This is a big deal. If you are an independent musician and exploring ways of making money, you would do well to look into ASCAP's announcement to pay royalties on your performances. Over a decade ago, when I first did my analysis of the revenue stream of musicians and even after I started my company Mamaloose Music, I realized that from a business standpoint, an independent, creative singer/songwriter was hosed.
I identified over 30 entities that were required to conduct business in the conventional manner and how, as the 20th century music business model developed, they had all managed to position themselves to take their pint from the bloodstream of the writing and performing musician. In other words, they worked on a percentage. Most notably, managers, labels, distributors, lawyers, accountants, publishers, publicists, producers and collectors. By the time a dollar came down to the artist, it was pennies. So I have spent the last decade exploring ways in which a musician, given some computer skills, could do the tasks themselves using internet advances and changes in technology.
One of the most important aspects was to recognize a song and the recording of a song as my most important asset. So I figured out how to protect that asset by filing my own copyrights and I also saw that the collection agencies were a crucial pivot in the collection of royalties. I did enough research to understand that I would need to create an independent publishing entity since writers and publishers for the most part shared the revenue stream. I saw that the collection agencies in the U.S. (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) paid royalties to writers and publishers separately. So I registered my publishing company and myself as a writer with ASCAP. I also registered all my original songs for which I also established copyrights using the eCO System at http://www.copyright.gov/about.html. (I file for both the songs and recordings)
Now I also became aware that ASCAP had a kind of "slush fund" that you could apply for if you did live performances in public venues. This is a somewhat controversial aspect that some people argue gives them undue clout to come down heavy on small coffee houses and claim unreasonable license fees. I won't address that argument here, I will just simply say that I applied and got a small fee from the "fund" amounting to a couple of hundred dollars. Nothing big.
But here's the real interesting part of this. I also decided to register for an ASCAP performance license. Since I was, after all, performing a 3 hour set almost every week over the course of several years. I sang old folk songs that everyone in my audiences had some connection with in addition to a smattering of my own songs. I submitted a quarterly performance listing that included a spreadsheet of about 50 different songs and at each performance I would play from 30 to 45 of them. The performance license cost me $230 per year. I felt good about it, since I wanted most of the artists who wrote the songs I sang to actually get some revenue for my performances (like Dave Carter, Dar Williams, Richard Shindell types).
But frankly I got a bit of a shock when I opened up mail From ASCAP early this year and I got two checks, over $1000 each. One addressed to Mamaloose Music, my publishing company, and one addressed to Jackie Henrion, songwriter. I saw that each performance of one of my original songs entitled me to $6.50 per performance - times two!
First off I realized that for one of my songs, I had an obligation to pay a co-writer half of the revenue I got from ASCAP for that song which I did. I think it might have covered his coffee that day. But I realized that if I had played that song every set over the course of one year, instead of just once, he could have bought a kindle. But this is a serious consideration, best not taken lightly if you co-write.
Actually, if I had played only my songs for all of my performances, the total check might have been quite a bit larger. Now I'm not exactly sure if the calculations depend on the revenue ASCAP collects from the venues, but that is for someone else to explain. For me, this was a hard cash revenue stream that was worth paying attention to.
So now that ASCAP is letting the word out - it's worth looking into. If you have the skills to write and record songs, then start thinking about yourself as a business and get your dibs in now, before the big guys figure out how to throttle this trickle. ASCAP was founded by music writers and creators, after all. I happen to think this is a good move.