A small price to pay for great music | Guest View

By Alex Heiche | May 04, 2017
Alex Heiche

As someone who works daily to ensure that songwriters and other music professionals behind the soundtracks of our lives maintain a decent livelihood, the recent Edmonds Beacon article “Turned out, turned off: Publishing squabble ends the music at Café Louvre” (April 13) left me feeling compelled to weigh in.

The article depicts a local Edmonds coffee shop as being “strong armed” by a large international performing rights organization (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers – ASCAP).

However, the true battle was ultimately the coffee shop, Cafe Louvre, which was being asked to pay about $1 per day for the right to legally play live music, versus the songwriters who create our favorite songs.

It’s important to know and understand that ASCAP, the large organization portrayed as Goliath, is also a not-for-profit entity. Songwriters need organizations such as ASCAP to negotiate licenses, collect royalties and enforce their property rights from the countless nationwide and international entities that use their music on a daily basis.

For every famous performing artist, there are hundreds of nonperforming songwriters who actually write the songs, but typically don’t make enough money to support themselves.

As a finance executive in the music industry, I have reviewed literally thousands of songwriter royalty statements and can attest to two standout facts: Songwriters are grossly underpaid and their income streams show a steady declining pattern.

This is because the royalty rates being collected are governed by consent decrees issued by the Department of Justice back in 1941. These consent decrees deny songwriters the ability to negotiate the value of their intellectual property in a free market.

These were also developed 75 years ago, decades before we had even imagined the internet or the concept of streaming music, which is now the most popular form of music consumption.

Sure, there are rare cases of an artist making a fortune, but it is almost never through an overnight success story. Even someone like the multiplatinum-selling artist Sheryl Crow, who just released her 10th album, spent years on the road paying her dues in small bars for tens of people before attracting hundreds of fans to her gigs.

In cases like Cafe Louvre, when a venue refuses to pay the fees legally due, it increases the collection costs and further decreases the paltry amount of money being returned to the already struggling songwriters.

Music is something we all love. It consoles us when we’re down, pumps us up for a night on the town, transports us to key moments in time and helps trigger our greatest memories.

For business owners, music is something that can enhance an environment and bring in customers. Certainly, Cafe Louvre recognized that, which is why it hosted its beloved open-mic shows for so long.

But just like any worthwhile good or service, music has an inherent value and a cost associated with it, and its creators deserve to be paid for their work. Making music is an art, but it is also a trade that many choose to pursue as their lifelong careers. Music professionals deserve to make a fair living, just like everyone else.

I certainly understand that there are many barriers to profitability and costs to consider for small businesses – including coffee shops.

When live music venues use other people’s intellectual property to create an environment that attracts customers, they should budget accordingly and chalk it up as a necessary cost of doing business. It’s important for the songwriters, and a small price to pay for doing the right thing.

Alex Heiche is the CEO and founder of Florida-based Sound Royalties.

 

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