On Notice: ASCAP

This is hardly a unique story, but I’m fucking ANGRY. And I really resent it when people push me so far I have to get pissed off. It’s made a world full of squeaky, bitchy little wheels and an industry of businesses that do as little as possible for the majority of consumers and only really pay attention to the noisy assholes.

In August of 2005, I registered a couple works with ASCAP, my Performance Rights Organization. The PROs collect (in theory) royalties for copyright holders from public performances like tv and radio, because it would be impossible for any single artist to keep track of every possible use and collect payment. There are a total of four in the United States: ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and SoundExchange, the latter of which deals exclusively with digital transmissions.

The project I worked on is a documentary called “Horses of Gettysburg”. It aired nationally on PBS in May of 2006. It wasn’t a full score I contributed, just two orchestral “loops” that accompanied about five minutes of the film. I did the job for peanuts because I figured it would pay off over time in royalties.

I had to repeatedly remind the production company, Inecom, to file the cuesheets, a record of all the music used and the time they happen. I registered my works like a good PRO member. Then I waited.

And I waited.

When I saw the list of stations the doc was going to air on, I got very excited. I contacted ASCAP to confirm that my works were kosher. They said they’d call me back. They didn’t. I tried again, asking if they could simply confirm that Inecom had filed cue sheets. They said they’d call them and call me back. I don’t know if they contacted Inecom, but they definitely didn’t call me back.

After a couple months of this, I figured they HAD to have it together. Now, you have to understand how ASCAP tracks music use: They use a sampling system. They check up with a handful of stations and determine the royalties a copyright holder is entitled to from that sample. They might as well use a fucking ABACUS. It’s the 21st century, the technology exists to track every single play of every tune on just about every community radio station. I know this because I paid good money to track my second album, “All About The Burn”.

I didn’t bother sending the record to commercial stations. I stuck with NPR and college radio, which I carefully researched to target the ones I stood the best chance of getting some airplay on. Under 200 of them, and if you multiply that by the cost of each CD and postage, you’ll get an idea of what the major labels pay on top of the promoters they pay to bribe station managers to advertise their process music product.

Remember when they settled in Elliot Spitzer’s suit against them? It’s called “payola”, and it’s simply and clearly illegal. And they SETTLED. In other words, they paid a multi million dollar fine, about $20 of which you and I were entitled to, and then continued to break the law.

So anyway, yeah, I didn’t bother with commercial radio.

But as I said, I was able to track plays from at least the stations that had internet broadcasts, and was pleased to see a modest, yet personally significant showing. My heart sunk quarterly for the next year as I opened one ASCAP statement after another to see they’d collected not a cent from these plays.

Just this month, I opened yet another and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw they’d actually COLLECTED ROYALTIES! YES! They actually DID THEIR JOB. A total of $26.38 for ONE TRACK. And not just any track, “Bicycle Day”, with a running time of about one minute, an abstract piece from vanity project “A Model Psychosis” that I scarcely promoted at all compared to the previous release.

Who the hell played this track enough to get $26.38 worth of plays to show up on ASCAP’s myopic radar? I have no idea. That information is not available to me, copyright holder and “member owner”. Yeah, they actually have the balls to refer to you that way. I’m still almost $3000 in debt from this and the previous record, paying AGAIN to get something closer to the REAL numbers just wasn’t do-able for me. So I have no idea who played this track.

My statement does mention it was from “urban radio”. WTF?!

I’m not even really sure what I’m entitled to. Try Googling “ASCAP royalty rate”. ASCAP’s rates are determined by some method I think must be comparable to the way FICO determines your credit score. Far as I can tell from my statement, “Bicycle Day” earned 1.664 “credits”, equaling a “credit value” of $8.02, entitling me to the “royalty amount” of $13.18 – this is my writer share, split equal to my publisher share. Yeah, you have to have both, it’s fucking retarded. So I’m a “writer/publisher” member.

Remember that documentary I started out talking about? SO DID I. Well, NOW they have a fancy new interweb thingy that lets you file an “inquiry”, which I did. Senior Account Manager Marissa Cinquanti got back to me the next day! Wow, service! She asked for the title of the film so she could “research” the issue. I emailed back with the title and a reminder that the title as well as the IMDB and Amazon links were in the document I ATTACHED WITH THE INQUIRY. When I didn’t hear anything from her for a week, I checked back in, asking if she’d learned anything she could share from her research.

Today, it’s been three weeks since I sent that last email, so I sent this one:

It’s been three weeks since Senior Account Manager Marissa Cinquanti contacted me about researching service inquiry 447535 and I’ve heard nothing. It’s now over four and a half YEARS of royalties ASCAP has failed to collect since these works were registered despite my repeated attempts to get you to do so. If this matter cannot be resolved immediately and retroactive payment collected, Vitalegacy/Dynamicon Music Publishing and I will be terminating our publisher and writer memberships.”

I doubt BMI is any better, and SESAC is invite-only – I know, I think that’s weird, too – so I’m just going to go back to pissing and moaning like an impotent jerk and then bend over and take it up the tailpipe as most musicians (hobbyists and expensively trained and schooled, like myself, alike) are used to doing.

Oh, you know who the new chairman of the ASCAP board is? Paul Williams! yeah, THAT Paul Williams! I like Paul Williams. He’s speaking just down the street from me in a week, I think I might go and see if I can get in a word with him. I bet Paul Williams is a really nice guy.

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