Should I join ASCAP? (not a simple question in my case)
July 18, 2006 1:53 PM Subscribe
Should I finally join ASCAP, despite my misgivings about copyright, the music-licensing industry, and certain practices by ASCAP and similar orgs? Yes, the cash would make a real difference for me, given the way ASCAP handles my genre and given my low income overall.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
(A many-sided question, one I've put a lot of thought into -- but I've made this as concise as I can while hitting the important points. Thanks for listening!)
I'm a young American composer of mostly classical/"concert" music. I come from a very low-income background, so as an adult I'm still learning the right ways to relate to money & finances. I've spent my post-conservatory life making a very simple living with a combo of about half music (small grants/prizes/commissions) and half other work. I'm not at a career point where prizes/etc. just fall in my lap; I spend a LOT of time researching & applying for all these opportunities.
I've missed out on a significant amount of cash over the years because I haven't joined a performance rights organization (ASCAP would be better for me personally, so that's why we're forgetting about BMI here). ASCAP's Concert Music division, unlike most other divisions, makes direct royalty payments for significant performances of your music, plus annual cash awards based on your music's overall "prestige value" (prizes/performances/etc.) -- and the award amounts I hear about from friends with "prestige" activity comparable to mine would definitely make some difference for me each year.
--- So why have I not joined ASCAP?
• I'm still (though decreasingly) attached to my ideal of offering work freely or under alternative licenses rather than perpetuating our current copyright system. (Yeah, I do realize that many anti-copyright activists are financially secure tech-industry types who have a different kind of luxury to hold these beliefs than I have.)
• While ASCAP's Concert Music division itself is clearly a postive/beneficial force in the music world, the popular music division has a practice that disturbs me: their aggressive insistence on getting even very small venues & clubs to pay their licensing fees, typically using threats of lawsuits, which can hold back struggling venues and struggling musicians alike. U.S. law says they can do this, but I don't agree with the law in this case.
• I would benefit from and implicitly approve the business practices of ASCAP if I were a member.
• If I did eventually become high-profile enough without any money or help from ASCAP, I could be a great example for other musicians who don't want to be part of the intellectual-property industry (an Ani DiFranco-like advocate for anti-copyright ideals, as Ani has been for anti-major-label ideals).
--- And what are some arguments that I should join ASCAP now?
• How logical is it for me to refuse to join in the name of supporting struggling musicians, if I'm a struggling musician myself (who's living without health care, etc.)? I'm basically the walking definition of why music licensing and royalties were created. If I'm dedicated to contributing to our culture, I need to generally take care of myself so I can be healthy/productive and live a long life.
• It's not just ASCAP and BMI: in virtually any industry, if we really trace the roots of where our pay comes from, we would likely classify it as coming from business practices that hold someone else back, or as being "dirty money" in some other sense.
• My friends unanimously agree that ASCAP's Concert Music administrators actually care about nurturing and promoting composers and connecting them with opportunities -- in other words, the cash might be the least of ASCAP's practical benefits for me.
• As far as I understand (and I would ENORMOUSLY appreciate any comment/clarification you may have on this point), ASCAP only controls the performance rights of the works you specifically register with them (i.e., you can hold back individual works, so I could do that for any particular piece that felt important to release outside copyright -- or for any particular piece if I planned to have only that piece performed at a venue not already licensed by ASCAP [to make sure the venue would be safe in the event ASCAP noticed the venue because of me]).
So... Currently I don't see any other in-depth discussion of these issues on the web, so I hope this can turn into a great thread with many different viewpoints. (And if you want to email me privately, you can use the anonymous account I set up for this: metaq @ bluebottle . com [remove the spaces].) Thank you!