Clubs, stages and independent venues like mine are part of the fabric of our local communities and we love to provide live platforms to connect new and upcoming artists and eager audiences. But now, COVID-19 has shuttered our doors and instead of welcoming customers, we’re struggling.
If coronavirus wasn’t bad enough, now we’re also having to fight to keep the federal government from dropping the rules that allow us to play live music and protect us from ASCAP and BMI, abusive royalty collecting organizations.
Even worse, venue owners aren’t even invited to discuss the problem by the U.S. Department of Justice, which is considering getting rid of protections that have helped small businesses like mine.
ASCAP and BMI are organizations which help ensure those who play music pay fees to those who create it and perform it. Whenever venues play music — whether a local dive bar, favorite restaurant or nightclub — they buy licenses to play live and recorded music. Even if we’re playing background music between up-and-coming singer-songwriter sets, we pay monthly licenses.
The industry has a history of price gouging, which is why the Department of Justice placed ASCAP and BMI in the 1940’s under consent decrees in order to prevent anticompetitive practices. Despite those protections, getting licenses are a difficult and painful process for venues.
Since we don’t know whether BMI or ASCAP or another PRO for that matter, owns a song’s licenses, it’s nearly impossible to figure out which license best fits our needs. As a result, we are bullied into buying expensive licenses we probably don’t need to keep from getting sued.
Since ASCAP and BMI now control over 90 percent of the marketplace, these DOJ protections are literally the only thing we have to protect us against all-out chaos.
The U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, Makan Delrahim, who oversees antitrust law has repeatedly said that he believes the ASCAP and BMI decrees are outdated. Justice Department officials are holding a two-day workshop on eliminating these protections at the end of July.
Unfortunately, as far as I know, none of the organizations representing venues like mine have been invited to participate in the discussion. That’s insane, especially given how much music venues, hotels and restaurants are already hurting in this awful COVID-19 crisis.
If these protections are eliminated, our costs to buy music licenses will likely skyrocket. Given everything going on right now, how can I afford to pay enormous fees to keep the music playing?
The loss of independent music venues would be devastating to musicians and to those who love to hear live music. What’s worse, the fees I am paying don’t even benefit the artists who play night after night.
They go to the big songwriters who are represented by these behemoth organizations.
Live music is part of what makes our communities great and it helps keep our neighborhoods healthy and vibrant. We are already struggling under the heavy weight of a global pandemic with no projected end.
We don’t know when we will be able to open our doors again, to pay our employees, to help new artists build new audiences every night, or support our local economies. The last thing we need is the loss of protections designed to keep music fees fair.
Please, don’t shut us down. We need your help, not your indifference.