if there might be a spy around the next corner. It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced, but a testament to their aggressive, unyielding tactics.

      • anonymous

        To all you “starving artists” out there, here’s a novel idea——-GET A JOB!! Quit whining about being hungry or how much royalty you’re going to get for some obscure song you wrote that will never get airtime. Maybe bar owners should start up a “clique” that receives royalties from songwriters for getting your music out there!!

      • Beer Man


        You really piss me off!! You must be the asshole of the band if you have one. There are so many cost associated with running a business. Once you tell us what daily business you run and know the numbers I can start to think you have a brain. One employee working part time being paid $1,000.00 a month makes the business need to do almost another $10,000.00 in sales that month. Let me fill you in why since I am sure you fin mind is to small to figure it out.

        1. Payroll
        2. Taxes, yes if you are to stupid to know the business has to pay the employees Soc taxes, and some state taxes.
        3. 401, or other benefits to the employee
        4, Insurance not just health but additional insurance for new employees.
        5 training, which does not end if you are a good business
        6. supplying and support for the employee
        7, covering lost time
        8, covering vaction time
        9. wasted time by employee, I am sure you are aware of this one.
        10 Then there is the daily cost of running the business, I am sure you have no clue about this one!

        I also wonder I am sure you agree to every fee you are paid for your playing whatever you play. I am also sure you have no problem with this issue as you do not pay for any of it. You show up on a Friday night play what you want and get your money that you agreed on. I am sure you are not good enough to get paid by the pro’s, so you get nothing there. How bout we flip the payment onto you and you have to pay for any cover you play. I certainly do not make all this money you think I do. I see it all the time from guys like you who have no idea how hard it is to run a business and give you the opportunity to play to a crowd. It is just the fact that the people I deal with I treat well, they also have jobs, and realize how hard it is to play out to begin with. So they are not DICKS like you!

        • Had Enough!


          JJ and those that support this bullying do not realize the majority of the money collected is made by the entities like ASCAP/BMI and their lawyers so they can keep attempting to extort and bully small business. JJ, nor those who support these entities, likely have no clue what it is to own a business. He’s clearly one of the idiots that think small business owners are all rich and enjoy huge profits. Fact is I will continue to ignore these bullies until they force my hand. If they come at me legally I will fight them. Not my first rodeo. I have major issue with how these entities set their pricing structures without regulation outside of anyone other than themselves. The way they charge is cookie cutter approach. Charging based on occupancy is ludicrous and presumptuous. Not every venue uses music in the same manner. For example, if there are two venues with a 100 person occupancy: Venue A plays music all open hours each day they’re open, has live music weekly or daily versus Venue B which as an I tunes machine that’s used sparingly, may have 5 or 6 live music performances a year or none at all. Under their guidelines both venues pay the same even though the business models operate completely different with how music is part of the day to day operation. One business may have the same occupancy as another but no consideration is taken into the volume of the two businesses and how they pay. These are just some of many unjust examples of their cookie cutter fee approach and is why it’s a grossly presumptuous and unjust fee structure. If they come after me legally I will fight back with my legal counsel and will counter sue based on their fee structure and other issues I have with how they charge and go about their business. Until that day I’ll continue to ignore their harassment and go about my business. I recommend you do the same.

      • Sean

        Rogerthat quick question. How does an original piece performed by a group of dopey friends fall into the category of “classic rock”? Maybe our view is different but I don’t remember said dopey friends along with maybe a few other dopeys really benefiting any establishment what with their usual lack of money.

  6. Anonymous

    Goddammit Ari! We work hard to try and control the narrative around here. When you get off message like this it isn’t helpful!

  7. Paul Resnikoff

    Ari, I’m a little unclear about what was shut down here. So, I walk into Bauhaus, and there’s still pre-recorded music playing? Or, are we talking about live music as you mentioned in the title?

    The reason I ask is that on live, if the bands are playing originals, they can do separate, ‘carve out’ deals with the venue that circumvent the PROs (specifically ASCAP and BMI). That’s been the law since the 40s.

    • Nina Ulloa

      so if the songwriters who play there are playing originals, and agree to play in the shop, why would any deals have to be made? I really don’t know much about the law when it comes to this.

      • Jeremy

        This is what I was wondering. I’m guessing most of the people they get to play probably are not affiliated w/ one of the PROs. The only time this would be an issue is if the artists were playing covers.

        • Jeff Robinson

          As a Sesac registered artist, you can be paid for the songs you play at a coffee shop IF you report your playlist to SESAC. You will be paid ONLY if the venue pays SESAC.

      • come on folks

        There are two copyrights: composition and sound recording. If you opt to have a PRO license your right of public performance for your underlying composition then they are going to do that aggressively and license every licenseable public performance. And yes that means every old folks home, cat shelter, cancer clinic or anywhere else that is using music as a part of their business no matter how laudable the aims of that business might be. As my old man used to say, you don’t buy a dog so you can bark yourself. And if they don’t pay up they’re going to get sued. That’s what happens when you violate someone’s copyright. If we couldn’t sue, we couldn’t enforce our rights. The damn government’s obviously not going to do it for us.

        However, if you (the songwriter) want to give a gratis performance license to a venue like this little Kaffee shop because they are so adorable or whatever, you can. You just draft a “cocktail napkin” agreement with them that says you, the owner of your songs, grant them a gratis performance license for such and such date. Then when the PRO comes sniffing around saying that they represent you, the venue can pull out their agreement with you and say they already have a license thank you very much.

        My guess is they were doing covers. Then there’s no way to get those licenses, and thank God the PROs exist to do all that work for the venue owners so they don’t have to go to the owner of every single song that gets played in their place to ask permission.

        And for the love of Pete, Ari, would you stop it with the anti-songwriter crap already. Go open a damn coffee shop already.

    • hippydog

      Quote “The reason I ask is that on live, if the bands are playing originals, they can do separate, ‘carve out’ deals with the venue that circumvent the PROs (specifically ASCAP and BMI). That’s been the law since the 40s.”

      can you provide a citation for that?
      as everything I have read says the exact opposite..
      I will admit my ‘expertise’ is more on the Canadian side of things but it was my understanding that the US worked the same way in this area..

      • Louisa A

        BMI: Paragraph 5(c) of the BMI Writer Agreement (

        c) You, the publishers and/or your co-writers, if any, retain the right to issue non-exclusive licenses for performances of a Work or Works in the United States, its territories and possessions (other than to another performing rights licensing organization), provided that within ten (10) days of the issuance of such license or within three (3) months of the performance of the Work or Works so licensed, whichever is earlier, we are given written notice thereof and a copy of the license is supplied to us.

        ASCAP: Paragraph 7.7.2 of the ASCAP Compendium (

        2.7.2 Direct Licenses Issued To Music Users1 By Members. Members may license directly the non-dramatic public performance of one or more of their works to Music Users independently of ASCAP, provided that:
        (a) Each Member of ASCAP issuing such a license must promptly notify ASCAP of the license in writing. Such notification must state the title of the composition, the names of the Writer and Publisher, the name and address of the licensee, the territory, medium and venue covered, and the period for which the license shall have been given. If the work was previously known under another title, all pertinent information relating to the work must be furnished.
        (b) No Member of ASCAP may issue exclusive licenses of the right of non- dramatic public performance to Music Users.
        (c) No Member of ASCAP may directly or indirectly grant, assign, or issue to anyone other than a Music User, a license to perform publicly any composition written, composed, published, owned or controlled by such Member (or authorize others to do so).

        SESAC: FAQ Page (

        SESAC must be notified of any direct licenses granted to music users for works otherwise licensed as part of the SESAC repertory. Notices must be submitted in writing within 10 days of the license being granted and must be accompanied by a copy of the license. Royalties for performances resulting from such direct licenses will not be paid by SESAC.

        All a Coffee Shop need do is have a form agreement that the Songwriter signs that states: The Songwriter warrants and represents that the music they perform in Venue X is wholly original to themselves and will not infringe on the copyright of any other individual. The document would also state that the Songwriter is issuing Venue X a gratis license for the songs listed on Schedule A (songwriter lists the songs they perform) and that Songwriter will take the necessary steps to inform their PRO of such license. If the Coffee House wants to go to the extreme they can add an indemnification/hold harmless clause indemnifying them in the event the Songwriter plays a “cover”.

        If the Songwriter fails to inform the PRO’s of such license that is not the Coffee House’s problem – the Songwriter is in breech of their contract with the PRO for not informing the PRO.

        The statement in the update: “the PROs won’t believe a venue if they claim that they only host original music. And all it takes is one musician to play one cover song for a PRO to sue for serious damages,” is sweeping and unfounded. As long as the Venue has their paper trail there is nothing the PRO’s can do. It is on them to prove the Venue performed “cover” music.

        This article would have been better served by doing a little research first and then presenting a solution to the small venue owners and songwriters that want to play in them as to how they can work within the system.

    • Ari Herstand

      So, technically, a venue isn’t breaking any laws if the musicians only play originals. That’s a right that every songwriter has (under copyright law) – to play her songs in public. But no PRO will believe a venue if they claim their musicians only play originals. The Bauhaus owners told the ASCAP rep this and the rep said “do you know every song ever written?” The PROs stayed on them until they got them to pay.

      It only takes one musician on one night to play one cover song for a lawsuit and serious damages.

      Recorded music licenses are calculated differently than live music licenses. And it seems Bauhaus was using the commercial Sirius XM which included the PRO recorded music fees.

      • OMG

        I just figured this whole thing out. Why is Ari so bent out of shape that one freaking coffee shop isn’t doing shows anymore? The answer: guilt! Ari says that he’s an ASCAP songwriter, and I’ll bet he played that room. That means that he elected to have ASCAP go out and license any venue in which his songs are played. Now if Ari had actually understood his agreement with ASCAP he would have realized that they are going to act upon his expressed wish for them to go after any user of his music with every legal means at their disposal. Including the venues in which he plays those songs. ASCAP doesn’t care if it’s Ari or David freaking Lowery playing that song that Ari wrote. If it’s being performed, Ari told ASCAP to go get his money. So I’ll betcha, if you read the case ASCAP brings against that Kaffee joint it’s going to be Herstand v. Kaffee Shop! Please sweet Lord let it be so!

        • Ari Herstand

          That’s funny. But no, I’ve never heard of this coffee shop until a reader (musician) got in touch with me and explained what happened.

          I hope you read all the way through the article. I’m proposing a new licensing structure that doesn’t force venues to shut down live music, but also can grant licenses at a reasonable rate.

          Venues that host live music should be required to pay for a license, but there should be more shades of grey with negotiations. ie – exactly what the last sentence says.

          • Jeremy Arndt

            Ari never heard of them til I got in touch with him. I stop at this venue yearly as my instrument maker lives there. You can read some more in depth comments of mine below or at my FB page.


    • Spud

      As a musician & songwriter, I’m very aware of this situation. When playing a venue that does not pay fees, I play all “non-BMI” material, whether alone or with a band. That means unpublished originals, public domain/traditional songs, or song penned prior to 1924. Since I do a lot of blues, there’s been no problem compiling a special songlist for these venues.

      • Anonymous

        What amazes me is that there aren’t even more PROs in the U.S.

        ASCAP ($600) and BMI ($500) are charging fees that more-or-less reflect their relative market share. But then along comes SESAC ($700) and demands a fee that radically outstrips it’s relatively tiny market share by claiming to be a PRO just like the other two. And why not, as long as long the licensee is ignorant about the relative size of the PROs, and as long as SESAC can hold the big stick of copyright infringement damages behind its back.

        Hey all you young enterprising MBA students, get crackin’. There’s gold in them thar hills. Gather up some copyrights. You don’t need to tell anybody which ones, and be sure to use ASCAP’s “do you know every song ever created?” line. Just hang out your shingle as PRO #4 (or #5 if you count GMR) and start shaking down places like Bauhaus for $800 or whatever you like. Remember, you’re a PRO just like the rest and $800 is a bargain next to a $150k infringement claim. You’re welcome.

        • This

          I just have to say, I like this because it makes total sense, and it just needs the right soulless bastard or mafia guy to catch on. It’s just a representation. If you can get the representation, under the current system you get the right to intimidate, coerce, and threaten, until nobody anywhere (except Clear Channel/iHeartRadio and Live Nation) offers live music as part of an experience. Then those complaining neighbors will have to shut up.

          Silence is golden.

  8. Jeremy

    I am one of the few artists who play at Bauhaus every year. They are a small stop on my tour schedule each year, as my instrument maker is from Farmington ( I have to go there every year to get my handpans retuned. For as long as I have been going there, the PRO’s have been hassling these guys. Their situation actually made me not join a PRO, because I make my living playing at smaller venues. It’s harassment and BS…

    I play there because of their hospitality. I have never made more than a few bucks playing there, but they have fed me, put me up in hotels for the night, etc… Rarely do I get a place put me up for a night in a hotel… although I don’t even ask generally because I travel in an RV. I am from Michigan… Farmington isn’t exactly a destination music scene and it isn’t close to home. The owners are great people. This is the second venue in Farmington that has shut down live music events this year.

    They are a good little venue… but to answer people like David… there’s just not enough love for live music in this little town to have a lot of concerts every year (from my experience).

    There definitely needs to be some reform from the PRO’s. I, for one, will refuse to join one if it isn’t so. I’d be stupid to… I’d put myself out of business if more and more places were getting harassed by these PRO’s.

    Good article Ari.


    Jeremy Arndt

    • jj

      …and now we know where the article came from.
      if you aren’t a songwriter, (you know… the people who’s songs you play in your cover band) then it would make sense not to join a PRO, as you have nothing to contribute to the pool…

      • Jeremy Arndt

        Never played a cover song at a gig in my life… All my own compositions ;)

      • Yep

        jj, How’s it feel being a shill for the grifters? Do you sleep well at night? It really is incredible how far you bend over to defend the tactics of intimidation employed by these PROs. (Hell, if anybody asks, I’m a PRO. I wrote a song that has one note, so I am the composer and I self-represent. If you accidentally figure out what that note is, and try to use it in your song, I’ll hound you to the ends of the earth until I get my pound of flesh.)

  9. Jeremy


    Read the commentary on their FB page… these people were “forced” to stop after years of harassment from the PRO’s. They did pay their fees, but the harassment didn’t stop. After they payed ASCAP and BMI… SESAC came knocking on their door for their cut. That’s when they had to make the choice to shut down the live music because it wasn’t financially viable.

    • Rand

      PROs collect royalties for songwriters and publishers. For the PROs to force venue owners to pay what they legally owe does not by any stretch of the imagination constitute harassment. Maybe there does need to be some reform of the fee structure for small venues, but that doesn’t change the fact that any venue that doesn’t pay licensing fees is stealing from songwriters and publishers.

  10. Kriss Smalls

    No the crime is running a business improperly. I also have to state that if you can’t even do the basics like paying the entertainment tax’s or license’s what else are you not doing right. I can appreciate the good gestures that were done but you still got to follow the rules just like everyone else.

    • Hugo B

      When that “rule” is an ass, it needs to be changed. Fundamentalism is out of place

  11. Remi Swierczek

    Multi stage and multilevel music monetization (say demonetization) grotesque has to STOP!

    Even if the coffee shops pay those fixed, fake and established by an idiot fees how do you determine which musician gets what. One cent to Ari for every $8.46 to Taylor? Not true – not in my coffee shop!

    Discovery Moment Monetization is the only normal avenue to proportional to exposure distribution of cash.

    Broke music and lyric ID services (all but Google) have to be criminalized as a servants of PIRATES and converted to filthy RICH catalyzers of $100 billion dollar music industry.

  12. Anonymous

    It just doesn’t make financial sense to offer live music, that’s why so few places do it.

      • Jeremy Arndt

        And cases like this are making it harder and harder for places to offer live music. When a venue can’t even offer a space for an artist doing his/her own music… Where are people to start out their lifelong passionate career in music? Busking? Oh yeah… They arrest people for that…

        These laws are horribly skewed. They are ruining things for the little guys…

    • Skippy

      I’m a partner in a small cafe in Florida. When we’d been open just a few weeks, we were surprised when a guitar-playing songwriter asked if he could play in here. We were surprised and thrilled. Within weeks, we had music every day and open mic on the one night a week we stayed open.
      We heard over and over how glad, happy, thrilled – and thankful/grateful these (mostly amateur) musicians were to “have a place to play.” We were surprised to hear that.
      There were two other restaurants within a few miles or so of us where there was live music, too. In our second year in business, we were approached by either BMI or ASCAP (I don’t remember which came first) and were advised by attorneys to just pay up, don’t try to fight even though we heard mostly original music by those who’d written it. So we paid.
      Six months later, the other, BMI or ASCAP, contacted us and we started monthly payments there, too. We’ve learned a great deal about being a music venue. First and foremost, we learned why the other two restaurants who were hosting open mic nights in our county have now gone out of business.
      It’s interesting to note that – especially on open mic night – our place fills up quickly, but most of the seats are taken by people who “just ate – just came to have dessert and listen to the music.”
      We wound up being jam-packed with people who weren’t buying anything. We actually ended our open mic nights several months ago – but are contemplating hosting it again (starting this Friday night) after several of our patrons claim they miss it terribly and promised to actually spend money. You know – Buy a Meal In This Restaurant …
      For those of you who are going on about how we venue owners need to be better business managers – A restaurant especially is a really tough business to manage successfully. Food costs keep rising (weekly) and, as someone mentioned here earlier, labor costs are tough to even calculate. And as for bars – the bar across the street from us has 21 licenses. Twenty-one licenses. One for the pool table. One for the dance floor. One for each video game. Sorry to drift away from the PRO tirade, but … small biz is tough.
      It’s hard to calculate whether the music actually enhances the bottom line. No kidding. When the place is full and at least 25% of the tables are taken up with people who “just came for coffee” or “just want some dessert”
      WELL, we’ve made it more than three years at this cafe – we haven’t made Any money yet, but it’s been paying for itself. And it’s mostly fun. (My partner and I are also [amateur] musicians/songwriters but rarely have the opportunity to perform here.)
      I’ll shut up now. I just wanted to say – without yelling and cussing – there’s really two sides to the issue. And, by the way, one of our regular musical couples say they Are ASCAP members but almost never get more than a few dollars a year from the PRO. Thanks for reading

  13. Anonymous

    Okay, I’m guessing that the lot of you complaining didn’t read this article to the end? Businesses should aim to be viable while following the law, but laws are not perfect simply because they exist. If the law in this case requires such a fee that an upstanding venue for whom live music isn’t an integral part of their business plan must shut down (quite a wonderful thought for the average independent musician, by the way, who often goes in the red on tour while business-minded venues break even or profit off of them), then the PROs should reevaluate their formulas. The author even included a very reasonable example of how they could accomplish this. For what reason should venues only hosting one night of musical performance per month be required to pay the same amount as one that holds shows seven days a week? Hell, you guys could even see MORE money if the fees were properly flexible, as venues with small calendars would be less likely to avoid paying their fair share, and the ones with packed calendars could be charged more, fairly.

    • Anonymous

      i completely agree with you , I have a small restaurant and all 3 are shaking me down too. Exactly the same situation I paid as cap than BMI AND SESAC came after me too, we have 35 seats and music once a week no cover just creating a fun scene. They need to restructure so I would not mind paying.

  14. Dawn

    If the artists play their original music they can always give the venue a direct performing license and bypass the Pro’s. Agree there should be reform but in the interim artists/ songwriters forget that they are non-exclusive with the Pro’s– they still retain their rights and can license them as they wish for $ or no $

  15. Bruce Dickenson

    The establishment needs to pay the performing rights societies. Small up and coming artists survive off those checks. Everyone has a right to be or not be in business with the costs involved – isn’t that the American way? Really, for 5 bucks a day you can have live music ….thats not terrible. Every venue pays this to avoid having to pay the artists directly when after they are through performing. Try this on…you have a band that plays 10 songs, each written by different peeps, each peep has his or her own opinion what their contribution is re the song writing. If an owner tried to get through that mess…and if they do a cover song that has writers that are flung all over the world , some deceased with trusts and lawyers etc….better to just pay the low fees and let BMI, ASACP or SESAC handle it.

  16. Colorado Goat

    the PROs came calling at the door of the small city (pop 4500) that I live in. I produce an annual music festival for the city. They offer no other music, nor do they have radios or any other music in any office, or on their hold lines… none, nada, squat … yet ASCAP AND BMI both demanded a licensing fee from the city regardless .. no negotiation for the ONE event we produce each year … they demand upon the threat of suit that the city pay up an annual license –

    • go ahead, tell us

      How many artists has your city helped financially?

      A specific number, please, not the usual “I don’t know, probably a lot”.

  17. JAIO

    The establishment needs to pay the performing rights societies. Small up and coming artists survive off those checks.

    This is incorrect. The royalty goes to the song publisher and then to the songwriter .. IF AND ONLY IF the songwriter is registered with the PRO. And then only if the performing songwriter submits a playlist to the PRO .. and THEN … and on an on, so as a 40+ yr pro in the business I disagree with your ascertion.

    • Bruce Dickenson

      Why wouldn’t the songwriter be registered? Pretty easy to do. Also, please….I am talking about the songwriting world as a whole – the money gets divided up. As a songwriter and producer those checks keep me alive. They are not that big and there is waste of course, but its a lot easier than trying to pay writers and publishers from your set at the moment you are finished. Good luck having a venue owner understand a publishing deal.

      I do agree though that if the local ASCAP,BMI,SESAC reps are thugs…well then..shame on them! The purpose of all this is to get creative peeps paid what they are due. If strange to hear music people complaining of having to pay when they are the same who complain that the general public steals music. Its the SAME THING.

      • Christopher Bingham

        And to clarify: these venue performance rights ONLY go to the top 200 grossing acts. If you’re covering James Taylor, not only does he NOT get his share – but it goes to Miley Cyrus.

        If you’re an “up and coming songwriter” and one of the top 200 grossing acts in the US, you don’t need to shake down the local coffeehouse for someone ELSE’s royalties.

  18. JAIO

    The reason I ask is that on live, if the bands are playing originals, they can do separate, ‘carve out’ deals with the venue that circumvent the PROs (specifically ASCAP and BMI). That’s been the law since the 40s.

    as a venue manager the past 20 yrs I can tell you that is an incorrect assumption… there has only ever been two cases in US history that I am personally aware of where such WAS the case. Otherwise, the PRO response is that neither they or we know full well whether the material is written by non-PRO songwriters.

  19. BauhausOwner

    I want to thank Ari for taking the time to tell our story. In the grand scheme of things, our experience with live music and the PROs could probably be characterized best as simply small town naivete’. Maria and I try to do things right…we pay our taxes; pay our employees fairly and legitimately; pay our workman’s comp; pay our mortgage; and pay for the numerous business licenses necessary to operate our independent coffeehouse. And, as Ari pointed out, we paid ASCAP and BMI when we were awakened to the requirements of performance rights. It was their approach to the business that shocked us. When we explained that we only allow original music, the conversation wandered off into surreal, 1950ish film noir dialog. “So, you know all songs ever written, huh?” Or, “It would be a shame if someone came in to your establishment whilst you were not there and played one of our songs.” It was at that moment, we realized this really wasn’t about paying songwriters. This was a protection racket against crippling legal action. At least that is how it made us feel. Maybe big city folks are used to this approach to business and cynically scoff at, again, our small town naivete’. Maybe if the PROs had treated us as a customer, instead of a potential violator to be sued, we would still be the incubator for young singer/songwriters that we have been. We’ve had emerging performers at our place who went on to showcase on David Letterman and headline the Ryman Auditorium and we are proud that we were able to provide a place for them to hone their craft. Maybe that should have been enough for the expense, but we have a business to run and the coffeehouse margins in a small town are not thick enough to absorb yet another PRO demand. I guess we could indemnify the performers under contract to not play certain PRO catalogs, but then we would be chasing the performers if sued, which is why the PROs come after establishments and not the guy with a guitar on his back busking covers. Just like the protection agents that come around every month in those old films to “ensure nuttin’ unsavory happens to yoose”. They PROs know where we live. What a great image for an industry to project.

    • Bruce Dickenson

      Sirs, no one wants guys coming around asking for money. Are you sure this isn’t the case of you not responding to their letters or emails? From my experience the PRO’s don’t have the manpower to send peeps to places like this IF you have not been ignoring them. Just sayin…..Also, the good thing for you is that they protect YOU from any copyright issues that unsavory artists (and there are some of them) will try and pull. Its their problem now. You paid the license.

    • Anonymous

      Actually, it’s a protection racket to benefit songwriters. This is what having negotiating leverage looks like. It’s why PROs exist. No single songwriter has that kind of leverage or resources on his or her own. Can that leverage and power be abused? Yes. These are tough cases, and sometimes the benefit to an individual songwriter can get pretty convoluted vis a vis the large institution that is a PRO. But to my mind, PROs are still, on balance, a good thing for songwriters generally and their best option.

      That said, while direct licenses of original material may be theoretically possible for live shows, the PROs typically are not going to be down with that approach. It’s too easy of an excuse and too easy to game that approach. It goes counter to the whole model of the PRO, which is a blanket license. You don’t get to unbundle it. It’s all or nothing. And this makes sense, because otherwise it would be impossible to enforce this stuff.

      PROs have too much experience with it anyway. Like the guy who had the Ascap license and claimed that he only used Ascap songs when he did Karaoke in his bar. So he wouldn’t pay for the BMI license. Well, BMI sent a dude into that bar on a regular basis Karaoke night, and eventually, somebody did a BMI tune. And at that point, the bar owner had a problem….

      That’s reality. Nobody is going to track this stuff that precisely. It’s just too hard. That’s why the blanket license model exists. It’s the most efficient approach for everybody involved. When I play live, I could do an all original set. But I prefer doing a mix of originals and covers. As a performer, the PRO blanket licenses mean that I don’t have to think about that issue most of the time. I just play whatever I want.

      Look, if the artist isn’t getting paid to play in a venue, there’s no cost there. So how much money does the venue really need to generate on a daily basis to cover the PRO costs. If the venue added a $1 music tax onto the Latte price when there was a concert there, would most people complain? Hell, if the venue added a .50 music tax onto all sales, would most people complain? I don’t know. Maybe they would. But maybe it would help customers to understand the real costs of having music in that establishment.

      Ultimately, as has already been pointed out, this stuff becomes an issue, because most small business owners don’t understand it and they don’t budget for it in their business plans. So the cost comes as a shock. And for many people, it ends up being prohibitive. So they just don’t do live music. Since most of the people in that position are the ones doing the small coffee-house shows, it ends up limiting those shows. This is a shame, because these shows tend to benefit the songwriters who are the least likely to benefit from PRO money.

      But at the end of the day, it’s a tradeoff. We could have more coffee-house shows but less money for songwriters or we can try to protect what money there is. Or perhaps there’s some middle ground. But given that PROs are also getting disrupted by all the digital music changes, they are loath to give up any money either. And I can understand why that is.

    • Anonymous

      I have owned 2 bars one really small one really big, but have yet to make money from live bands. We’re not done yet and hope to make money, but, we’re probably not going to have live bands because of the pro requirements. I have been sued and it stated because I made all of this money which I didn’t, I lost money, so I don’t understand why I should ever lose a case, but being a small venue, we didn’t have enough to fight, so we settled and lost a lot only because it was cheaper than fighting it. The bottom line is as a small venue we don’t have enough money to fight so they win.

    • skippy

      Quote “This was a protection racket against crippling legal action.”

      That’s sure what it feels like.

  20. hippydog

    Something is not adding up here..

    Quote “They pay $350 a year to Sirius/XM for their in house music ”

    The Sirius plan for venues includes the PRO fees, so they should NOT be getting double billed for that..
    so $500 for just 12 live performances is very high..
    but then you look at this

    it seems this is a yearly blanket fee..
    so 1.) they should stop using the more expensive Sirius plan as THEY ARE ALREADY COVERED for their music broadcasting.. and 2.) they now have the right to broadcast 365 days a year (its a blanket license) so why dont they have MORE live music..

    EG: $500/12 = $42 or $500/48= $10.5

    instead of doing just 12 live shows a year, if they increased it to every Friday or something, the $10 a show would be a lot easier to justify..

  21. Anonymous

    Don’t book shows for affiliated artists/bands and/or have them waive their rights as such, play no commercial music, pay no license, bingo bango bongo!

    If they are booking mostly independent acts anyways, im sure they would be happy to sing a waiver form removing the venue from any liability therein.

    They don’t own music, any legislation saying otherwise is criminal in and of itself.

    They certainly aren’t the custodians of Copyright as they so claim to be! Don’t get me wrong now, i appreciate what my PRO is able to do for me and in general, in theory anyways, they provide a needed service and one that i am happy to have them do for the fee they take. But with the bulk of their administration fees and the perks they get coming from the very artists, producers, writers and publishers that are engaging in serious heinous property theft all for their ultimate monetary benefit, to say they dont want to help is an understatement. They are currently supporting and protecting and fighting for many Copyrights that are illegal in and of themselves, essentially meaning they are aiding and abetting criminals, and since they are at least getting some money for it, in my minds eye, makes them culpable and complicit in the crimes. Sadly many of those artists and writers acting so negligible and criminally are the ones that ship the most tonnage. Thank god for the good old NDA’s eh people? :)

    If thats want we want from our supposed government like regulating authorities and agencies, then im sorry to say the industry is doomed.

    The inmates run the place people and entertainment at that level has become nothing more then prisoners entertaining us for their wardens and correction officers! Funny then that the wardens et all are complicit in these same crimes, regardless what their limited liability contracts state!

    Justin Mayer

    • Anonymous

      The more they try and whittle away at bars and clubs, the less there will be around as they are certainly getting hit with higher costs of doing business and higher costs of living.

      Ultimately we will be left with the criminals as the only ones able to make money as all fans are herder around like cattle, given options like a game of 3 card monte, consuming consuming consuming, with no one else but them able to make a go at it.

      Looking at what they are putting forth and the way in which they are doing it, i certainly want nothing to do with that sort of society, thank you very much!!!

      Justin Mayer

      • Anonymous

        Im a professional golfer, well used to be but technically i am since i havent applied for my amateur status back.

        Heres how golf works. You spend your money and time buying equipment and practicing and playing. You play tournaments, tournaments have an entry fee. Golf has rules, honor, respect, ethics, values, morals. Theres no setups, theres no manipulation, theres no middlemen, theres no anything but you against the course may the best man win!

        Music is as far from that as can be right now, therefore a pay to play type eco system is nothing more then a scam. Theres no honor in music, theres no valor in music, no respect, no ethics or values, no one acts with any morals. Heinous thievery and chop shop hackery is the way in music, at least that is what our great industry leaders continually tell us by their actions and lack of action on some of these crimes.

        Clean the whole damn place up if yall want to run some pay to play locked up gatekeeper esque type of industry, else time to pack up and fuck off and leave it the professionals, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!


        Justin Mayer

  22. hippydog

    When you look at the issue and do a root cause analysis,
    the actual problem (in this case) is

    The PROS blanket licenses are NOT variable enough..
    IE: If a 75 person venue is really only playing live music 12 times a year, they should NOT be paying close to the same amount as a 200 person venue that plays live music 100 times a year..

    THATS the ISSUE people.. not the $$, not that they are “helping the struggling musician out”.. etc etc
    its the fact that for a small business like this the rates ARE too high.. (for what they are actually doing)

    • less than

      so it’s that they’re mad that some other venue is ‘getting a better deal?’

  23. Brian James

    It’s always tough for a business when they have live acts come in, karaoke or DJs. Invariably these music formats use other people’s work to entertain, and consequently the business makes money because people are hanging out, enjoying, and purchasing. Businesses attract with great experiences and content. Because we’ve been inundated with the idea that music is free we forget, get upset and cry foul when someone wants to get paid for their work. If you were having a big car show you wouldn’t steal a bunch a cars for your event, you’d find people that own cool cars and get them to your event. Of course it’s much easier to steal a song than a car.

    We can argue about the fairness of the practices of the PROs, or their administration of payments, (yes they don’t have the ability/data/systems/infrastructure to pay on a per play basis, but just use billboard and radio station data to determine payouts).

    What is clear is that artists should get paid…if you’re playing a song owned by someone else, you’re renting their cool car for your car show. If your business can’t support the cost to rent the car, then don’t steal it instead.

    The best thing for any business owner is to have only original live music and for everything else -licensing in place for any music that they play. I work for PlayNetwork and we provide custom, personalized music for over 80,000 business locations today. For less than $500 per year you can get your own personalized music and PlayNetwork covers all of the licensing associated with that music; not just ASCAP, but BMI, SESAC and all licensing for every song played in your establishment.

    When you sign up with us there are no more conversations with any of the PRO agencies.

    Feel free to email me if you have additional questions or go to our web site

  24. Willis

    Why is SESAC so much? They have so little in comparison the the other two.

        • Anonymous

          They are for-profit company that is allowed to charge whatever they can get. Does this really need to be explained further?

          • Willis

            Zzzz…so is the coffee shop. So, they shouldn’t have to pay SESAC. Anyone home? Are you getting this?

  25. so many solutions

    Why don’t they do live shows with artists who use Creative Commons?

    Oh, I forgot – no one has bothered to discover the interesting music artists in Creative Commons.

  26. MrSwingGuitar

    As a performing musician (and ASCAP member) I can guarantee that 95% of the money collected from venues like this goes to people who are already rich. The way ASCAP structures their payments for radio play, for example, involves a sampling for only a few days a year and leaves out college and non-commercial stations. The payment scale is also designed to favor those with the highest number of plays, it’s NOT proportional. So, almost all of the money is going to perhaps 100 individuals, who are already doing quite well, thank you. The rapidly dwindling number of venues for live music is being further depleted by actions like this. I don’t know the answer, but if live music means anything to you, make your voice known.

    • Anonymous

      They only pay the top 200 songwriters from money they get from venues. Zoe Keating wrote about this.

  27. Lindsay

    These people are bullies, and like all bullies they will back down if one stands up to them. They’re in it for the money, and if they figure a lawsuit would be profitable they’ll go for it. If not, they’ll go for greener pastures. I used to play at the Iron Horse Coffeehouse in El Dorado, KS. The manager there made cheezy little cassette recordings of every show. BMI came in once and demanded money based on the seating capacity and the frequency of music. The manager showed the fellow the cassette collection and told him that he was welcome to listen to the tapes and determine which songs were covered by BMI, and he had attendance records for all shows, and they could look at those too. This is the basis on which they’re SUPPOSED to assess performance rights fees. The BMI guy left and never came back. If these records are available I believe the PROs are required to use them.

    • Anonymous

      It’s going to be a lot harder to find venues willing to allow musicians to perform, that’s for sure.

  28. Bluesking

    Who funds Digital Music News? Seems odd to me the way the story is sensationalized and commented upon. Without ASCAP, BMI and SESAC all of these struggling songwriters will never get paid for their performances ever. The bigger publishers could care less about all of the little songwriters and artists playing in small venues, they want to collect more money for their big artists. That is why they want to break away. You think the fees are high now, wait until they get any control.

  29. Spoken X Digital Media Group

    Literati X care strolling along Wall Street looking like a bum and panhandling from door to door accepting his eX slave status in society . Looking into the restaurant windows at the paid people eat– hungrier than the stray dog that befriended him along the way. His collection plate is but an imagination of a lost mind:










  30. Anonymous

    I think that Folk Alliance International will help small venues negotiate lower fees if the venue contacts them.

  31. Ike Blurry

    Aren’t these some of the same groups that threatened to sue the Girl Scouts for singing around camp fires and wanted to license ringtones so they could get paid every time your goddamn phone rang?

  32. Hmmm

    It would be nice if the PRO’s were not strict into a base line. typically for their minimum fees with live music twice a month it is about 1000 dollars. Then to get DMX rates it’s 24.65/mo. DMX is a great comprehensive solution for most businesses.

    A lot of people here are defending PRO’s; however, most businesses when they are notified about the existence of DMX say “Oh that’s a great idea, and we get a box we can make our employees use”.

    I don’t think most businesses are like “yeah let’s rip those artists off”! They just don’t know any better because the first thing a PRO says to a busiess is “pay or we shut you down”. There is a huge gap here between business and artist. What the businesses get told by PRO’s is FAR from what the musicians get told.

    For instance with my business I have used DMX for 2 years, I get emails every 15 days from SESAC threatening legal action for the past 2 years because I do not have a direct license. I am not going to justify a response to their emails because their reps have such crappy attitudes. I am operating completely within the confines of the law; yet, I get badgered every 2 weeks.

    There is a huge misinformation gap that PRO’s tell both sides. I guarantee if PRO’s would be more comprehensive, and actually learn to approach businesses, or set up an intuitive solution you would see a HUGE increase in businesses actually paying fees. For me, if I am going to have live music, I make sure all songs are in proper catalogs I have licensing for before hand via set lists. If a musician does choose to play covers in their set list, then I contract in the fees for licensing.

    TL;DR the modern day of small business does not accommodate huge lump sum bills, it’s easier for us to spread out over a year. Small business and chain businesses are way different fiscal beasts. The “Big 3” have not changed their operating practices in 20+ years, and a lot of businesses operate illegally because of the fact.

    Perhaps musicians should stop calling small businesses “criminals” and start working to create a more comprehensive plan to assist them in making sure both business and musician make money?

  33. Anonymous

    Hi Ari,

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I think your statement “a new license breakdown is necessary for all three PROs” is right on.

    I’ve been working at the Musicians Union office in Seattle for a number of years, as well as been active with Fair Trade Music Seattle. I’ve lost track of the number of phone calls our office has received from small business owners who are bullied by PROs. Proprietors are often wanting to do the right thing, but cannot afford to, because the cost would for them to close down. So, they are forced to no longer offer live music, which is a detriment to musicians and the vitality of our community.

    I agree that a tiered system of payment is necessary to keep new live music available to audiences. I disagree with the concept that ABC Pub should have to pay the same price as a Hard Rock Cafe franchise. The recording industry needs to see that they have a vested interest in live musical communities of today. For, if they don’t exist, there will not be any recording musicians of tomorrow.

    Monica Schley

    • Jeremy Arndt

      Where’s the “like” button? Well… I don’t like that it’s happening, but I’m happy to see more people sharing their story. I’m surprised at all the negative commentary here. Healthy debate is necessary, but this stuff is happening all over the country.

    • Ari Herstand

      Thanks Monica! Would be great if you shared this with ASCAP, BMI and SESAC reps – coming from their members carries much more weight than the venues. One of the reason I wrote this (an ASCAP member – friends with many of those who work at ASCAP). There are ways to achieve a fair solution.

  34. Monica

    Hi Ari,

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I think your statement “a new license breakdown is necessary for all three PROs” is right on.

    I’ve been working at the Musicians Union office in Seattle for a number of years, as well as been active with Fair Trade Music Seattle. I’ve lost track of the number of phone calls our office has received from small business owners who are bullied by PROs. Proprietors are often wanting to do the right thing, but cannot afford to, because the cost would for them to close down. So, they are forced to no longer offer live music.

    I agree that a tiered system of payment is necessary to keep new live music available to audiences. I disagree with the concept that ABC Pub should have to pay the same price as a Hard Rock Cafe franchise. The recording industry needs to see that they have a vested interest in live musical communities of today. For, if they don’t exist, there will not be any recording musicians of tomorrow.

    Monica Schley

  35. Anonymous

    PROs need to be more transparent with how all this money they get actually gets back to songwriters.

  36. Local venue owner

    Wow, the problem is it’s not clear to the venue. I thought there was only one company to pay until I read this article. I guess a better go through my junk mail more often.

  37. Marvin Gershowitz

    I have done countless shows with enough INFO to prove the songs were my own ORIGINAL or PUBLIC Domain.

    Places can have music (millions of songs – billions of songs) –
    BUT for those who have spend that TIME TO make the connections and investment to sell an item with our current COPYRIGHTS have a NEED for their Protection which was the WHOLE POINT of ASCAP – BMI or SESAC….. THEY are the Musicians UNIONS for the PROFESSIONALS of the BUISNESS. Treat musicians like professionals and negotciate a price, or collectively bars and restraunts can “STRIKE for BETTER RATES.

    ALL AMERICANS WANT MUSIC and LIKE ALL AMERICANS they don’t want to PAY FOR IT…. that is what this is about money saved by those who by % rarely treat the musician even to $7.25 an hour wage….
    usually it’s ZERO!

    Marvin Gershowitz (1953 – 2014 or longer)

  38. Howie Clark

    I completely agree that the PROs and their protection-racket methods are the worst thing possible for live music, as it smothers musical creativity. The idea behind the PROs (if I may lump them together) was to support the creation of music. It was a tragedy that Stephan Foster died penniless, not to mention the other thousands who helped to invented American music without profiting from it. That WAS the idea, but it has been largely co-opted.

    I help run a small music festival in Indiana featuring Old-Time, Bluegrass and even Jazz. We dutifully pay our fees but, surprisingly, we are not required to submit a playlist. (I must, however, do so for my local public radio show) Local live venues also do not submit playlists for live music. Therefore if someone plays a “cover,” whether they or someone else wrote it, there is no record. Since the kind of music we feature rarely gets radio airplay (except by me on my once a month radio show}, the fees do not foster or support our artists in relation to their popularity or anything else. If a musician can get any money at all out of the PROs, it is only begging money. In other words, they could care less about future Stephan Fosters or the venues they play in.

    Instead, they enforce their irrelevant rules by hiring jobless recent law school graduates and imbuing them with evangelistic fervor. By turning them into well-spoken thugs. they can then go out there and save the world from exploitative owners of struggling coffee shops, Not only do they deprive local non-commercial and amateur musicians from finding an audience, they also discourage the formation of new venues. And, since there are so many musicians out there looking for a place to play, they have pulled the rug out from under talented semi-pro bands, Believe me, they are all semi-pro, they don’t want to be, but they can’t find enough decent work to do anything else.

    As a business owner, I can say with authority that running a successful business takes a combination of competence, luck and chemistry much the same as creating a successful band. If you look closely at the successful venues, be they coffee houses or mega-festivals, you will find they are run by people who were always competent and lucky but had to learn how to make the chemistry. They learned in the kind of places where they could try things and make mistakes, the kind that featured pass-the-hat performers who were glad to get a chance to play. They learned to hire the right people to help them juggle business and entertainment and survive. The musicians learned too, and a few turned out to be big stars. But here is little rational need for a successful business to feature live music. It is nice and can draw customers, but there are easier ways. Unreasonable and insensible performance fees simply erase the music part.

  39. Christina Anthony

    What I don’t understand is why it can’t be even easier than all of this… charge the bands a fee once a year to allow them to do cover songs at any venue they like… if they don’t have that permit, they can’t be hired… why is it up to the venue to make sure a band doesn’t do a cover song? Several small venues here in the Austin area stopped live music altogether because the cost and fines have gotten outrageous… it might seem like a few bucks a day to some of you but it’s more than that by the time they decide if the jukebox is paying them correctly, any band is doing a song, etc etc etc…. this live music capitol of the world will one day be a ghost town of venues… I hope comedians are ready to fill those stages.

    • Anonymous

      If they can threaten venues with the fact that if a band even accidentally starts singing a copyrighted song they control, the whole venue could be shut down, this is good for the PROs business. It’s not in their interest to support a system like yours.

  40. Pierce Crask

    “Small and up-and-coming artists survive off those checks.”

    No, they don’t. They survive by playing gigs.

    • Yup

      Had to get this far into the thread before I saw something that had a thread of common sense Pierce.

  41. Anchor Radio

    We promote musicians on our radio show (podcast only). They send us music and we play it. As far as I’m concerned ASCAP, BMI and the others can fuck themselves. We’re all about the music.

  42. Mary H

    We just had a wine bar stop their music for this very reason.
    The owner is paying Pandora and can’t see also paying for $500 to ASCAP when his place seats 50 and there is no cover charge. We play Jazz and really, all the composers are long gone. Perhaps the composers families collect fees. ASCAP has never required me to submit a play list. My big question is there something we can do besides complain to each other?

      • Martin

        This is exactly right. If there isn’t enough turnover to justify getting playlists then there shouldn’t be money taken by the PROs. The small venues support up and coming acts. Money is better spent supporting them than dividing up the money earned by these small bands to be given to already successful artists

  43. Radio DJ/Programmer

    We promote musicians on our radio show (podcast only). They send us music and we play it. As far as I’m concerned ASCAP, BMI and the others can fuck themselves. We’re all about the music.

    Thanks for admitting to your illegal activity.

    • Jon Davis

      It’s only illegal if the performing artists are performing unoriginal music.

  44. David O

    I don’t have time to read every comment here, so it’s likely someone else has already covered this, BUT the article keeps mentioning songwriters being unable to play they’re own compositions. This is inaccurate. If the performers are playing their original compositions, the PRO’s have no authority whatsoever. If the performers are playing covers, then yes, licenses must be obtained. The solution seems pretty simple.


    • Ari Herstand

      Legally, any songwriter is allowed to play his or her original music at any establishment without that establishment having to pay for a license, HOWEVER, this doesn’t matter in the PRO’s eyes and won’t deter them from going after the venue. Bauhaus actually explained to ASCAP that all of their musicians play original music and ASCAP shot back “how do you know? Do you know every song ever written?” So the PROs won’t believe a venue if they claim that they only host original music. And all it takes is one musician to play one cover song for a PRO to sue for serious damages.

      All it takes is one musician to play one cover song for a PRO to sue a venue for serious damages.

      • Jon Davis

        It doesn’t matter. A PRO can sue. If it’s a state court, but out of state, the summons can be discarded. If it’s federal, it doesn’t take much of a lawyer fee to document that the plaintiff is making a frivolous accusation; they must submit evidence of copyright violation, and absent that their claim is frivolous.

  45. DUANE

    AS Usual its laws passed by bought and paid for politicians,, copy laws really need to be revamped, they are just outdated and its time the public quit getting screwed,,,,,, when your dead your dead and cant own anything,, ask them to produce a statement where this money goes and they cant, 99% goes for overhead to a do nothing organization,,,,,

  46. chris

    If you’re playing the song somebody else wrote, but just based on the chords someone put on the internet, that may or may not be right, you are playing it in a unique way, you put all the time into practice and equipment and all that, you’re not being paid by the venue, or not much, ……… yeah, you’re techically playing a cover but it has no similarity to “renting a cool car for a car show”. You have put a new spin or maybe even unique spin on a song somebody else wrote. So then, yeah, the original artist should get paid, but on the other hand…. Maybe the venue should pay a reasonable amount based on who’s making money and how much.

  47. Mike Anthony

    A note from the brother of the lady who owns Bauhaus Kaffee; Sis and John, sorry to read your passion for music at your business is gone…I could tell you both enjoyed the talent as much as the musicians/songwriters and Farmington community. I find it ironic that music for Bauhaus has met the same fate as architectural engineer education did for Bauhaus College in Germany. Bureaucratic leaders leading blindly typically doom the fate of many. Too easily over thought…tough decisions sometimes require a little heart and less brain.

    As a retired veteran, now schooling young leaders through tough decisions, I simply revert to what has helped me overcome difficult issues in the past…”Always Remember Your Roots!”

  48. Len Ford

    These types of associations are parasites and as such are very difficult to get rid of. in the 70’s i had a run in with the UK based PRS, i owned 5 record retail shops and as such played records to potential buyers, and the PRS wanted to charge a fee for this privilege even though the purchase price that i paid to stock the record already included prs fees. i now have been a radio show presenter for 15 years and have never been asked to fill in a playlist form. i also had songs published but to claim any royalties they want an exorbitant fee just to register with them. who set these types of associations up in the first place recognised how to fleece the musicians of money. as previously mentioned it’s a scam.

    • you are full of it

      You gave away you are full of shit, im not sure I should tell you where so you can perfect your misinformation hate musicians speech, but do know, you are found out -you fraud!

      the poster above is full of shit, anyone in the know should easily point out the blatant lie

  49. Musico 9

    yes, there are many reasonable, well thought out comments, (several from experts also) on here that , if brought to pass, may be helpful to all involved parties.

    =====> Im going to plunge that curve now. :)

    PAY UP !!!! NO PAY, NO PLAY, period. Cry me a river coffeehouse. Oh, and the ‘charity’ card too? puh-leez…

    Did you *really*, naively expect to put on shows & use recorded music for free??? lmfao!

    I hope ASCAP BMI & SESAC shut your stupid little joint down, and then combine their legislative power to pull the plug on Pandora & Spotify too. Maybe THEN musicians will get minimum wage and our profession be as valued in concrete terms like every other trade is.

  50. ChasR

    At the risk of coming across as a bitter old bugger- no one, but NO ONE gets to make up their own rules. The coffee shop knew darn right well this had to cost them, somewhere, somehow. Bottom line is the PRO’s are going after penny-andy holes like Bauhaus because the previously functioning, fully legalized, highly regulated system ascap & bmi depend on to serve their members has been *plundered* by streaming sites that think they can write their own rules because they’ re using a flashy new hitech publishing/distro method that rate court didnt truly understand. Like Pandora, Spotify & that ilk, KaffeeKlitsch Bauhaus DOES NOT have the right to hang a shingle on their door saying ‘We’re a live music venue” (translation: we can sell more pastries if your extended family & band buds have the munchies) -and-then-proceed-to-write-their-own-rules-. Lastly, the fact they even >mention< their charitable donations in connection with the issue at hand simply makes me want to vomit. Should there be a separate set of rules for miniscule venues? Probably. Are there bigger fish to fry for all working musicians? Yep. Has ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, as well as the AFM for that matter, done more good for larger numbers of musicians, furthered our craft, promoted our product, and made possible a decent living wage for more talented people than Bauhaus Coffeeshop of Farmington Missouri has? Absofckinlutely.

  51. Beyond

    Make them pay people pay for their over price coffee they should pay for the music, see how much coffee you sell when there is no music in your shop or restaurant.

    • Christopher Bingham

      Actually, they’ll likely sell more, unless the artists they’re hiring have a following and bring their crowd.

      I’m a musician and unless I’m coming to see a concert, I leave when the live music starts. It’s irritating and I can’t have the conversation I want without disrespecting the artist and that frustrates me. And honestly, maybe one in 20 coffeehouse players will be interesting to me at all.

      If I ran a coffeehouse, I wouldn’t have music at all. Wifi is what keeps people drinking coffee.

  52. Tory L. Stephens

    These PRO’s are way to big for their pants, I worked at a coffe shop that ASCAP harrassed, they wanted them to pay 1600 a year just because they offered gaming stations with Either a Xbox, Playstaion, or Nintendo Wii to play on. Ascap considered this a live performance and tried to make them pay this fee, as far as i am concerned if it is a live performance for a Kid to play a video game then i guess every household with a Gaming system is breaking the law..

    The company that made the games and used the songs paid fees to include them on the game, yet a small business that offered a safe place to hang out after school or on weekends and play video games becomes the bad guy for ASCAP to swoop in and try and strong arm the place to pay for live performances when the games were played that is complete and utter BS….

    I am not a Musician but am a Artist myself, as a photographer I try to eek out a living with my work as well, but with what ASCAP was was doing to this business is parrable to me charging a gallery for every person who went into the place

  53. Andrew Storm

    As an ASCAP Songwriter and Publisher…I agree that some distinction should be made for TRUE “small” venues such as this one…HOWEVER…it is very difficult to draw that line without lots of detail as to how they do business. Such a small venue could be charging sizeable fees to the customers when they do have LIVE music, and others may be “passing the hat” as these people say they do…also, as a cutomer of theirs mentioned, they also sell food and beverages which makes for additional income. Frankly, if they cannot make enough each year to makes ends meet with essentially a bit LESS that $200 per month layout to the PROS…whay are they even IN bussiness?? Also, want a suggestion?? Since the fees will not change if you do, why not have WEEKLY CONCERTS instead of MONTHLY CONCERTS?? You could have small versions weekly or evn twice weekly, i.e. Friday and Saturday Nights…then have a Large Monthly Concert. You would bring in MORE money…pay out the SAME money and be ahead of the game….WHY go small time when you can go bigger time and make EVERYONE happy??? And, just think how much happier you would make the struggling artists!!

  54. Tim Shean

    What arrogance! ” if they cannot make enough each year to makes ends meet with essentially a bit LESS that $200 per month layout to the PROS…whay are they even IN bussiness?? Also, want a suggestion?? ” YOU WANT A SUGGESTION??!! I know from Opening Restaurants and training Managers and Line employees in 15 Restaurants and playing music in countless more that the Profit Margins, especially in Mom and Pop type clubs and shops are Nowhere Near what most people think. This is Not Bogey walking around Rick’s in Casablanca. Most work well over 100 hrs a week just to keep the doors open. I’m also a musician/songwriter/producer/engineer, owning my Studio in Nashville for the last 24 years. It’s real easy to say…hell it’s only $1000/ year…$2000 / year…really?…how’s Your life if I grab $2000 out of your pocket this year? The part that Really rankles is the tactics…they act like thugs. I knew a guy, a neighbor, who works for ASCAP. His job is to call these places and get the money out of the smaller clubs….He Works For Salary and Commission. They are so greedy that they are willing to destroy all these little places that give Non Pros and beginners a venue to hone their skills for this up and coming generation, even though WE ALL HAD THAT OPPORTUNITY….that’s how we Got to be pros. How many Songwriters are squeezing by on what they get cut or draws from Publishers (which is Nothing like it was)….You really going to tell them to go do something else? What?….work in a club?? Don’t be so damned quick to decide what Other People should do with their life. Tell You what….You decide what their time and energy is worth…..Then I’ll decide what yours is worth…

  55. eddy

    I heard it’s the same in Italy, the clubs need a song list in advance. I think the publishing scam had it’s roots there. Obviously these club owners should be put out of business and all their assets turned over to ASCAP and BMI, as a pro active measure in case some coffee drinker decides to whistle a tune with impunity.
    IMO If someone writes a song and it gets heard, it’s no longer theirs, they have bequeathed it to humanity whether they wanted to or not.
    music is an illusion and it is ethereal
    all i need is the air that i breath, sue me

  56. rikki

    i will state this over and over again…you never see anyone of them go after black establishments….the riaa never sued anyone black for stealing music, and 90% of the rap hip hop internet stations you cant find a stream licensing or any proof they pay royalties……

  57. Mike

    The whole thing is quite upsetting. My PRO has never payed me a single penny… and then a few years back they went on my website and started harassing the venues that I play at. What sucked the most is they actually told the venues that it was my website/schedule they were tracking, (and one other person).
    The scumbag from the PRO actually mentioned us by name and told the venues it was for our benefit, (which of course is lie, because they never pay anyone outside the ClearChannel network). But, it sullied my reputation with the local venues and most importantly deprived other artists in the local area of some much needed income because a few venues stopped having live music. I am very fortunate to have a day job, but most of the musicians in my area are full-timers with other mouths to feed. So some folks, who quite frankly really need the money, have lost potential source(s) of income because of the PROs.

    Which brings me to the most important part of the conversation. The venues we are talking about here (small, non-ticketed, free to customer) pay the musicians out of overhead!!! We are a pure “expense” on their books. The fees the PROs want are in addition to that! I have noticed some of the comments here are limited to only the fees. But, you have to remember, that is an EXTRA $2k. I am a little shocked at how many folks on here think (an additional) $2k is nothing and assume that every venue owner is rolling in money. Owning your own business is brutal for the first few years, if you make it at all… any venue that is willing to dig in their (own) pockets to support local music/musicians should be commended(!), not harassed.

    I am sure the PROs served some legitimate function 20 years ago. But, these days they are nothing more than greedy little ticks sucking money AWAY from musicians. As for me, I have almost stopped playing gigs entirely because of their actions. I would never want to inadvertently hurt a venue owner that is kind enough to support local music and I certainly don’t want anything to do with other musicians losing income sources.

    I also think the PROs should be subject to legal action for mentioning an artist’s name/website if they have never paid them a single cent. It’s fraud, pure and simple, to say you are “enforcing” something for the benefit of a 3rd party, then keeping all the money…

    Mike Bowers

  58. Verus

    Whether the place is a charity or not, they have to pay for the services they use. Including music.

    It is up to the rights-holder to decide whether their works can be used for charity purposes.

  59. Verus

    Let’s consider:

    If cafe owners decided that coffee is too expensive, are they allowed to take coffee from their roasters/distributors without paying for it? It’s all fine, since it’s a charity?

    • AsianFelino

      make sense Verus,
      follow first before complaining. law keeps us in order, i think its not a “forced” one, they’ve decided to close it because they can’t hold it. no matter what the profit is going.

  60. JPMcCartney

    From insight to ignorance to insanity… and then there’s just plain stupid. Since you can’t fix stupid let’s see if we can make a dent in ignorance and insanity.

    I support the arts, musicians and artists… they need support… they used to call them patrons in the old days… today they call them fans. So … long story short:
    I support ASCAP, BMI and SESAC in principle. They see that artists get paid for their work; that’s a good thing.

    Short story long:
    Sometimes in order to optimize the superordinate system (the main idea) you have to sub-optimize the subordinate system (a support system to the superordinate system). In other words, you’ll kill the goldfish if you feed it ten times a day… grow sales too fast and you’ll drown the company … or in this case tax the s**t out of the venues that birth the artists you’re collecting royalties for and pretty soon you’ll have a diminishing base of artists and they won’t need you to collect royalties… and you’ll lose your job. Or, if you’re in government you’ll get the French revolution and you’ll loose your head.

    PROs need to get reasonable and create a formula that makes sense and lose the gestapo tactics. It’s unbecoming an organization that supports the ones that make the world a more beautiful place… besides it’s ‘stupid’ and shortsighted… reign in the dogs boys ( and girls). Your “superordinate goal” the reason you exist, is to “support the arts and the artists”… not stifle them!

    I asked several coffee shop venues “Why are you doing open-mic nights? The first words out of 90% of them was; “to create community”, “to support the local artists”… and the last was “to make a little money one night a week when the place is empty… and have a little FUN.”

    Any body that’s crazy enough to run a retail establishment knows it’s a lot of very hard work for not a lot of money. They do it because they;re drawn to it for some reason. Most don’t even make it. I owned a retail music store a one time and was so happy to sell it and get to spend the holidays at home again!

    It’s simple math, if you’re lucky enough to be profitable at all… you maybe clear 10% after taxes… let’s be generous and say 15%. That means that for every dollar you generate you get to keep fifteen cents. To make a $100 payment off the TOP (direct impact to your bottom line) you need to sell $666 worth of coffee. So to pay ASCAP $500, BMI $600 and SESAC $700 a year they need to create an EXTRA $12,000 a year in coffee sales… just to BREAK EVEN. At 4 nights a month / 48 nights a year with 20 people per night at $2 a cup of coffee you’d need to sell 6000 cups of coffee a year or over 6 cups per person, per night… to BREAK EVEN… of course everything over that is a pure 15% profit! WHERE’S the big money here? Trust me this is about love of community, love of music and to make running a business a little FUN…. that’s why people sing and dance to begin with.. to have fun.

    Sure they should pay a reasonable royalty… but if it’s going to be to THREE PROs then they should be each happy with $100 a month OR LESS each. $300 a month / $3600 a year is way more than reasonable. That’s $75 a night or $3.75 per person which means each person needs to spend $25 for the venue to break even. It seldom to never happens!

    I personally spoke with a small coffee shop that ASCAP asked $3000 a year from … they agreed to $1500 and paid. The next month BMI showed up wanting more than that… then SESAC showed up so they quit paying everybody. So the bottom line is that the PROs will NEVER get the money… EVER. What they will do is remove music venues for emerging artists from the community further reducing their future revenues and damaging the industry… no that’s not ignorant… THAT’S STUPID.

    I know what the industry is going through to re-invent an emerging monetization model but trust me, this isn’t it…. and besides that’s another whole rant.

  61. Peterboy

    Live music is a social phenomenon. Not a legislative requirement. PRO is just that. A “PERFORMING RIGHTS ORGANIZATION” with emphasis on PERFORMING and RIGHTS. All musicians have the “RIGHT” to perform in venues of their choice weather they’re paid by an establishment or in a park in the village green. The right for musicians to perform shall not be infringed. And there should be no cost to play commercial venues to the musician performers or, performing artist. Sometimes these “unions” forget who’s buttering their bread.

    Musician’s unions. What good do they do anymore? Where are the machinist unions? The trades unions? The auto unions? Until these so-called PROs start proving financial transparency and begin to establish genuine commitment to the artist, (geese from which the golden eggs are laid) they’re no better than useless, antiquated bureaucracies in financial desperation. Royalties be damned.

  62. Rich

    Ah ha ha ha!!! What a load! “We’re just doing it for the starving artists…” Try this: DON’T have any music whatsoever and see how sales go. If they go up, you’ve been wasting cash on crappy talent. If they go down, pay the songwriters who give musicians stories to tell that increase your sales.

    Ooo, evil unions and their PRO gangsta thugs…no, you’re all a bunch of thieves who want something for nothing, like most right-wing self-servatives. Stupid lives forever.

  63. Jim

    The reason I found this article is that a local popular acoustic venue told me that they will no longer have live music after the 1st of the year. They are being harassed by ASCAP. This place is a consignment stop/restaurant that allows local artisans to display and sell there work. If it goes under because the music has stopped, it will affect ALL artists in the area, not just musicians.

    So, where do we draw the line? What if I play “Sweet Home Tuscaloosa” instead of “Sweet Home Alabama”? Does that still count as a cover? What if I pay ASCAP by buying sheet music; does the owner still have to pay if I play it? That’s double-dipping, isn’t it? Since there is an exemption for playing RADIO, why not use a wireless PA……technically, the FCC considers that a transmitter (AKA radio!).

    The other half of the story is that MEMBERS PAY DUES TO BELONG TO THE PROs. ASCAP is pitching both ends of a double-header. This not only takes money from the venues, but also from musicians. AND musicians operate at a much smaller profit margin than most venues.

    The PROs operate under an antiquated system started in 1917, before radio and TV and recording studios, streaming music and iPods. There are MANY more ways for artists to collect royalties now without putting their fellow musicians out of work. Having multiple PROs makes no sense… proposal would be to consolidate into 1 organization (since ASCAP and BMI are non-profit, this should not be a big deal), and have the performers pay dues, local a musicians union, and base that on number of gigs per year. If you are in a working band playing every weekend, expect to join the PRO. If you’re in a garage band that plays less than 1 time a month, you are exempt. At the same time, having a PRO certification is a selling point for a band, and a way to PROMOTE local musicians to the venues. Venues that charge a COVER or any type of admission fee should be required to obtain a license, but not from multiple PROs, and the licensing fee should be based on the number of performances (NOT the size of the venue). Royalties would be paid from the member dues based on the number of songs that are covered by the PRO….musicians continue to make money selling records and CDs, downloads and MP3s as they do today.

    This is my modest proposal. It’s not perfect, but it would keep musicians and venues in business, and increase the amount that a venue can afford to pay a band by eliminating the licensing fees.

    • Jim

      1) It seems to me, that with the internet, venues should be able to pay for exactly what they use, immediately after using it. This would a hassle for some venue employee. Collect data and enter the data into a website. Isn’t there some underlying basis for the prices that ASCAP and BMI are charging? What songs, how many people were there?

      2) How much should a songwriter get paid when someone plays their song in a venue? Shouldn’t it be about what a songwriter gets paid when the song is streamed on Spotify? Or about what a songwriter gets paid when the song is played on the radio? I’d want to know how the songwriter is getting paid from Spotify or the Radio. Maybe a penny a play on Spotify, maybe a 1/10th of a penny? Spotify supposedly pays maybe $1000 on a million plays? General ballpark. That’s, what, $1 on a 1000 plays? Play 1 cover to 1000 people, pay $1. Play 10 covers to 100 people, pay $1. 20 covers to 50 people $1. If it’s open mic, you have the guy running the open mic taking care of paperwork, getting the song titles right, keeping a rough count of how many people are there. And he’ll log in to the website and fill out the data for the night, what songs were played, and how many people were there. This could be a pre pay system, where a Venue gives pollstar/ascap/bmi/sesac a certain amount of money, $50 lets say, and the songwriter money gets deducted from the account. You type in 20 songs, and the 20 correct songwriters each get 5 cents. And you can have a receipt you can print out about how much each song cost based on the cost to play per person (the spotify number, about 1/10th of a cent per listener) and the number of people listening, here, 50. .1 x 50 = 5. The website contains a database of all the songs, and the money is just transfered from one account to another. The songwriter has attached his song to his account.

      It seems like BMI and ASCAP are busting down venues to get the songwriters paid, but today’s current hitmakers are not the songwriters that the guy or girl playing acoustic is singing. This is a system rigged to benefit today’s current hitmakers. And that’s bad because today’s current music largely sucks. This system, easy, cheap, automatic, would get the right songwriters paid. If you’re arguing that the current system works because songwriters – you have to admit that the actual songwriters of the actual songs that those open mic singers are singing aren’t getting paid. It’s today’s hitmakers that are getting paid, and people aren’t singing today’s hits at today’s open mics.

  64. Christopher Bingham

    I’ve been writing songs since 1975 and performing live since 1978. I do only my own stuff or rarely a traditional tune. II four wall my shows when I can. I play a few coffee houses.

    For all the songwriters who think that these venues should pay the PROs $1,000 a year each, for the off chance that someone (more than likely a PRO paid shill) will play an affiliated cover, how about showing us how much ASCAP has paid you this year? I’ll make a guess: if anything, less than $12. My guess is also if you’re trying to break down the fees as “paltry” you work for a PRO. If not tell us who you work for.

    The BODs of the PROs are filled with major label execs. It should then be no surprise that the PRO payouts are ALL based on *major commercial radio play* and that even if you luck out and have one of your tunes logged during the coverage period, *your* money is going to another major label artist because the “non-profit” PROs have weighted the radio pay based on sales. The current BIG THING gets your nickle and you get shit.

    It is NOT too hard to log the tunes that are being played. That is a lie that the PROs have been selling since the 1930s, while in Europe it’s standard procedure for every tune to be logged and the $$ is distributed to the copyright owner.

    If I’m playing a concert made entirely of my material, getting paid for the ticket price, why should the venue have to give money to ASCAP? The PROs *refuse* to provide lists of affiliated songs because then there would be a legal argument that the venue should only pay for the use of that song.

    These PROs are not “protecting” anyone’s performance rights, they are STEALING from small venues who support original acts.

    It gets worse. Even when we passed laws exempting these venues, the US was bound by treaty rights to “harmonize” with other treaty signatories. So while the treaties don’t compel the collection methods, they do compel the collection – and the major labels who lobby for the treaties are the ones who benefit.

    There aren’t many solutions, but there are some that will hopefully put the major labels out of business. One is that if you absolutely *have* to have the NEXT BIG RECORD, wait for it to come out in the used bins. They labels don’t get any of that money and the artist is so unlikely to see any more than the advance that you’re not hurting them – and if you are? Screw ’em – they’re already skimming money that rightfully belongs to other songwriters anyway.

    Another: lobby to defeat the TPP which is partially a major label bonanza that will “harmonize” international copyright and make it harder to change US law – as well as other odious garbage.

    Another: support indy artists. Buy direct, give them a thumbs up when they stream and thumbs down when the major label artists come on. The only way we’ll ever beat the gatekeepers is to break them. The PROs are HURTING 99% of songwriters. The 1% are funneling it to themselves.

    Another: lobby Congress to legislate a “per play” rate and force the PROs to do what European PROs have been doing for decades. Or better, make it “single payer” and create an agency that doesn’t have a conflict of interest in paying major labels over indies.

  65. Indiana Lou

    “Full disclosure, I’m an ASCAP songwriter. I appreciate the ASCAP checks I receive. I know that a tiny, minuscule fraction of that $600 that Bauhaus paid went to me….”

    No. You did not get .0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 red cent. Why? Because your music was not played at this venue. So why would you expect any money from them? Is it because you think these coffeehouse owners owe you something? If they bought a blanket license (which they did), and none of your music was played, where do you expect your royalty to come from? Your royalty kicks in when a licensed venue performs your registered music. Period. Any math that adds up to the contrary is contrary to the purpose of PRO’s : to compensate the registered owner of a work when their works are performed. So, with the current system and your understanding of it, you are entitled to a share of these people’s license fee. bull.

  66. Indiana Lou

    SOMEBODY, PLEASE, tell me what would be wrong with this system:
    You, an artist, play a gig at a micro-venue (cafe, coffeehouse, cat-shelter, etc.), at the end of the gig, you give the venue operator a set-list, the owner goes online and check the boxes by the registered songs, the software calculates the royalties and (wait for it) EVERY ARTIST PLAYED GETS PAID.

    well? If you are not receiving any royalties now, under this system, if you were played out, you would. and it would be 100% because the “admin fees” would be low and INCLUDED IN THE INVOICE. You would get the same respect as Dylan or Marley. The same respect. And micro-venues would embrace this, because it would be fair. The formula used would base each song’s royalty upon a square-footage multiplier, so it would be up to the venue operator to pack their venue.

    • Jim

      I like this.

      But, I think that instead of a square footage calculator, there should be the actual number of people there. Take an estimation of that. I wouldn’t want to disadvantage large venues that aren’t full, if they are full, they’ll be paying more.

  67. B.Palmer

    How do they know they ARE playing cover tunes.? What happened to innocent till proven guilty? This is a case , clearly, of guilty before proven so. And the prices are a little steep, especially for the small shops. Bullies. Money money money.
    Some price should be paid, but this is a case of over charging. Better business bureau??? Help!!!!

  68. Anonymous

    Hey ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, your a bunch of communist scum fucks, take the dildo out of your faggot asses, and go get a real job you scumbags, leave the fucking artists alone, and WHO CARES if someone plays a cover song, that’s royalty enough, just so you assholes know, it’s us working musicians that are keeping these washed up rock stars, and musicians known, cause last I knew Elvis, The Beatles, Queen, and The beach Boys aren’t holding any concerts anytime soon, so in my eyes we’re doing “the music industry” a favor by playing songs to keep their music, and legacy alive, you stupid greedy fucks

  69. James J

    This is a great article. It is a shame what the industry has done to live music and small time bands or solo performers. I have been a musician and songwriter for twenty years. I am a registered member of BMI. I can assure anyone that the people who lose with these laws are the ones paying the band and those playing in the band. As a traveling musician playing only my christian country and contemporary originals it is getting harder and harder to find avenues for live venues which means less money from gigging. The monies received from BMI is so small that you would be lucky to feed a goldfish a year let alone compensate for travel expenses. The bottom line is this….. Musicians need venues, not PRO’s in order to make money. As the author of both my songs and sound recordings I can say that most of the musicians on this forum clearly don’t play out much or they would recognize where the real money is at, it is not from a pro, it is from gigging in the real world which also makes for a great way to sell merchandise, cd’s etc… as far as the monies collected for the songwriter I doubt there is one musician on here that can afford to live on annually what they have received in royalties. We need these venues, that is how we make a living. If ge venues disappear, so will the musicians.

  70. -verified source

    I didn’t even read most of the comments. I can not say how I know this info. The fee of $600 would have been to high if they only had live music. The live music fee for three nights or less is roughly $4 x 96(occupancy) comes out way less then $600. Also if the my only host less then 6 times a year they can be eligible for an occasional license, which more then likely would put them at a minimum fee of $356 for the 2014 year. I think the article is good and I think all licensing companies should be condensed into one. I also agree the their should be some exceptions. But usually when a customer complains about a minimum fee of $356 I get a little baffled because you own a business and can not afford 1$ a day?…. The rate does change every year, but still it doesn’t go up by much. I understand business struggle. And trust me if you call in I do my best to help you, and get you the best rate possible. The fact is though this is legal we do not bloody people up and make them sign a CONTRACT. they agree to the agreement, because it is legal. We don’t want to sue people. That’s not our motive. We just want to make sure that the people who create the music we love can continue doing so.

  71. Andrew

    Thank you for the article, and I have enjoyed reading the comments. I am currently dealing with SESAC with a very similar situation. Upper management has been pleasant to deal with up to this point, but the licensing representative has been straight up abusive. The biggest shame in all of this is the representatives do not care to educate; they only try to bully you into paying the fees. At least this was my experience. The representative I spoke with lied to me on many occasions in an attempt to coerce me to pay the fees.

    In my situation, I host a monthly music event in a very small town. Musicians play their own original music, and I received the exact response in this article from SESAC when I stated this. The event is run through a small art gallery and the gallery is a 501c3, non-profit organization. We do not charge a cover, make any money from the event, and musicians are paid through a hat collection. My time is completely volunteer and the only reason I host the event is because it is a small town, with not much going on in terms of local musicians having a place to play their own original music.

    I was told there was no such thing as an exemption status by the first representative but the individuals in upper management told me there was as long as you met certain criteria. I’m not sure if anyone has any information regarding this, but anything would be helpful. I have not been told exactly what that criteria is, but as a 501c3 that does not make money from the event, I would hope we do not eventually need to shut down this event.

  72. Lily G

    As a bartender in a neighborhood restaurant, for over 20 years, I have some first hand knowledge of how much profit the business makes and how much everything costs. Recently, a friend of mine was looking for some extra work so he could continue to afford to live in the ‘City’. My boss graciously agreed to let him play piano once a week for about 11/2 hours, with a break. My boss can not afford to pay him, but does give him a meal. This musician, an ASCAP member, works only for tips, and is grateful for the tips and the good meal he receives. Shortly after he started playing, BMI showed up and demanded around $350.00, then them some time after that, a minion from ASCAP arrived and was asking for a paltry $750.00. At this point, my boss tried to negotiate with the ‘PRO’ and was told if he didn’t pay up, we would be sued. This was too much for my boss and, unfortunately, my friend can no longer play at the restaurant. My friend and I had previously agreed to cover all the fees, although this would cut into out incomes quite a lot, my boss would not agree for reasons I am not sure of. This might seem a little strange, for us to offer to pay, but having less income is better than having no income. I was willing to cut back on my expenses so I could help a friend survive. Somehow, I feel no matter how little I have, I still have enough to share.
    As a female, I already get less $$ than my male counterparts, and forget about working as a bartender in a posh downtown restaurant, unless you relish the idea of being hostess or a server that runs up and down stairs, or working in a place that shaking drinks while wearing sexy clothing and is a must. So, yes I work in a neighborhood establishment, which is subject to many financial ups and downs. After many years, I know that I am happier to be working, in such a neighborhood, with real people that understand all the complexities of a working persons life!
    Now, I also know that the restaurant never made any more money because of the live music, mostly our customers would just adjust their schedule, if they wanted to here some live piano. We would have the same weekly numbers no matter, and I made approximately the same as the year before. As I work at a small neighborhood place, I have a limited income, and so do most of my customers, so the restaurant would not do well charging a cover fee or raising the prices for food and drink. I should also mention that most the customers are 50 years or older. As the economy goes up, so does everything else; the price of fish, meat, cheese, liquor and the newly added delivery fees, although the price of oil is less than $40.00 a barrel )-: and you would never believe the increase in the price of bar olives, check it out sometime before you order 3 olives with your martini that you never intend to eat.
    One of my many questions would be; how much doe that young man, who came demanding $750.00 from us, make a year? Do they also provide him with benefits and healthcare? Vacation pay, sick pay, and IRA? And after he is paid, how much is left to pay out ‘the artists’, that are all so important to them? These are things that most of us in the restaurant service industry are not provided with, not to mention the amount of hours many of us work off the clock. (an unspoken rule that works because we need and want to keep our jobs). You may think we are foolish or are idiots, because of this, but we are your sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers; that make your life better and help you when you need it and even put you through school, not so you can criticize us, but so you can make it better and make a difference.
    Most restaurants make about a 4% profit percentage, just a little better than a gas station. But what we do well is give college kids an income to help with their tuition and bills, mothers and fathers jobs to raise their families, artists an income to help follow their dreams, and people, neighbors, friends and even strangers a place to come, have a chat with a friendly person, help them solve their problems, answers all their questions and enjoy a warm delicious meal while not feeling alone.
    So the next time that you show up at our place, and want a nice comfortable setting, the one you remember, to bring your parents or in-laws, with good food and a reasonable prices; don’t be surprised when we want your credit card number in advance and if you cancel your reservation, we can’t give a refund, just a gift certificate, a glass of wine is $15-$20, appetizers are $20 each, sharing a dish costs $10 or more, a Kale salad is $25, the same for a ‘large’ bottle of beer, corkage is $25, coffee is $3.50 (with no refills), you are almost sitting in your neighbor’s lap, you get to pay for our health care and the tax on it as well, and after paying a $300.00 bill, never mind the 10 cent fee for the bag for you leftovers that most likely you will leave behind, all while hearing some music you can’t recognize or actually hear because the restaurant is too loud. And then you will have to explain to you father, who insists upon paying the bill, because he thought he was coming to a little cozy place, why they can not give him a printed receipt for his credit card payment, and he will have to now provide his Email address to send it to, I am sure that will be another whole conversation. Cheers!

    • Mike

      Thank you for your comments. I frequent only small neighborhood bars and restaurants and I always tip the help well. I DJed in a local neighborhood bar for 19 months before BMI came in to shake down the owner. The patrons loved the music but the owner refused to be bullied. I can understand both sides of the argument for the “fees” but I think that when you buy a CD or record you are paying those “fees” in royalties. When I play a song that someone likes then they may buy it. The main problem in the music industry today is a lack of many real artists introducing music that people will buy. Good luck and hang in there- your customers appreciate you!

  73. BaristaGoneMad

    I thought I would add our story. We are a small coffee shop in the south and just got threatened by the PROs to pay up or prepare for a lawsuit. We have only had one non-profit live music concert during Christmas and planned one for the 4th of July and possibly Memorial Day. We had a great turnout and yes we made more money than a typical day. To be specific $550. We had our own barista play with his mother and friends his own music and a few Christmas Carols. We paid the band $100 out of that nights take and took the 4 of them to Applebee’s and bought their dinner as a way of saying thank you. We get approached frequently by acoustic artist wishing to play for a fee and were considering it until we got threatened. Our legal counsel advised us of the “mob-like” tactics and potential litigation and as such we are canceling all live music. We too play Sirius/XM to our patrons and that’s all they will be able to get. The shame here is that most breakout artist will never get that opportunity to play and practice there own work. If you are an musician you should be terrified of what these companies are doing to your profession. I am sad to know that artist like Evanescence who grew up playing in my town’s bars and groups like them, Panic at the Disco playing in Las Vegas bars, will never get their chance. We businesses will not be bullied. We will shut down live music. As another commenter wrote these organizations have a reasonable purpose but are shooting themselves in the foot and in the end NO ONE wins. We packed in 305 people in a room that should hold no more than 100 to enjoy the music of their friend, family, and admirer. Likewise we had great expectation of moving our event outdoors this summer and let the band grow and play to a larger audience outdoors as the fireworks went off. What a shame. What a tragedy. For those foolish ones that think we can afford the kind of fees in this article, we can’t. Once all the cost and fees of just doing normal business (including the $24.95 to Sirius) we just barely break even. We are not yet a year old at our current location and business is slowly growing, however our most profitable store that makes $1000 daily can’t afford the additional fee. This will screw the artist, the small business, and ultimately the PRO’s down the road as new talent will be much, much more difficult to break out.

  74. Scott

    In my experience, the only way to avoid said fees -and have live music- is to only have original music performed.
    The venue can have the artists sign a waiver stating they agree to only perform original works. The acaidia cafe in minneapolis uses this practice.
    Keep your live music – if you’re getting hassled- have the artist provide a set list to you and/or a signed statement that all their song selections are original.

  75. Dana Erlandson

    Could be considered that the classic hits Margaritaville, Brown Eyed Girl , Fire And Rain etc…. became famous in part and made a lot of royalties for the artists because every young guitar player who was playing those songs in those little coffeehouses over and over again was “promoting” those songs and the folks that wrote them…Kind of free advertising for the writers. Not to mention that each of those young artists was trying to develop their own writing… slipping in a few of their originals when the got their nerve up… So BMI, ASCAP, SESAC….. How and where do you expect those young writers to hone their craft in a live setting. You claim to be in support of the new young songwriters but you take away the only venue they have, My feeling is ..BACK OFF on the small (less than 100 seat) venues. Let those places be the woodshed for the new voices Shutting down those small venues gives a whole new meaning to “The day the music died…”

  76. Down with ASCAP/BMI

    I love the gullibility of songwriters and artists who think for a second that ASCAP/BMI and the current structure of the recording industry works to support them.

    What is rotten here is that ASCAP and BMI through corporate lobbying have created a system where live music venues can’t protect themselves from being sued. This should be a takedown system–if some venue is found to be playing music that isn’t original then it should be stopped–a warning issued, a 3 strikes fine or penalty, something reasonable. The threat of litigation for having some kid in a band pay a cover? How stupid is that. Its actually not stupid is symptomatic of an exploitative institutional structure. The fact that both of them can come sniffing around and charging different prices?? is just ridiculous.

    But you artists will stupidly stick up for scraps they throw at you. Anyone supporting ASCAP or BMI in this should be ashamed.

  77. Chuck Demers

    Please start a petition to the boards of BMI and ASCAP. It seems like those artists cannot be aware of the working of their organizations at the level of the small coffee shops, coffeehouses, restaurants or bars.

  78. P

    Now they are going after public libraries, I kid you not.

  79. Steffan

    ASCAP, BMI, SESAC extortion (“licensing”) for local live music venues: Frequently Asked Questions.

    1. Question: I have never extorted from a local business before. How do I get started?

    Answer: It’s easy! All you have to do is be on the lookout for local businesses that host local music. These places are usually easy to identify as they are often full of fun loving people who enjoy supporting the arts. Odds are, if they are a small business, they don’t have the money to pay for a license from the multiple PROs (Performing Right Organizations) like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC that come to collect. Just give us a call and we’ll take it from there. If we are able to extort money from this business, rest assured that you will be compensated handsomely.

    2. Question: Do I have to be an attorney or an employee of ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC to extort from local businesses?

    Answer: Of course not! Most of our informants are regular citizens in their communities. The only requirement is that you have no morals or ethics whatsoever, as these will be a significant hindrance to your ability to perform your job effectively.

    3. Question: I love what you’ve done with extorting from businesses that support live local music, but are there more opportunities for extortion schemes from other artists and the businesses that support them?

    Answer: You’re absolutely right! We’re just scratching surface with local music venues. We’re currently lobbying congress vigorously to pass laws that would allow us to extort many more businesses that support the arts such as art galleries and theater companies. As far as we’re concerned, the sky’s the limit when it comes to all the organizations we may be able to suck the life blood out of.

    4. Questions: Now that I’ve profited off the demise of the local music scene in my town, I’m a pariah in my community and I can’t sleep at night. Do you have anything to help me feel better about myself?

    Answer: Of course we do, Billy! Even though everyone you know may hate you, you can rest assured that the money you have made will be able to buy you new friends that will love you as long as you keep buying them whatever they want. Now you can move to a new town where no one knows you, and you can start all over again. Winning!

    Too much? Okay, maybe a little ;-) Admittedly, this was supposed to be funny (I know, I should stick to songwriting :-0

    Seriously though, wondering what you can do to help stop the madness? Like and share this Facebook page: Boycott ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. If you are an artist, musician, performer, small business that supports the local arts, do not give your money or support to ASCAP, BMI, SESAC or other Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) until they stop hurting who they are supposed to be helping. Fight for your freedom to play music without having to pay someone else to do it!

  80. New bar ownNer

    Funny how like others have said they don’t go after the musicians playing the covers & profitting.

    • Michael Walls

      ….because the musicians can’t even pay their bills. The line of ascension is – Mom & Pop have very little money, but musicians have no money. All rackets go after the “soft target” – too small to fight, enough money if you get a bunch of them.

      Just remember, all hit acts & writers started out playing other people’s stuff in little joints.

  81. Jim

    I agree with two things in this thread… Number one: The PRO’s at least “act” like thugs even if they aren’t. And number two, the only money “local” artists will ever collect is what they get paid for their gigs… Don’t wait by the mailbox for the checks from the PRO’s.. There needs to be a threshold that has to be crossed before fees are due.. The once a month open mic or local musician playing for 20 people should be let alone..

  82. Thissucks

    This is all a bunch of B. S. Somebody just trying to make a dollar out of something that doesn’t concern them.

  83. Michael Walls

    This issue arises and then fades away at intervals. As the recorded music industry crumbles, they scramble to find the weakest mark to tap.

    It is pathetic that, like the Mafia in the 30’s, the PRO’s go into the struggling mom and pop neighborhood grilles and try to muscle them. Local, live music is the farm team for future recordings. Local players cannot survive without another job. When this last bastion of struggling players is put out of business – there will be nothing left to record. You’ll have to make your own “music” with your iPhone, a drum loop and auto-tune.

    • j.j.

      Although slightly painful, I think copyright should be respected. The agencies should be petitioned for adjusting their fees to low-number of seat venues, but end the end, it should be played if it is a regular place of playing music and song that is written by others. Now if this particular coffeehouse thinks 2100 to 2800 dollars is too much, I’d make 3 suggestions:
      1. Have 1 to 3 fund raisers per year as well as a Jar on the Counter if necessary to help offset all or part of the cost.
      2. Hire only musicians that play at a higher level of quality that people may pay a 3 to 5 dollar cover charge for as well as occasional free “open mics” for entry level artists.
      In the end, having a coffeehouse with good singers/musicians that perform will be a draw to your business that no one else will have. 2800 Dollars should not be a total impedement. Think out of the box a little. The PRO in the end is the right thing to do

  84. J.S.

    Although slightly painful, I think copyright should be respected. The agencies should be petitioned for adjusting their fees to low-number of seat venues, but end the end, it should be played if it is a regular place of playing music and song that is written by others. Now if this particular coffeehouse thinks 2100 to 2800 dollars is too much, I’d make 3 suggestions:
    1. Have 1 to 3 fund raisers per year as well as a Jar on the Counter if necessary to help offset all or part of the cost.
    2. Hire only musicians that play at a higher level of quality that people may pay a 3 to 5 dollar cover charge for as well as occasional free “open mics” for entry level artists.
    In the end, having a coffeehouse with good singers/musicians that perform will be a draw to your business that no one else will have. 2800 Dollars should not be a total impedement. Think out of the box a little. The PRO in the end is the right thing to do

  85. Michael Reddy

    I believe Woody Guthrie used to say that old songs should be rewritten with new and relevant words to speak about the times they are sung in and for. That’s, like, “the folk tradition.” I wonder if he isn’t turning over in his grave right now. Corporations have “free speech,” and small music venues where “socially relevant” songs (not called “protest” songs anymore) could be tried out and possibly emerge from obscurity are disappearing very quickly.

  86. Phillip Munsey

    Ya and spirit is also being treated unfair. Corporate Suits and Mom & Pop stores deserve to screw songwriter out of their rightfully earned copyrighted material. Did you know you need a liquor, food, dancing, parking, and building permits/license. Why the fuck should a business have to pay a songwriter…..I mean if the record label was making money off this I’d say ya let give them more, but I’m talking about the songwriter not the multi millionaire pop star. Broke songwriter should always be at the bottom of food chain as far as everything goes including getting what they deserve(actually they don’t even get that). Fuck the pure integrity of creative individuals and let all the big wig suit corporate monkeys get all the money. Fuck people, music is as important as religion and they get a tax right off. (MORE SPECIFIC—SONGWRITERS SHOULD BE TAX EXEMPT.

  87. Phillip Munsey

    Ya and spotify is also being treated unfair. Corporate Suits and Mom & Pop stores deserve to screw songwriter out of their rightfully earned copyrighted material. Did you know you need a liquor, food, dancing, parking, and building permits/license. Why the fuck should a business have to pay a songwriter…..I mean if the record label was making money off this I’d say ya let give them more, but I’m talking about the songwriter not the multi millionaire pop star. Broke songwriter should always be at the bottom of food chain as far as everything goes including getting what they deserve(actually they don’t even get that). Fuck the pure integrity of creative individuals and let all the big wig suit corporate monkeys get all the money. Fuck people, music is as important as religion and they get a tax right off. (MORE SPECIFIC—SONGWRITERS SHOULD BE TAX EXEMPT.

  88. Phillip Munsey II

    Also these “pro’s” (ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are ………..ready for this?…..they are NOT FOR PROFIT companies.
    Spotify is not…
    Spotify and places of business(no matter how much they give to non-profits) are not.
    The bars refusing to pay are the “pro’s”/corporate monkeys and this whole we are helping breaking arist is just like the child milestone saying “I was just giving the child a massage”. It’s inappropriate to bail out on responsibility like this.

  89. djrb

    Looks like local musican’s need to leave the covers behind, write their own music educate their public to come and support this kind of entertainment. Good luck!

  90. S.M

    . I have just recently become an owner of a business (Tavern) and have found out how many overhead cost there are. It is no wonder there are many places going out of business. There are vendor licenses, liquor licenses, sales tax, numerous cost involved with safety issues to name a few. While I realize these are all necessary expenses for any business this one with the music license is absolute nonsense. I don’t know if you realize how much revenue bar and restaurant businesses have lost with the smoking ban on top of the current economic situation.
    There is nothing in these costs that have been reduced in spite of declining economy. Insurance, water, electricity is higher. Less people can afford to go out and spend money on leisure activities. I have only owned this business for six months and I am not confident I will be able afford to run it.
    This cost involved with playing music at my establishment is at about 1,000 per year. I have a 100 seat capacity. I have a DJ for a total of 8 hrs per wk and currently no live music or karaoke, but yet I have to pay the same as everyone else. When we discussed with ASCAP about not having a DJ at all we were told we would still have to pay because we have TV’s. Songs that play on commercials and half time entertainment at football broadcast are copyrighted material (for example). Their contract is very specific and covers every possible incidence of having entertainment at any establishment. However, they do not provide a list of what music is owned by their contract. ASCAP has rights to some music , BMI to some other music, and then there is SESAC who has even more. Supposedly this money goes to the songwriters but it is my belief there is a vast majority of it going to legal fees used to sue establishment s who wish to not comply with this legalized racketeering.
    When people are driving down the road will they be stopped by these people because their music is so loud other people can hear it? Music at funeral homes- are they required to pay these fees for the deceased?
    I am not implying that this fee should not be paid at all, I believe this cost should be better regulated.

  91. WJR

    as a business owner of 50 seats my question has been for the last four years…Why am I the one who has to pay…I hire a skilled professional in any other trade..I am not paying his license fees at this rate…I don’t pay his professional association dues….I pay him to do his job….What it is that he advertised he could do well…..Ya wanna have someone pay the originator of the music….Charge the guy playing the shit…….And please don’t tell me about how it is boosting my business…I don’t charge a entry fee…..It costs me money to have him…Do I get a few more customers…Probably…But then again….When I hire the Electrician to make sure I have lights in my bar that also probably brings me a few more customers but I’m not paying his license fees to the tune of several hundered dollars a year………

    • RogerThat

      Let me ask you, WJR-

      How much do you pay your talent?

      You left that part out, bub.

      If you were serious about presenting professional music at your venue and building it up over time, as opposed to owning a shithole and thinking, “Hey! I’ll bring that broken-down bunch of weekend warriors into my place to play Creedence and Stones covers over in the corner!” it would be a different story.

      But you can’t even write a clear sentence, you are probably just a moke trying to get by and doing whatever he can do. You probably have four TVs going while the band is playing, too.

      You are crying about something you know nothing about bub. Maybe stick to the TVs and let other venue owners who care about music do it the right way.

  92. JP

    The whole BMI thing is extortion and racketeering hiding behind the color of law. They use fear and intimidation to get you to either agree to a contract and or send them money. They call you on the phone and use mafia like fear tactics to get you to subscribe to their scam. If you refuse to talk to them, never send them a penny and never sign or agree to anything to them, they will never have jursdiction and can never do anything to you. I have saved many wineries in California from their evil clutches. They have no authority unless you are tricked into it. Just say no, no matter what.

    • S.M

      Another business owner in our area chose to ignore the threats of one of these PRO’s. 18,000 fine. This would close my business down.

  93. LWS

    This is strange, because I’m currently applying for licensing jobs at the PROs. I would think the licensor has the flexibility to lower the rate for the license if live music is only being performed 12 times a year. Since they’re making commission, I assume the PRO reps just want the bigger sales numbers. The rate on ASCAP’s website is $2 a day for an establishment with an occupancy of up to 200. If there’s only 12 days of live music…

  94. b@man

    What happens when greed becomes more important than art.

  95. Tilt

    I don’t understand why people are not standing up for their American rights of being innocent until proven guilty.
    Past performance is not guilt. Possibility is not guilt. The burden of proof lies with the prosecution, or with the complainant, not with the defensive party.
    I would be screaming my head off if this happened to me.
    When you have proof (maybe they did) that a particular band played a song that is copyrighted, THEN come see me. Otherwise, take your non-American, violation of the constitution, treasonish actions to some other country.

    • Skippy

      We noticed four or five new customers in our little cafe a couple years ago who acted … different. One guy was taking notes. My partner went to talk to him, he told her he was writing a book. They had a conversation about his book that we both realized was pure BS. I’m a retired newspaper photographer and managed to photograph from the rear of the cafe the paper on which he was writing. He wasn’t writing sentences, but code words that made no sense. At the same time, there was a woman who looked really really silly trying to pretend like she wasn’t using her cellphone to record our musician/performer. Keep in mind that, at that time, we knew nothing of BMI, ASCAP etc or even much about copyright law. We assumed, I guess, that if something (license) was required to perform this music (which made perfect sense) that the musician playing/singing would have to have said license. After we heard from BMI & ASCAP we found out that there were several such people going around the county behaving similarly in churches and in trailer-park community centers where there were open-mic events. so… Yes, BEFORE they call you, they have solid evidence that you’re playing their song. When we first heard from BMI/ASCAP we started asking around and heard absolute horror stories about churches, bars and cafes that had been sued and/or shut down by the PROs. My partner and I are artists and neither of us would want to discover that someone had copied our work and was selling it, but I think we’d try to start such a conversation politely, not like the NASTY message the first PRO representative left on our fone … So – now we know. What’s sad about it is that some of our favorite songwriter/musicians are members of one or the other PRO and they say the get just a couple dollars a year, if any. Capitalism at its finest

  96. DIY

    Interesting article, however as a musician, songwriter, record company owner and performer AND ASCAP writer & publisher member for over 30 years I’ve had a long history of problems with ASCAP and it’s ridiculous and archaic survey system for live music & radio that pays the top selling/charting artist only. I’m also a promoter and have been getting calls/emails from ASCAP/BMI for the past several years regarding their license fee’s. I told them since I have never been paid a dime for the hundreds of shows I’ve played over the past 3 decades & know that the $ they ask for a “license” fee will not be paid to the bands who play the concerts we promote, I will just pay the bands the fee directly. And despite everything they may say, this is perfectly legal. The argument made by ASCAP is that this is difficult to do and will be “expensive” to negotiate with all the different artists/publishers. That may be true, but it is perfectly legal to do so. We are friends with most of the bands that play at the shows we promote, so honestly it won’t be all that difficult to include a simple one page addendum that instead of paying PRO’s we will pay “X” amount to the bands when they perform for this fee. Perhaps we’ll have to make sure they don’t do cover songs that are owned by people we don’t know so as to avoid “complications” but that would be a small price to pay. This way the bands get paid the money that, if paid to the PRO’s, they’d almost certainly never see. The biggest issue here, besides how these organizations are able to get the “power” they have, is the ridiculous part of the music business known as “publishing!” Where does that come from? Before recorded music existed, musicians earned money in 2 basic ways. Performing live was the main source, however songwriters/composers also made agreements with people that sold sheet music. These people would sell the sheet music for perhaps a small fee to the public who would take it home to play on their piano’s or whatever instrument they played and out of the maybe 10¢, some of those pennies would be paid to the songwriter/composer of the music. The rest would pay the fee for the printing of the sheet music and go to the person who sold it, the “publisher” of the music. When recorded music came along, somehow the sheet music people managed to create a need for themselves by becoming “publishers” representing the songwriter/composer as opposed to the artist who performed the song on the recording. And that’s how we got the penny mechanical rate for records. Back at the turn of the century much of the recordings were done by musicians who did not necessarily write the songs. The advent of Jazz and Rock ‘n’ Roll over the past 60-70+ years has drastically changed that, but the system became entrenched and permeated the rise of record labels into giant corporations and no one bothered to change it. And then with the rise of digital distribution of music, new companies have risen to take music (and other art like film, books etc) and redefine it as “content” completely devaluing what the artist creates. And while doing that, pay us fractions of pennies by creating new “laws” for this new technology for distributing music. The PRO’s days are numbered as this business changes drastically over the last 10 years. The reality is as musicians we’ve returned in many ways to the days before recorded music. Musicians once again make the majority of their income by performing live. Recorded music has lost at least 90% of it’s value to be a source of income for most musicians. Sad but true, this is the result of the digital age. Things change, you either adapt or get left behind.

  97. Robert Moore

    Just happened here in Warren RI. Coffee Shop Venue. Open mic lasting THREE hours on Friday evenings. Lots of young (as young as 12) plus a handful of older musicians. VERY few covers. They did a pass the hat for the ASCAP license. When they went to pay that, all the others descended on them. The bill now went into the thousands. So now it is over. Done. Kaput. Young musicians can no longer learn to play in front of an audience. NO music. NO money is being paid to the agencies that pretend to represent artists. Disgusted.

  98. Anonymous

    I’m all for artists getting paid for what they create. But I will tell you this as an artist that does a fair amount of covers..what these idiots don’t realize is that their material is getting into the hearts and minds of people who most likely would never hear it and there’s a 50/50 chance that the listener will then make a desision to purchase a cd, Spotify, dvd, etc or that artist.

  99. Whistle

    How about musicians who just play Irish trad music, all pre 1922. The BMI agent who harassed the pub we were playing in, 4 hours a month ( and the pub’s only live music) told the pub owner that the music was copyrighted because someone had recorded it. And yet the recorded artists didn’t write the music- it’s all from the pre- copyright error. All traditional. No known composers. Just music played for a long time! The BMI witch didn’t get it, even when we pointed this out to her. So no more trad session at the pub. Once the lawsuits are threatened… What a scam. Oh yes, the BMI witch did make the argument that patrons get enjoyment from it. Are the PROs licensing enjoyment? I thought they were just in it for the copyright. What a scam.

  100. Michigan bar owner

    As a manager of a small/medium sized bar, I know full well what a rip off these three licensing agencies are. Take this into consideration: First off, we pay the local bands to play their cover songs. Say an average band is $600 per night, that’s over $62,000 that we pay out a year to have these bands come in. Second, our worker’s comp more than QUADRUPLED when they found out we had “workers” in. Since most bands do not carry their own liability, we are responsible for it. Lastly, add another $4000 in music licensing fees, and it almost seems silly to even have entertainment. Yes, we hope to make money every weekend, but most of that goes for payroll, utilities, alcohol/beer, food, taxes (state/federal/payroll/property). So while everyone thinks owning a business is “glamorous”, it is stressful to no end. Bar owners are not rich in any way. Maybe 20+ years ago. That was before the lowering of the alcohol levels for drunk driving. And the economy taking a dip over the last several years. I can say with no uncertainty that most of us are living week to week, and if there were a way out, most would take it. So those of you who have no clue what it costs to run a business, please stay out of this. Respectfully.

  101. Rick

    No! A small fraction of the 600 does not go to you. That’s the problem with this whole thing. When a reporting station play a song that’s when you get paid!! “PROs” collecting fees without listening to every single song that is done or played over the little speakers in a ceiling is just going into their pockets. It’s such crap that because these companies were built around the era of when major labels ruled everything they easily got their money because everything was being reported. Now with the digital age where there are millions of stations and way more artists trying to work they feel they can now just harass people and give NONE of that money to a single artist.

  102. Anonymous

    Agree with Michigan bar owner completely. Try running a business that struggles to make ends meet while being harassed by the music MOB before taking it out on a business owner.

  103. Anonymous

    Musicians should get something for what they create. The Copyright Act protects that by imposing significant fines if you use someone else’s song without getting permission first. PROs provide a mechanism of copyright protection for those who can’t enforce copyrights on their own. That’s a good thing.

    However, when the PROs require payment for music that is not being used, or distribute licensing fees they obtain without actually determining which musician’s music was used, then they are no longer enforcing legally protected copyrights. They are merely using the music industry and exploiting the Copyright Act to make money. Is that capitalism? Is that extortion? You decide. But, it is clear that when they do that they can end up hurting, rather than helping musicians.

    No matter what, the PROs have a legal framework they need to satisfy if push comes to shove, and they file a lawsuit. It is their burden to prove infringement. They have to prove a number of things: that they have the right to enforce the copyrights to a song, that the song was actually used, and that the user did not have the permission to use it. (It’s clear that they have ways of doing this, like sending plants to document music played during a show. You can see how they allege the infringement in an actual lawsuit at the following link: But, if an establishment is doing everything it can to make sure they are using music legally, and documenting that legal use, then, even if the PROs sue, they should lose.

    I know, what small shop has the money to fight in court against these well-funded PROs? It’s a daunting risk to your business if they do sue, but maybe you can mitigate that risk by doing some things that have been mentioned in earlier posts.

    If a musician wants to play at your establishment:
    1) write a simple license agreement between you and them for using, publishing, and recording their original music while they play at your venue (Maybe you pay the musician for the license, maybe they give it freely, but this way it ends up being a negotiation directly with the musician.);
    2) make it clear in the agreement that they will only play original music;
    3) make it clear in the agreement that if they play someone else’s music, and you get sued, then the musician will ultimately be on the hook for the lawsuit, not you;
    4) record each show;
    5) and for good measure have a doorman counting patrons at each show.

    Keep records of all this. With this documentation, you have very strong evidence that you did not violate the Copyright Act. (Especially not willfully, which seems to be BMI’s “go to” allegation and kicks the statutory damages up to $150,000 per work infringed.)

    Let the PROs know you have that documentation when they come knocking, and make the PROs decide if want to fight a likely losing battle.

    Do it right and you are protected, the PROs exploitation of the Copyright Act is checked, and the musicians (the right ones) control what they get for playing their music.

    Oh, and if you are hosting cover bands, pay the PROs.

  104. S.D.

    I’ve read every single comment on this thread, and one thing has become abundantly obvious: The three major PROs are clearly communicating with each other as to which businesses can be coerced into paying. Over and over I read it here: ASCAP showed up, the business paid them, and suddenly BMI shows up!

    The music mafia gangs are cooperating with each other. We’re doomed!

    • S.D.

      Oh, and one more thing occurs to me: These PROs don’t really care about the artists getting proper credit or payment for their songs. If they really cared about that, there would be a single database, accessible on the web, where you could enter any song title and see which PRO licenses that song. Instead, you have to search each PRO’s website, and maybe you’ll find it, maybe you won’t. Many times, you’ll find “something” that makes it unclear which PRO licenses a song–clearly, that’s to the benefit of the PROs. The more they can muddy the waters, the more it bolsters their argument that you should just shut up and pay them. Extortion and collusion to extort!

  105. President Dogeater

    Could a case be made that music is speech? After all, it is sound and combinations of sounds. If I say something in public, and someone repeats what I said, do I have the right to charge them money for repeating what I said? If they paid money to hear what I had to say, would they then not be allowed to repeat what I had to say? Or if they did, would they have to pay me for repeating what I said? How would I possibly know if my original music has never been played by anyone else? What is the probability that a snippet of my original music sounds like a snippet that someone else has played? Is it even possible to avoid that scenario? Wouldn’t it be best to consider music Free Speech and if you have a way to package and present it so people voluntarily pay you for it then that is your right, but if you want to give it freely without charge should you not also have that right? I may have used a word or two in this comment that Stephen King used in one of his novels. Should I be required to pay his publishers a fee for that? Or should Ari be required to pay a fee to them for my using several words that appeared in a Stephen King novel? I can buy used Stephen King novels at a used bookstore that someone else bought new. Should the used bookstore have to pay a fee to the publisher again, even though the person who bought the book new already paid the fee but at some point either sold the book or gave it away? Should Stephen King pay the town he lives in fees for describing scenes in his book that look similar to his town? After all, it wouldn’t be original at that point would it? If one of his characters was named “Mary” shouldn’t anyone with the name “Mary” be paid a fee collected by his publishers because “Mary” isn’t original to Stephen King – he obviously ripped off that name from the bible and is profiting from it. At what point will music be free and original and individual again! God help us!