News / Arts & Entertainment

Artists Celebrate Century of Music Royalties

ASCAP artists celebrate its 100th birthday. Left to right: Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler, Jessi Alexander, Goapele, Jermaine Dupri, Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, Desmond Child, Narada Michael Walden, Claudia Brant, Paul Williams, Jon Lind and Ozzy Osbourne.
ASCAP artists celebrate its 100th birthday. Left to right: Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler, Jessi Alexander, Goapele, Jermaine Dupri, Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, Desmond Child, Narada Michael Walden, Claudia Brant, Paul Williams, Jon Lind and Ozzy Osbourne.
Every time you hear a song in a restaurant or on the radio, hear music in a concert hall, on TV or in a movie, or listen to streaming audio on the Internet, a writer gets paid, thanks in large part to a performing rights organization known as ASCAP, or the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

This month, ASCAP marks 100 years of representing composers' interests.

'Brilliant idea'

A century ago, the Italian operatic composer Giacomo Puccini was having lunch in New York with Victor Herbert, the leading composer of operettas in the United States, when the restaurant band  began playing music from Herbert’s current hit, Sweethearts.

Puccini became outraged, says songwriter Paul Williams, ASCAP’s current president.

"He said to Victor Herbert, 'Why are you not licensing this music? You should be paid for this music, because in Europe, we are.'” Williams said. "And it seemed like a brilliant idea."

Victor Herbert, on piano stool, poses with the founding members of ASCAP in 1914. (Courtesy ASCAP)Victor Herbert, on piano stool, poses with the founding members of ASCAP in 1914. (Courtesy ASCAP)
Such a brilliant idea, that Herbert assembled some of the era’s major musical figures, including John Philip Sousa and Irving Berlin, to establish ASCAP.

It was all very good to agree to try and collect royalties for performances by bands in restaurants and dance halls, but would the venues agree to pay for something they’d been getting for free?

Bruce Pollock, who’s written a history of ASCAP, says that for a century, the organization has had to fight for every penny it collects.

"For years, and probably still to this day, anybody who has the job at ASCAP of being that guy who has to go into a place that isn’t licensed and tell the owner, 'Uh, now you have to be licensed,'"  said Pollock. "That was the most dangerous job; people would wind up in jail, they would get beat up, they would be threatened."

Sense of mission

Williams says ASCAP collects royalties out of a sense of mission.

It’s a nonprofit, run by its member songwriters, composers and publishers. And ASCAP came up with something called a blanket license in an effort to make the process simpler. It bases the rate on how many hours a store or restaurant that wants to play background music is open, or how many people listen to a radio network.

ASCAP Celebrates Century of Music Royalties
ASCAP Celebrates Century of Music Royaltiesi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

"Blanket license, meaning you can play as much ASCAP music, as often as you want," Williams said.

ASCAP had a monopoly on collecting royalties until 1940, when the radio industry, in a battle over rates, took all of the performing rights organization’s music off the air, says author Bruce Pollock. Radio stations replaced it with music that wasn’t licensed to ASCAP.

"Which was, like, country music and rhythm and blues," Pollock said. "And they started playing that. And, apparently, the public either didn’t know or didn’t care or didn’t complain, and it went on for eight months, until ASCAP finally had to renegotiate."

Meanwhile, the broadcasters had set up Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), and, over the years, signed new artists like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and the Beatles. ASCAP almost missed rock and roll entirely, and Pollock says it took a long time for them to catch up.

"It really took them until the mid-60s before they began to realize that, as they say, 'rock and roll is here to stay,'” Pollock said.

Sense of stability

ASCAP now represents close to 500,000 composers in all musical genres, and collects almost a billion dollars a year in royalties for them.

Valerie Simpson and her late husband Nick Ashford were among the top writers at Motown, before they went on to their own career as performers. Now a board member of ASCAP, Simpson says one of the most important things the organization does for songwriters is give them a sense of stability.

"You know, we just didn’t have to think about it," she said. "Some kind of check was going to come. You know, all we had to do was create."

One of her fellow creators is Pulitzer Prize-winning classical composer David Lang, who's been a member for 30 years. While the majority of his income comes from commissions and teaching, he  looks forward to receiving his quarterly ASCAP royalty check.

"I get super, super excited when I open it up and I go, 'Oh, this piece is being played in Japan' or 'This piece is being played in Poland,'” he said. "I love the idea that the music can go someplace without me. And that I may not know about it, but, somehow, ASCAP finds out."

As it marks a century of protecting composers' interests, ASCAP faces new challenges in the digital era. The organization is currently in litigation with Pandora, the Internet radio company, over what rates to charge.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Larry from: Ft. Worth
February 14, 2014 10:03 AM
I think ASCAP's time is coming to an end.
Performers should be paid for performing. Having their music on the radio or internet is free advertising for them. It should not be their income source.
As was shown in 1940 without airplay, they are soon forgotten.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the latest edition of "Beyond Category" blues singer and guitarist Corey Harris performs with his band and talks about his travels in West Africa tracing the roots of the blues.