ROYALTY CHECKS AND REALITY CHECKS
© 2004 by Mark Holden
ASCAP Since AFJ2: A Series of Unfortunate Events
For almost 90 years ASCAP has benefited and served the interests of tens of thousands of composers, songwriters, and publishers. Throughout this long history the lessons of particular times and circumstances have accounted for vast changes in ASCAP policies over decades and generations.
On the whole, the strides and reforms ASCAP has achieved throughout the 20th century have greatly benefited its members. Over the last four years, however, the ASCAP board has implemented a series of troubling changes that appear to remove member rights and privileges, not enhance them. It is in that spirit of evolution and congruity with the times that brings us to examine these contemporary matters at hand.
Cutting The Strings. On September 11, 2001 (yes, that day), ASCAP and the U.S. Department of Justice officially entered into a new paradigm of operations. The enabling instrument of this new phase of domestic performing rights operations is known as the Second Amended Final Judgment – AFJ2 for short. In a number of fundamental ways, this document set ASCAP free from certain controls and restrictions that the DOJ has exerted over ASCAP for the past 60 years.
The history of this official scrutiny over ASCAP is too vast to recount in these pages, but the government’s essential motivation since the early 1940’s was to exercise some constraint over ASCAP with regard to monopolistic business practices, antitrust violations, restraint of trade infractions, and other concerns.
For more than half a century, this government scrutiny over ASCAP came in the form of a series of consent decrees – negotiated, issued, and adjudicated by the Federal Court of the Southern District of New York.
The decrees generally set the rules and regulations regarding aspects of ASCAP policy and operations dating back as far as 1941, when the entire Board of Directors of ASCAP was prosecuted and convicted of criminal conspiracy. The consent decrees following those convictions largely governed aspects of how ASCAP could deal with their licensees – broadcasters and other music users. One particular decree, the 1960 Order, dealt primarily with how ASCAP could deal with its own membership.
With AFJ2, however, ASCAP was largely cut loose from government oversight, and all previous consent decrees were set aside – including those dealing with the rights of members. All aspects of ASCAP business policy and practice not prohibited under AFJ2 became the purview of the ASCAP Board of Directors.
So long as ASCAP adheres to its marching orders, it’s pretty clear the DOJ will leave ASCAP alone. BMI as well, as soon as their own consent decrees are vacated in favor of a BMI Amended Final Judgment – or some legal instrument to that effect.
What this means to film and television composers. AFJ2 has allowed ASCAP to change a number of policies affecting its membership. For starters, a seat on the ASCAP Board of Directors became a much more powerful position. Those areas of policy not specifically addressed under AFJ2 are now left to the discretion of the Board operating under ASCAP’s Articles of Association. Those areas include: how royalties will be distributed, how voting powers will be apportioned, how a member may or may not petition ASCAP for justice should grievances arise, how music is sampled and surveyed in the totality of American broadcast media and other licensed venues – and finally, how the nominating and election processes of ASCAP leadership will be controlled.
Unfortunately, the first thing the Board did following AFJ2 was to widen the moat and raise the stockade around Lincoln Plaza in the form of proposing revisions to ASCAP’s Articles of Association – in several instances, to the detriment of the rights that ASCAP members have enjoyed for over 50 years under the protection of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Batten Down The Hatches. Prior to AFJ2, an ASCAP writer could collect 25 signatures from their fellow royalty- earning ASCAP members in order to be placed on the ballot to run for a seat on the Board of Directors. That body, of course, is elected by the general membership of ASCAP. However, since the changes to the Articles of Association, that same writer must now collect over 600 qualifying signatures to have their name placed on the ballot – a virtual impossibility for anyone but a rock star.
Interestingly, incumbent Board members elected before or after AFJ2 aren’t burdened with the task of collecting those 600 signatures. Nor are those persons placed in nomination by the internal nominating committee, a group appointed by persons who are selected by ASCAP’s Chairman of the Board.
So, no matter what attributes an independent candidate might bring to the ASCAP table – if your policies and politics aren’t safe with the incumbent powers who nominate from the inside – those pesky 600 signatures will almost certainly keep you at bay.
Birds Of A Feather. I’d venture to say that most if not all of the sitting writer-members on the ASCAP Board would fail to meet this new signature requirement. My statement is largely based on the new limits on data furnished to a prospective candidate by ASCAP – which includes writer names, but no contact information for writers and no methodology to eliminate author pseudonyms.
Additionally, there’s no way to distinguish a current ASCAP writer from one who terminated ASCAP and moved to another PRO (performing rights organization) – thus invalidating the legitimacy of that signature should it be obtained. No writer addresses are provided by ASCAP. This is another departure from the 1960 Order, which allowed ASCAP members to access current names and addresses for purposes of communication. That 42-year-old privilege has been eliminated, despite the absence of any reported abuses in that regard.
As of now, Publisher names and contact info are provided by ASCAP, for all the good it will do a candidate. Publishing entities don’t vote for writer positions on the ASCAP Board. You’d need a full-time staff acting as an intelligence agency to turn what ASCAP furnishes as writer data into something you could actually use to communicate with the writer membership. Simply put, the game is rigged.
And let’s not forget that this policy change was proposed by sitting Board members who were placed on the ASCAP ballot with 0 or 25 signatures. Way to go in stifling diversity and creating a self-perpetuating haven for birds of a feather.
The moat widens... the stockade grows higher.
Bamboozled. Amendments to the ASCAP Articles of Association must be approved by a majority of votes from the ASCAP membership – and this business with the 600+ signatures passed. Now why would ASCAP members knowingly raise the ballot-bar by 2400% when there’s never been an excess of people clamoring to run for the Board? The answer is good, old-fashioned hoodwinking.
The materials provided to the membership by ASCAP "explaining" some of the proposed Article changes were so sugar-coated and contrived as to be fundamentally misleading and deceptive. For example, let’s look at the leaflet, "Explanation of Proposed Amendments," subtitled "Advantages for ASCAP Members." By its title alone, that’s no objective evaluation of any proposed changes; it’s a sales brochure. After all, who wouldn’t vote for "advantages"?
Let’s look at "III. Amendments to Improve the Election Process," number 21, the amendment enabling this massive increase in the number of signatures required to make the election ballot.
There is no way a member could or would conclude that the bar would be hoisted from 25 to 600 signatures based on the information provided.
Amendment proposed by the ASCAP Board drastically increasing the number of votes to be an independent candidate
(e) In any election for the Board of Directors, the candidates for Directors shall include, in addition to those candidates chosen by the Nominating Committees, any person eligible to be a Director who is designated by a petition subscribed to by members of the Society entitled to elect such Director who comprise at least five-eights of one percent of the total writer or publisher members of the Society, as the case may be, provided such petition is submitted to the Society in writing no later than December 31 prior to the election. A maximum of three such writer and three such publisher candidates shall be nominated in any one election for the Board of Directors, as determined by the order in which such valid petitions are submitted to the Society.
Stacking The Deck. Prior to the first ASCAP elections following AFJ2, board member and score composer Mark Isham decided to resign his seat just before the end of the term. The last minute vacancy allowed the ASCAP Board of Directors to name a replacement who would be able to run as an incumbent – free from the necessity of collecting those 600+ qualifying signatures.
Did the Board name a score composer to replace Mr. Isham’s duly-elected position? They did not. Did the Board appoint the person who had the next highest number of votes in the previous election? No, they didn’t. They named a songwriter to that position and overlooked veteran score composer John Cacavas, who, according to two ASCAP sources, was actually next-in-line in terms of votes from the previous election.
This action was a slap in the face to all ASCAP score writers, particularly those cognizant of the fact that the number of film and television composers on that Board has borne little resemblance to the prevalence of score on American television – clearly ASCAP’s largest revenue stream.
Divide the Membership. ASCAP is an "unincorporated member association" and is able to discriminate for or against aggregate groups of its constituency. Once upon a time, such discrimination was leveled against so-called "race music," country and western tunes, and other forms of music that didn’t fit into the Tin Pan Alley business model. Those writers were either excluded from membership or allocated less money for performances of their works, regardless of the license fees generated by stations performing those works.
Eventually (and quite rightly), ASCAP abolished such discriminatory treatment to the good of the vast richness of American music – benefiting music creators and consumers alike. In today’s world, that discrimination is leveled squarely at instrumental score for film and television. First, in the way it’s paid (a minute of instrumental score is paid 3 cents or 16 cents on the dollar in contrast to a minute of most song), and in the way its usage is sampled and surveyed on television and radio.
Failure of the Early Warning Systems. Prior to the member voting that concluded in May of 2002, there was a lot of buzz about the "wisdom" of adopting some of the proposed amendments that have since passed. The Production Music Association (PMA) issued a statement in advance of the voting, signed by five prominent composers: "While most of the thirty-five amendments deal with updating language and conforming the Articles to ASCAP's new Consent Decree, two of them would make significant changes to ASCAP's election and grievance procedures. One would impose stringent new standards on members who wish to run for the Board of Directors, and the other would reduce the purview of ASCAP's internal Board of Review, making it more difficult for members to bring protests. Both Policies have been in effect for more than forty years, and neither appeared to be the subject of abuse." The statement went on to read, “ASCAP's policy of refusing to disclose the identity of its members or provide any contact information makes fulfilling the proposed new requirement a practical impossibility."
Despite such warnings by composers who were paying attention to the troubling language, those proposed amendments to the Articles passed. As a result, ASCAP members unknowingly lost a number of rights and privileges through camouflaged language contained in some of the amendments.
Exclusivity & Secrecy. I’m going on-the-record by predicting that until that "600 signature" amendment is rescinded, no one short of celebrity status will ever get on the Board ballot except through the ASCAP President’s internal nominating committee. Such a thing is known as a "closed shop" – and it’s a lamentable thing. Especially when President and Chairman of the Board Marilyn Bergman extols the virtues of ASCAP’s "democratic processes" loud and often. While Ms. Bergman is unquestionably a brilliant lyricist, who does she think she’s kidding?
Among the rights lost by ASCAP members is that of obtaining transcripts of Board of Review hearings brought by writers who petition ASCAP for justice regarding the way their catalogs have been administered. Due to the changes in the Articles, transcripts and evidentiary documents will now be denied to ASCAP members, even for those whose catalogs may be similarly situated. Each petitioning member having to “reinvent the wheel,” so to speak, being denied substantive information in support of their pleas in the form of Board of Review evidence.
While members may know the bare bones of a final decision of this board, all supporting information and evidence brought to bear – including testimony given by ASCAP attorneys, executives, and staff – can now be effectively sealed and muzzled. This is yet another way that ASCAP suppresses information from its own membership.
The moat widens...the stockade grows higher.
Double-Talking the Membership. In the month following the approval of the changes to the Articles of Association as recommended by the Board of Directors, top ASCAP executives hosted a meeting in Los Angeles with interested composers, songwriters, and publishers.
At that meeting on June 18th, 2002, I asked about local cable TV monies allegedly being distributed to songs on the radio – which, if true, would constitute a rank violation of ASCAP’s "Follow the Dollar" policy. Simply stated, this promise, this covenant, represents that radio revenues will be distributed solely to music on the radio, and that television revenues will be paid only to music played on TV.
* * *
Holden: Best information indicates that a large chunk of the locally-originated cable TV settlement was distributed based on radio surveys. How does that correlate to "Follow the Dollar?"
ASCAP executive: I will just say this, because there’ll apparently be a Board of Review hearing on this. The money went to the people in this room for local origination. Some of it went to radio. A large chunk went to radio? Not a chance. The problem that you have is that you’ve got a lousy rumor out there. The majority of the money went to where the performances were. We looked at the performances. We moved money into television, because we believed that’s what local origination was mirroring. We moved some of it into radio.We are not, contrary to anyone’s belief – and I will say it here in front of all you composers – we are not a “lyricist’s house.” We are not. We have never been. I will not reveal to you what we pay for feature performances, but I will tell you it’s significantly less than it was in the late ’80’s. Significantly less.The Board of Directors of ASCAP knows full well where the money is coming from and what performances are covered. We, as management, are bound to go to that Board and tell them the truth. Where are those performances coming from? We pay on those performances.There are some people who believe otherwise. Some people would perpetuate a myth that doesn’t exist at ASCAP. I cannot answer that because I will not release to anyone in the public environment that information that will put us at a disadvantage in dealing with the other PRO’s here in the United States. In answer to your question, we will not give you the details. And you are very wrong – significantly wrong about what we paid in that [local] distribution. It just doesn’t exist.
Holden: I didn’t name any figures, sir.
ASCAP executive: I didn’t either. You asked for them.
Holden: No, I asked if money had been diverted from the local cable television settlement and paid to feature performances based on the radio survey – performances that never took place on those local stations.
ASCAP executive: I’m not going to get into an argument with you. I would just say, ASCAP diverts no revenues from any member. We pay members what they deserve. The word “divert” never enters into our vocabulary. It goes against our philosophy.
* * *
We appreciate frank talk from ASCAP executives. But evidence in the form of ASCAP documents obtained by Film Music magazine which were provided by ASCAP as evidence at a Board of Review hearing clearly show that a whopping one-third of the distributed performance money – that is, money specifically allocated to pay for actual local cable TV performances were distributed via ASCAP radio surveys.
This, in absolute defiance of "Follow the Dollar" principles.
In cold cash, these ASCAP documents reveal that 5 million dollars of the local cable TV money was distributed to feature performances based on radio surveys, 6.7 million dollars was distributed to music library companies, and 3.5 million dollars was paid to member claims supported by contracts and other evidence.
So, of the 15.2 million dollars allocated to compensate actual local cable performances, 5 million dollars was paid to feature performances via radio surveys occurring from 1990 through the third quarter of 2001.
The ASCAP executive seemed to call that five-million-dollar payout "a lousy rumor." In context of the response, the executive referred to a "myth that doesn’t exist." When asked if a large chunk of local cable TV money was paid to radio, the answer was, "Not a chance."
It’s important to note that due to this newly adopted policy of suppressing documents and testimony stemming from ASCAP Board of Review hearings, such information will no longer be available to members petitioning for justice under the amended ASCAP Articles. No checks and balances. No transcript documents to be scrutinized. No accountability assigned to the ASCAP Board, its executives or attorneys in such matters. It will all be secret. Is that really what the membership intended to vote for?
The moat widens... the stockade grows higher.
Suppressing Information. ASCAP has refused to disclose how television music is used in America – that is, how broadcasters use songs, themes, dramatic score, and music for advertising. It could be argued that suppressing such information from score writers – those with the most music used by broadcasters but lacking commensurate representation on the ASCAP Board – is a fundamental deception. With regard to the prevalence of songs, themes, so-called "background" instrumental, and commercial usages, ASCAP has always said that revealing those percentages would put their negotiations with broadcasters at peril, and it would place ASCAP at a competitive disadvantage in dealing with the other domestic PROs. These positions taken by ASCAP are insupportable by the facts.
The broadcasters can find out virtually anything they wish through the discovery processes afforded them via the rate courts and by other means at their disposal. That is, if they even care about how music is used. Broadcasters on a traditional blanket license pay for music performance rights by the pound, not by the cut, as royalties are distributed to authors, composers and publishers.
As for dealing with other American PROs, I have it from various sources at very high levels at all three domestic PROs that access to cue sheet databases containing durations and usages is commonplace, including international databases.
One can even buy music usage data at Music Reports, Inc. and other sources. All told, no one is going to sell me on the notion that ASCAP doesn’t know what BMI has on the air and vice-versa. For starters, the overwhelming majority of film and television cue sheets submitted in America contain works from the repertories of both ASCAP and BMI.
No, the only reason to suppress data about music usage in America is to keep it out of the hands of composers who might just do something with the information. If score composers ever realized the prevalence of their music on American television – considering the economic significance of that fact – they might want to get together and ask with one voice why instrumental music is treated in profoundly different and discriminatory ways in stark contrast to other music distribution systems on Earth.
Let’s not forget that in Britain, France, Spain, and Germany – along with most industrialized countries in the world – a minute of score and a minute of song within a film or TV program is paid the same.
Collateral Damage. In America, this discrimination manifests itself in the form of crushing "usage weightings" which are artificially imposed against most forms of instrumental score – typically assigning a value of only 3% or 16% per minute in contrast to the 100% allocation for a minute of most song.
Not only does this artificially divert wealth from one member group to another, it has an automatic effect on voting powers as well. At ASCAP, a member is allocated between 0 and 100 votes based on domestic royalty earnings.
Further, when it comes to the direct and source licensing of music – deals that have been legitimized by the courts and accepted by ASCAP – broadcasters are using artificially low ASCAP distributions as a benchmark to determine the fees they pay directly to composers for such music. It’s a built-in mousetrap and another rigged game. It’s caused by arbitrarily minimizing the value of the categories of music used the most by television broadcasters. It’s done by way of usage weightings that fly in the face of world standards and practices – all imposed by the ASCAP Board of Directors.
Unbridled Arrogance. Not content with revenues generated through radio performances, record sales, and other related incomes, the ASCAP Board sees it right and proper to apportion the fees paid by their largest licensees – television broadcasters – and award a disproportionate share to the songwriters via these wholly atypical usage weightings – unlike any other system of music distribution outside the United States.
Additionally, all songs in television programming can be paid at feature rates, regardless of the context of their usage. This is one of the more alarming aspects of ASCAP distribution. Under the weighting rules, a designation of "background instrumental" (BI) is assigned to dramatic score when a musical subject, such as a band, is not visible on the screen. In applying that same principle to songs, a designation of "background vocal" (BV) has been the industry standard and practice for decades. That is, when a vocal subject is not visible on the screen.
Well, big surprise! There is no such category as "background vocal" in ASCAP distributions. The designation doesn’t even exist on documents prepared by ASCAP for purposes of international collections. And for purposes of domestic distribution, a "BV" designation on a cue sheet is presumed to be a feature performance by default – a minute’s usage paying 600% more than a minute of dramatic score and 3300% more than a minute of instrumental music in a film trailer. This ability to pay a background vocal performance at feature rates massively benefits songwriters and siphons money away from legitimate features and other categories of distribution.
Pretty slick policy if your intent is to divert wealth from one member group to another: apply a double standard between "background vocal" and "background instrumental" and obfuscate the policy from the membership with a paperwork trick. It’s a technique so onerous that most score composers can’t begin to fathom that such a practice is actually in place.
As for the percentages of song and score used in television programming and feature films – ASCAP members are forbidden to know.
The moat widens... the stockade grows higher.
Segregating Writers. ASCAP weights most instrumental music into the ground and calls it just. The system automatically assigns voting powers based on distribution that’s been artificially allocated to vastly favor songs in the first place. As a direct result, score composers lack representation on the ASCAP Board that’s commensurate with the prevalence of instrumental score in American broadcasting.
There’s yet another way to distinguish score from song. From all accounts, sponsorship money for industry networking groups is awarded predominantly to the songwriters. Of course, any statistics along these lines are non-disclosed and considered to be forbidden by ASCAP leadership.
Perhaps that’s a factor in composers being the only nonunionized force in Hollywood – having no real industrial strength advocacy nor lobbying powers when it comes to PRO policymaking, government legislation or standards and practices within the film and television industry.
That’s a mean trick – those with the most musical product in American television have the least advocacy looking after their combined interests.
Score composers should have an advocacy organization that has the powers that the Songwriters Guild of America (SGA) can muster on behalf of its members. I doubt most composers would begrudge the songwriters their advocacy. Composers known to me greatly admire many aspects of the SGA. They just wonder why score composers hav
Truly, such disclosure probably won’t happen. A former ASCAP Board member once told me that an effective composer organization would be the songwriters’ worst nightmare. I hope my source was incorrect with that assessment. I don’t think composers have it in for songwriters. But with all the disparate treatment, I do believe composers wonder what the songwriters have against them.
Imprecise Tracking and Distribution. In a digital age of precise and automated tracking of ATM transactions, bank card purchases, the trading of vast numbers of stocks and bonds online and telephone billing accuracy to six-second increments – no domestic PRO can accurately track the usage of its repertory in any broadcast medium. This is particularly true with regard to CPA usages – music for advertising, company logos, promos, and trailers. At the level of local television stations, an enormous revenue stream at ASCAP, one is forbidden to know what percentage of all music performances are actually detected and paid a royalty.
The result of this lack of performance data can be distribution by proxy – a stand-in – the substitution of the will of another, or even slight-of-hand masquerading as the truth.
The End Game. ASCAP is certainly a songwriter-dominated society. That’s not news to anyone who’s paying attention. If you have any doubts, just take a look at the ASCAP website or a copy of the society magazine Playback. It’s also a publisher-dominated institution as one might expect in an arena of big commerce.
But this business of usage weightings and tracking appears to be between the songwriters and the composers. Compressing the weighting formulas and learning to track the product appears to be a zero-sum gain for big publishing. They own most of the copyrights and will certainly receive their respective market shares as always – largely unaffected by how score is paid in relation to song in American media. When the Performing Right Society (PRS) of Great Britain went to parity in abolishing its weighting schemes, it was reportedly a wash for the publishers.
No, this is an issue of fiscal morality between song vs. score in America. Score is vastly disadvantaged with regard to performance royalties, and many assert that it’s bad for the performing right as a whole. Such practices minimize the value of vast portions of active catalog. In preservation of the status quo, I’ve observed all sorts of people lie, disseminate false information, mar reputations and cause undue and inappropriate influence over our non-profit networking groups.
Pitting one form of music against another has created an environment of fear and distrust among those who would otherwise be brethren. It chases some persons of good faith away from ASCAP-controlled networking and educational groups, should they persist in asking questions about distribution and other policies. It has created an artificially induced weak-link-in-the-chain syndrome which has devalued vast genres of American music copyright, particularly, instrumental post scoring in all its forms. Many an insider has admitted privately that ASCAP’s great Achilles’ heel is its discriminatory system of distribution.
Let’s take a look at per capita performance royalty collections, of which the United States isn’t even in the top twenty countries. Let’s look at an environment where direct and source licensing has the potential to seriously deplete the coffers of our PROs – if they haven’t already – and where the utter disregard for the rights of music creators and publishers has made the illegal downloading of musical product rife and rampant.
Finally, let’s look at an environment where warnings are issued to members of industry networking groups merely for asking substantive questions about performing rights. I personally know of a situation where a sitting ASCAP Board member threatened a group of writers with "a price to be paid" if a seminar on direct and source licensing was produced. Imagine – being threatened with harm if one participated in a public meeting about U.S. Copyright Law and other governing law as it applies to music. Think of it.
That’s something right out of the Information Ministry of some Fascist state. Surely, such behavior is not what the founders of ASCAP intended. Is it? Nondisclosure, lies, threats, intimidation, playing off of people’s fears, and suppressing the flow of information between free men and women?
The moat widens... the stockade grows higher.
Justice and Common Sense. There’s a precept that has continually appeared throughout the course of human history, and we ought to take a good look at it. As John F. Kennedy once stated, "We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution."
The tenet I refer to is as follows: that it’s fundamentally wrong to build wealth and comfort which is based on the deprivation of others.
A case has been stated herein that the application of music usage weightings that bear no resemblance to world standards – weightings that are imposed on segments of ASCAP’s membership without commensurate representation to market share – constitutes a deprivation. A further case has been stated that every undetected or otherwise unpaid performance on network television, premium and basic cable, local television, local cable origination, and radio constitutes a deprivation.
There are a great number of historical precedents on this subject – and no hierarchy, no paradigm, no government nor civilization has ultimately succeeded in trampling on its own people. Simply put, wealth created by systemic deprivation is wrong.
In his own manner, Moses said it to Pharaoh. Martin Luther said it to the Pontiff of Rome. The American Continental Congress said it to King George, the Third of that name. Lincoln said it to the Confederacy. Mohandas K. Gandhi said it to the British. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it to all Americans, profoundly influencing the nation and two U.S. Presidents to change unjust laws. Others have said this as well – before and since – known and unknown to us.
In the great scheme of things, I don’t think steps towards equalizing music performance rights have quite the same gravity as Moses leading the Hebrew slaves from bondage. But I know a good correlation when I see one – being born of the same principle: freedom from tyranny.
It’s time that some of those governances pertaining to music be reevaluated, for the sake of a right that is unraveling in some instances. For starters, there should be legitimate studies on the ramifications of compressing ASCAP’s music usage weightings of 33-to-1 down to 20-to-1, 10-to-1, even 3-to-1. These ratios illustrate the high and low values of what a minute of music may be paid, broadcast on the same television network and time of day. The ratio of 3-to-1 is the closest to standards practiced throughout most of the world.
Digital watermarking of film and television music should be among the highest priorities of our PROs. Instead, the emphasis again returns to the songwriters, where technologies favoring song such as BDS and ASCAP’s MediaGuide are song-centric technologies used primarily for so-called "feature" performances on radio and other media – and no public utterances, no will from the ASCAP leadership towards automating the tracking of all music used in American broadcast media, unlike any contemporary business in America.
It’s time to move ASCAP, this greatest of PROs – kicking and screaming, if necessary – into the 21st century. To ASCAP board members and executives: apply policy more evenly. Learn to track the product. Stop double-talking the membership. Shut down the Information Ministry and cease with the character assassination of people thinking outside the box. And stop meddling in the affairs of nonprofit composer networking groups.
If members value their professional lives – and their rights as music creators – they’ll demand that the moat surrounding ASCAP be removed and the stockade lowered around Lincoln Plaza. ASCAP: Reverse this series of unfortunate events. Let the membership truly enter.
At that juncture, we'll have a society worthy of all its constituents. And we can get down to more important business – such as educating our countrymen about the importance of art and realizing the true value of all forms of music broadcast in America.
Editor’s Note: As of press time, ASCAP’s total writer membership has increased to 136,000, which raises the number of voting member signatures an independent candidate needs to get on the ASCAP Board ballot to 850 according to the new ASCAP formula.
Additionally, sources close to ASCAP have confirmed to Film Music Magazine that changes in ASCAP distribution policies will soon be at hand. Reportedly, per-minute "background" instrumental rates will be increased from 16% of a "feature" to as high as 21%. Qualifying themes will reportedly earn as high as 60% of a feature credit.
Though these long anticipated rate increases will leave "non-feature" music remaining undervalued at ASCAP in contrast with world standards, Film Music Magazine enthusiastically applauds this response from the ASCAP Board of Directors as legitimate progress.
Mark Holden is a professional composer and arranger in Los Angeles. He is a member of The American Federation of Musicians (AFM), has served as Seminar Chair for The Society of Composers & Lyricists (SCL) as well as Acting Secretary of the American Alliance of Composer Organizations (AACO) in Hollywood. Additionally Holden writes a performing rights column for Film Music Magazine.