In my last two posts, I have started explaining a little of what I’ve been learning in recent months about the music business.
My musical selection for this post is from a CD I recorded with fellow singer Bobbi Carrey and pianist Doug Hammer — which was then enhanced by arranger Mike Callahan as well as other local musicians.
“Fevered” might be one way to describe my current mental state as I recover from our recent — deeply disrespectful and dangerous — presidential non-debate and THEN make sense out of the news that our president and his wife and many members of his staff have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
At the very least, this is a stark reminder of how a virus makes its presence felt in every niche of human society — from the folks with (allegedly) daily testing and access to the best (and in the case of our political ruling class, FREE) health care to the folks who have to go to work with very little (or no) protection and very little health coverage in places like meat packing plants.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
Let us all continue — in this time of COVID-19 — to remain aware of our daily temperatures and to continue wearing our blessed face masks!
Now I will attempt to explain a little bit about performance rights organizations.
One thing a songwriter must do is affiliate with a performance rights organization (also known as a PRO).
In the USA, there are two entry-level ones — ASCAP and BMI — as well as two more — SESAC and GMR — which you can be invited to join when you are earning a fair amount of money from your songs and also a (new?) one called Pro Music Rights about which I know almost nothing.
Most other countries around the world only have one PRO.
This is just one example of how things are often done differently in the USA than in the rest of the world…
ASCAP was the first performing rights organization founded in the USA.
A group of composers, lyricists, and publishers (who were selling millions of copies of sheet music on behalf of the songwriters under contract to them) decided it was time for them to get paid for public performances of their songs — which I think was already the norm in many European countries.
It 1914 they formed a not-for-profit organization called the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).
The founders included Victor Herbert — who according to an article in Irish America magazine wrote the music for “forty operettas, 23 musicals, two operas, and several Ziegfeld Follies; did musical scores for motion pictures; and composed for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra” from the 1890s through the 1920s.
Herbert was himself a transplant from Europe, having been born (out of wedlock) on Guernsey island in the English Channel and raised in England and Germany.
His mother told, him, however, he had been born in Dublin, and he maintained a strong emotional connection to Ireland for his entire life (perhaps jumpstarted by his mother’s and his grandfather’s strong Irish nationalism).
Herbert was also a cellist, conductor AND long-time advocate for the rights of songwriters.
According to Wikipedia he testified before Congress and influenced the formation of the Copyright Act of 1909, which allowed composers to earn royalties from the sale of new-fangled sound recordings.
And then in 1914 he helped found ASCAP to collect money for public performances of musical works in cafes, hotel ballrooms, live-music clubs, and theaters.
Thank you, Victor Herbert, along with your fellow songwriters and political advocates!
As our technologies continued to evolve, public performances grew to include music broadcasts — live or pre-recorded — on radio and TV as well as in elevators, grocery stores, theme parks, and much more…
In 1940 there was a historical turning point.
During the 1930s ASCAP had been increasing the royalty rates they were charging to radio broadcasters for the use of their members’ songs.
So… for many months the radio broadcasters decided to STOP playing any songs affiliated with ASCAP — a period which is mentioned in the biographies of many famous songwriters such as Irving Berlin and Cole Porter as a time when many potential hit songs never got airplay and consequently languished…
In 1940 the radio broadcasters took another huge step and founded a competing PRO called Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI).
BMI signed up a very different cohort of songwriters, including people from the R&B, gospel, jazz, country, folk and Latin music communities.
And some degree of competition — and diversity — was introduced into this particular segment/function of the music industry (the collection of money due to songwriters and publishers for the use of their songs…)
These days BMI remains a bit more accessible than ASCAP — because BMI is free to join while ASCAP charges $50 to join as a songwriter and another $50 to join as a publisher.
I went with ASCAP partly because my fellow songwriter Steve Sweeting had already joined BMI, and I thought it might be interesting to compare his experiences with mine over time…
There is also a man who has been at ASCAP for decades named Michael Kerker who loves the Great American Songbook and is an avid supporter of new songwriters.
I met him many years ago when I invited him to a Boston-area songwriter showcase I co-produced at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (where I worked for 16 years).
Then one of my guardian angels, Amanda McBroom — a delightful and generous songwriter whose biggest hit (so far) has been “The Rose” — recommended I reach out to him.
So very shyly, I did.
And he got back to me almost immediately.
We ended up having a long conversation on the phone — and when I had a couple of follow-up questions, he was equally prompt in replying to me.
So I am now an ASCAP member.
And on October 10th, my first recording is scheduled to be released to Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, and a bunch of other online musical platforms.
I’ll be blogging more about that soon!
Now that I think about it, songs are kind of like viruses — they are not alive and cannot reproduce themselves without the assistance of a living host.
I’ll also be sharing how people who do NOT write their own music collect money for the use of their unique recordings of other people’s songs.
And I will continue to give tiny amounts of money to as many political candidates who are in close races as I can.
And I will continue wearing a face mask.
And I will continue walking and riding my bike.
And leading my Music Together classes — both outside in a local park and online via Zoom.
And I will continue to be very grateful that I have a roof over my head, and electricity, and a functioning laptop, and food to eat on a daily basis.
Thank you to Bobbi Carrey, Doug Hammer, Mike Callahan, and the other musicians involved with our recording of “Fever” — as well as the original songwriters Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell AND Peggy Lee, who added several sets of new lyrics when she recorded her classic version in 1958.
Thank you to Pixabay for wonderful images.
And thank YOU for reading and listening to another blog post!
Let us all remained engaged — and vigilant — during the upcoming days and weeks and months!
ps: Have you gotten a flu shot yet?