ASCAP Isn’t Paying Their Own Songwriters — Top Executives Are Getting Paid on Time

Is this really the best look for ASCAP?

Several days ago, ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews sent a shocking note to hundreds of thousands of member songwriters, composers, and music publishers. The email — almost immediately forwarded to Digital Music News by an irate member — stated that writers wouldn’t be receiving their checks on the normal delivery date of April 6th. Instead, they’d be getting a seriously reduced payment on April 28th (though even that seemed uncertain).

The reason, according to Matthews, is that US-based performance publishing royalties have plunged because businesses have been forced to close down. No customers means no music, which means no money owed for public performances. But even worse, many of these businesses, which have been forced to shut down with zero assistance from the government, are now scrambling to make basic payments (or shutting down entirely) and putting their ASCAP invoices last.

“During this crisis, as we see more and more of our licensees who pay us start to feel the impact of the economic downturn, this translates into less revenue for ASCAP and less money available for distributions for our members,” Matthews stated. “We have already been contacted by numerous licensees who are attempting to pay less, pay late, or not pay at all.”

All of which means — through no fault of ASCAP’s — that performance royalty payments will be lower.  But why aren’t lower-dollar checks even being sent?

That’s where this whole thing gets a little fuzzy.

“We will make key distribution funding decisions later than usual once we have knowable facts of our revenue collections each calendar month and each quarter,” Matthews wrote. “What this means for you as a writer or publisher member is that your distributions may be delayed as compared to last year. For example, the ASCAP writer distribution was previously scheduled for April 6, 2020 and now it will be paid on April 28, 2020.”

The huge problem here is that ASCAP doesn’t pay on actual plays in restaurants, bars, and clubs. Instead, ASCAP uses opaque algorithms and estimates that now have to be reworked to accommodate the lowered amounts. It sounds antiquated, but it’s the way ASCAP does business — and it’s also resulting in artists having to forego a performance royalty check when they absolutely need it the most.

So if artists are being forced to take a haircut, why aren’t executives?

In response to the massive financial challenges imposed by the COVID-19 crisis, executives across the music and entertainment industries are either reducing their salaries, or foregoing them entirely. Earlier today, LA Phil conductor Gustavo Dudamel agreed to forego his multi-million dollar annual salary, and orchestra players and employees took a 35% pay cut to weather the crisis. Elsewhere, Disney’s top execs are either taking $0 or agreeing to major compensation cuts, as are execs and employees at iHeartMedia and CAA that can afford it.

By contrast, Digital Music News has learned that ASCAP executives and employees are getting paid their full salaries, on time and without interruption alongside full benefits. That includes top execs like CEO Elizabeth Matthews, whose salary is believed to be in the low 7-figure range.

The point isn’t being missed by unpaid songwriters, one of the hardest-hit groups in the COVID-19 crisis.  “They should suspend all CEO pay and focus on getting money into artists/writers hands,” one writer tweeted.  “It’s a difficult situation and I hope they do the right thing.”

We asked ASCAP’s media rep, Cathy Halgas Nevins, how much Matthews is earning these days.

We didn’t get a response, even after two attempts. But whatever the top execs at ASCAP are pulling down, they’re not imposing any delays or pay cuts on themselves — even though their member writers are being forced to do exactly that.

32 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Tony van Veen

    This is scary and shouldn’t be happening. Paying less because royalty receipts are lower, yes. Skipping payments? Despite all the “explanations” by ASCAP it just doesn’t make logical sense. Clearly they’re out of cash. The thought that keeps running through my mind since I first heard this: “Is ASCAP the next PledgeMusic?”

    • Avatar
      The Hunter

      Yep they bmi beat me for thousands for the jukebox I have in my wife’s bar for royalties threat after threats saying jail felonies lawsuits,,,,,,wait for it !!!!! I paid them for years when they said they had a list of every single song played at the bar I said how did they have that list they said they have a contract with ami rowe, so I said that’s what my box is it’s a mini rowe ami box so therefore you people have been shaking me down for money when ami and BMI are in a co-op and royalties come out straight to them before the songs play so they double penetrated my wallet for years they owed me money ,If you have a Ami box the royalties come out automatically so you dont have to pay them Natha …..so ASSHAT or see my sack Suck it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Everyone trade in you jukeboxes for AmI boxes asap

      • Avatar
        The Hunter

        They are all doing a shake down in the name of the artist when in fact they are just filling the own pockets So buy AMI jukeboxes so BMI will leave you alone and see my sack ,and Ass hat cant screw you or the artist besides the ami boxes are the bomb awesomeness

  2. Avatar
    Dev

    I’m confused… nowhere in Beth Matthews statements does she say that the April writer distribution will be lowered. This article reeks of fear mongering.

    • Avatar
      Paul Resnikoff

      Dev, the letter is largely dedicated to how damaged the public performance payment pipeline has become, and how discussions with venues (if they exist) are about delaying payments, not paying them etc. Matthews then goes on to describe damage to other areas, including streaming subscriptions. I think if it’s not stated directly, lowered payments is strongly implied. Hey, hope I’m wrong here.

    • Avatar
      Me

      Do some research and stop talking nonsense. Google when the next distribution will be and her letter says just that. Yet she gets paid on time. I call foul

      • Avatar
        Anon

        Fuck You ASCAP Lawyer Shill
        Paul is the only one with balls enough to report this…
        Even Rolling Stone doesn’t have this
        You Can’t come here and iron out what ever at the end of the day
        You do business with gangsters and mobbed deep criminals
        And they are sitting at home right now saying “This mother fucker better have my check”
        And you don’t have the check
        You got bigger problems…
        Than Paul and PR shilling trick bitch!

  3. Avatar
    PhunkyUnt

    Paul, great article. One thing though…there is no way Beth Matthews’ salary is in the low 9-figure range. That would be 1/10th of ASCAP’s annual revenues. I’m sure it was just a typo, or maybe you meant with the decimal points, but you might wanna correct this before the ASCAP machine tries to smear your credibility. Otherwise, keep up the good work!

    • Avatar
      Paul Resnikoff

      Thanks. Yes, it’s an estimated ballpark. I was actually just using the salary of SoundExchange CEO Michael Huppe as a benchmark, which is at least $1.4MM last time I checked. Also note that I’ve repeatedly asked ASCAP’s PR dept. for this info (no response).

      • Avatar
        Anonymous

        $1,400,000 would be low 7 figures, though, correct? Don’t get me wrong, that is still a ton of money and your point is still right. Just didn’t want the “9 figure” statement to become an for ASCAP to discredit your great article. Thanks for listening and keep up the great work!

        • Avatar
          Paul Resnikoff

          Thank you: “9-figure” was wrong. Thanks for pointing out the obvious error.

          • Avatar
            low 9

            a salary of a couple of million to run a billion dollar organization?

            sounds like ASCAP is getting a great executive at a bargain price.

  4. Avatar
    ROBERT

    BULLSHIT THIS IS WHY I FILED A UCC-1 ON ASCAP. YOUR GOING TO PAY THE TOP EXECS AS ASCAP TRADES OUR SONGS ON THE STOCK MARKET WHERE NONE OF US ARE GETTING THE PROCEEDS. WE ARE THE CREDITORS AND THEY HAVE THE NERVE TO SEND ME A 1099 MISC AND SAID THAT I AM THE BORROWER? BORROWER OF WHAT? I HIRED YOU TO COLLECT MY ROYALTIES, I GAVE YOU THE CONTENT! IF IT WASN’T FOR US ASCAP AND ALL THE OTHERS WOULDN’T EXIST. IT’S FUNNY HOW THEY HAVE THE MONEY TO HOLD ALL THESE FUNCTIONS AND WHEN I GOT THIS EMAIL, I KNEW I SMELLED HORSE SHIT COMING FROM THE NEW YORK CORPORATE OFFICE. PEOPLE NEED TO WAKE UP THESE NON PROFIT FOR PROFIT PRIVATE ORGANIZATIONS ARE DEBTORS IN POSSESSION UNDER CHAPTER 11 GUIDELINES. THEY ARE FLAT BROKE, THEY NEED US. SO MY COMMERCIAL LIEN STANDS AND ANYONE CAN DO ONE RIGHT ONLINE. THE MINUTE IT IS SUBMITTED THEY ARE IN DEFAULT WHERE THEY OWE YOU. WHILE IT STAYS FOR 5 YEARS IT RUINS THE BUSINESS CREDIT, CONTACT DUN & BRADSTREET AND SEND THE LIEN TO THEM AS WELL. THEY ALL HAVE A D-U-N-S NUMBER!

    • Avatar
      Angelito

      All caps doesn’t make your argument more valid. Also, a UCC-1 is useless unless you have a written security agreement granting you a security interest in goods, and it is filed under state law (usually with the Secretary of State). You can be sued for filing a false UCC-1.

  5. Avatar
    Felecia

    How would songwriters propose they get money from people who are closed? Do songwriters want to go collect the money themselves and have the society be closed as well? This is effecting EVERYONE. Just as songwriters don’t want their music used for free – I don’t think anyone would look to collect their money for them for free.

  6. Avatar
    Baloney

    How is it not understood that with concerts, bars, nightclubs, festivals closed there is NO $$$???????????????????????????????????????????

    You would doubt that isn’t true?????????????????

    • Avatar
      Rixk

      Not *no* money. The large majority of income is from mechanical royaites (spotify etc) and performance income from broadcast and VoD streaming, which I suspect has an uptick of use right now considering everyone is home. It’s clearly a BS excuse and, frankly distrusting.

  7. Avatar
    Anonymous

    Correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t the current monies due now based on royalties collected and earned from past quarters (before this crisis)?? How has “past” money disappeared now?

    • Avatar
      Dean Hajas

      BINGO….in fact there are two categories of collection. Foreign and Domestic. It’s not hinged only on License to Play as ASCAP cries the blues and justifies it’s “Late Payment plan”. CISAC is the parent company of all PRO’s that generate ISWC codes. ASCAP is the parent company for North America that generates ISWC codes. 10.25 Billion Euro are collected yearly by CISAC and held by a company called MINT in Switzerland. After sitting on that money for 2 year period, trying to correlate who is owed what, it accrues interest. 25% Lions share is sent to United States of America. ASCAP takes another 6 months to sift through it, then calls on SOCAN CEO Eric Baptiste and Jeff Price of Audiam to go through and see if they can find the owners. But guess what….Paul needs to do a follow up article on this,…because the PRO’s don’t take audio samples of the music they license, they came up with a scheme I mean a definition to accommodate for the surplus of $2.5 Billion in a black box fund.
      https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/8517816/unclaimed-black-box-royalties-how-much-money
      Orphan Royalties is a term created by SOCAN to accommodate for an ISWC generating money laundering scheme that no one has caught on too. The majority of musicians who sign with the PRO’s are independents, they don’t know what is going on, and they believe that the PRO’s have their interests at heart. ASCAP, SOCAN and over 150 PRO’s world wide have the same business model. They don’t care who wrote the song when you aren’t signed to a label or a publisher. They live in the grey area and thrive on stealing this money, as they obviously can’t correlate Royalties to titles, because those plays aren’t based on performance rights and an ISWC code, they are mostly based on an ISRC code. Free streaming sites don’t generate ISRC codes…..so they all split the pot of ISWC licensing and Sub- publishing using Canada as a back door to Europe. Anyone want to comment and tell me otherwise…?

      • Avatar
        Jerry

        Oh hell yeah! I stand with you more than 100 percent. ASCAP need to have their “ass capped”. I have been with them for several years have music streaming everywhere and have not received a single penny. It’s time for all of us to get paid with back pay!

  8. Avatar
    Anonymous

    Is this the first time this has happened? seems like there would have been other economic downturns with similar cash-flow impact, right?

    • Avatar
      Paul Resnikoff

      ASCAP has been around for a very long time, though I don’t think this sort of issue has emerged. Remember, even in severe economic downturns, bars and restaurants are still open. There may be less of them, and they may be earning less from patrons, but they’re not unilaterally shut down by government order. Same for shows, sporting events, casinos, etc., some of which make more money during downturns.

      Even when there are massive disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.) those are limited by region, and even in those situations, some places remain open (while establishments in other regions also remain open).

    • Avatar
      MT

      Holy shit, you’re right. Looks like writers are getting shafted (they don’t have lawyers to fight back).

      Also looks like the LAST distribution to writers (in Jan 2020) was for APRIL to JUNE of 2019 meaning this payment should be for JULY – SEPT of 2019. Stores didn’t get shut down until mid-late March in many states.

  9. Avatar
    Blobbo

    Well, I knew I didn’t want to be with this PRO. Now, I know for sure I NEVER WILL BE. BUH BYE ASCAP! GLAD I NEVER KNEW YA!

  10. Avatar
    not important

    EPaul, I really enjoy most of your articles on DMN. However, this article is informed by nonsense. This woman has gotta be a troll, right? I don’t know what agenda she is pushing but it is totally irresponsible, because your average Joe who doesn’t really understand the nuts and bolts of publishing admin assumes she knows what she’s talking about. Simply put, she doesn’t. For the record, I have nothing to do with ASCAP (I’m a BMI affiliate, but I don’t work on that side of the business), I’m just tired of seeing this goddamned misinformation spread further.

    -Nowhere in the ASCAP letter does it say payments will be reduced. Maybe it’ll happen, maybe not, but it is irresponsible to give that idea a megaphone without any evidence.
    -ASCAP could not possibly keep track of every play in every restaurant/bar/club. Used to be they just assumed use of their highest-grossing composers/publishers’ catalogs and only paid out to them; to their credit they now incorporate Shazam and streaming data into their calculations. Expanding data analysis means letting smaller fish eat from the same pond, or whatever the metaphor is. To imply that their method of calculation as evidence of neglect of their affiliates, or malfeasance by calling it “opaque” and presenting it as if there was a reasonable alternative is willfully ignorant.
    -Who told you that the public performance royalty pipeline has become damaged? We’re in the era of data transparency… songwriters (and those entitled to neighboring rights) are in a better position than they literally ever have been to track and collect royalties on a global scale. Have you seen a performance royalty report from a PRO? I can see exactly to the NUMBER how many plays a song got on college radio, or to the CENT how much money a song made in fucking Czech Republic or Japan by the quarter. Depth is even compounded with secondary tools, Soundscan for instance, or some publishing admin services.
    -What has this Jane Marie person written that she has significant revenue she’s going to miss out on? I can’t help but think that folks complaining about CEOs getting paid in the low 7 figures (pretty low for a CEO in the US…), or praying for the demise of ASCAP, have probably never received any meaningful sum in terms of publishing revenue, and are really just mad at themselves. They should double Beth Matthews’ pay after having to deal with this fucking nonsense.
    -The whole industry has been disrupted. BMI has done great things for me, but they’re going to go through the same nonsense in a few quarters, mark my words. The early payment was a PR move to get out ahead of this thing. There are able to have done so because their payment schedule is delayed, whereas ASCAP’s is nearly immediate.

  11. Avatar
    RP

    Former ASCAP Broadcast Licensing employee here. Full disclosure: I was laid off some years ago when we were doing well after twenty years of service. A couple of points to be aware of:

    1.) Most of ASCAP’s employees are probably still working remotely. Even in 2005 Citrix was already being widely used there in 2005 and I’m sure it’s only expanded since. I would imagine their General Licensing sales staff who travel regularly to license venues (arguably the worst job there with constant turnover) are not performing their normal functions. As much of their compensation is commission based in something referred to as variable pay, they’re going to take a major hit.

    2.) Since 1993, around the time John Lo Frumento became CEO, ASCAP has been all about reducing their operating ratio. When I first got there about 80 cents out of every dollar went back to the membership. Now it’s about 89-90 cents. I mention that because no one is getting rich working there. Indeed, if you look through Glassdoor reviews you’ll see that compensation is one of the biggest complaints, especially among NYC employees. Even after being laid off, I took no cut in pay at my next job.

    3.) Distributions are always a reflection of collections. In terrestrial radio When I was there, music license fees were based on a percentage of revenue from radio stations that reported their revenue. One year, 2001 IIRC, the radio industry nosedived in terms of revenue. We ended up with about 30% less than the previous year. All of these things have impacts upon the distribution. As I remember, money coming in went out to the membership very quickly.

    4.) ASCAP’S board is half songwriters, half music publishers with the head of the board always a songwriter. Management is held on a tight rein by the board and would never have put out a statement like that without the board backing it.

    I have plenty of issues with them due to the way they treated me after twenty years, including exceptional service awards, and the way they generally treat their employees. This was the place where I learned never to trust people in Human Resources. I am retired and have no dog in this fight, but just wanted to share some thoughts.

  12. Avatar
    Kim

    And, in the end, after every vents through posting to DMN, how many people will actually take action? How much will any of this really change?

  13. Avatar
    Thunder

    ASCAP Strictly States…

    They Do Not Collect Royalties Overs Seas!

    As An Indie I’ve Had To Pay A Companies In Paris, Ireland, Russia And So On!

    ASCAP Sounds Like Paytron

    We Are Not Your Employee

    We Are Your Master

    You Are MIDDLE MEN And Redundant

    And Now Insolvent

    The Money You Keep From Me Is Worth The Cost Of A Cheep Lesson!

    I Dance In Delight At The Fall Of The Music Monopoly

  14. Avatar
    A bar owner

    Many if not most responsible bars/restaraunt owners already paid their licensing fees annually at the begining of the year, so these orgs already have collected the money for the whole year. None of these organizations are giving back money to the restaraunts that are now closed. I’m sure this is only one revenue stream, but probably a significant one. So to hear that their also not paying the artists that they promise a majority of the proceeds are supposed to go to is sickening.