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I had been playing acoustic music at Essays about songs restaurant in the Hudson Valley for almost a year. I was their house musician, appearing on holiday weekends and whenever there was a special event that drew hordes of tourists to the town.
I knew that I was in some kind of trouble when the owners, Joe and Kim, asked me to step outside. They did not appear to be angry with Essays about songs. If anything, they seemed about to cry. Then she asked me if I had ever heard of BMI.
I also knew that their ubiquitous agents demand and collect licensing fees on an annual basis from owners of restaurants, coffeehouses and bars where copyrighted music is performed.
BMI is demanding a license even for Irish music," said Kim. Would you take care of this for us? Stunned, in shock, I sat down to eat my grilled salmon salad, the best thing on the menu.
I told a friend what had happened, and I asked him: This was not just one little irate BMI employee trying to make a name for himself. I had no idea who they were until the mid-eighties when I encountered frightened restaurant owners in the Connecticut River Valley.
They were told that if any musician ever sang even one ASCAP or BMI song on the premises, they would have to buy a license or be subject to an exorbitant fine.
ASCAP was founded inand BMI inin order to collect royalties on behalf of songwriters and composers whose works are publicly performed. They sell blanket licenses, on an annual basis, allowing the performance of any song in their catalogues of representation.
The reasons are obvious: But the licenses are not cheap. The cost depends upon how many musicians are playing, how often they play, and the maximum allowable occupancy under local fire codes.
This provision would seem to violate the Eighth Amendment under which "excessive fines" are prohibited. Not wanting my employers to become embroiled in lawsuits or shakedown operations, I stopped singing "cover tunes," that is, songs written and copyrighted by somebody else.
I have been a songwriter and a traditional singer since the early seventies, which left me with a vast repertoire. In fact, it gave me a competitive advantage. I could walk into a restaurant or coffeehouse that had never hired a musician before, and assure them that if they were to hire me and nobody else, they would not need to purchase a license for live performances from ASCAP and BMI.
In this way I found steady employment as the "house musician.
Naturally, they became two of my favorite places to play. Jewel Kilcher was discovered there. The owner simply chased away ASCAP and BMI agents, correctly pointing out that they were not at all interested in supporting the struggling musicians who performed at her coffeehouse.
I recall having heard only one "cover tune" sung there, by an otherwise all-original rhythm and blues band. They sang "Mustang Sally," and the audience had a wonderful time singing along with the refrain: They posted signs saying: They were on their own to busk for tips and to hawk their CDs.
The owner, of course, was as much at liberty as anybody else to tip the musicians and to buy their recordings. These two coffeehouses inspired me to write one of my best satires: These days the forms are available online at http: I specify for each track which of the following I am copyrighting: I state on my CD covers that my recordings are copyrighted in my name.
This means exactly what it says. As the exclusive owner of the copyright, I enjoy the exclusive right of public performance and, BMI notwithstanding, the exclusive right to profit from their performance. But the truth is that unless you are famous, you are unlikely to collect any royalties even if you do join.
The distribution of royalties is based upon airplay.Mar 10, · The second single from “Purpose,” Justin Bieber’s fourth studio album, “Sorry” is an infectious confection — a Dorito for your ears. Try Our Friends At: The Essay Store.
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