Zoe Keating Tries To Make Sense Of The Performance Royalty System
Guest post by Zoë Keating.
As a DIY artist it's up to me to educate myself about the music business. I do my best, but some elements of it seem exceedingly opaque, in particular, performance royalties as handled by the performing rights societies such as ASCAP and BMI. The royalty "system" for radio and television is confusing enough, but I didn't really know anything about live performance royalties. Here's what I've recently learned.
A little over a year ago I got a booking agent, Mark Lourie of Skyline Music. He and the entire agency are wonderful and they've made a huge difference to my career. Not only does my agent get me great gigs, but he also makes sure I get the best possible deal and have a contract.
After a concert, there is this thing called "doing the settlement". This is where the artist or their representative meets with the promoter, goes over the financial outcome of the night in relation to their contract…and gets paid.
Sometimes the contract is for a percentage of the gross revenues, but more often for me, I get a guarantee and maybe a percentage of "net" if it was a positive number. The line item deductions that go into the calculation of net are things like sound & lights, staff, venue rental, advertising, insurance, etc. There tend to be many things in the calculation of "net" and I can't help but notice that one of them is ASCAP.
For example, at one concert I played last month the gross ticket sales for the night were $9336. Of the many expenses deducted, one of the items was $86 to ASCAP.
What is this? This is the nightly portion of a license fee that the hall pays to ASCAP for the permission to perform music by ASCAP artists in their venue. My compositions are registered with ASCAP, so I should get this money eventually, right?
When I've performed in the UK I listed all the songs I played on something called a PRS from and gave it to the venue/promoter. Six months or so later, I got a check for the percentage of the night's revenues due to me according to the PRS formula for that venue. So, thinking that maybe instead of placing the burden on the venue, ASCAP puts it on the artist… I called ASCAP to see how I should go about claiming these concert royalties.
The customer service representative on the phone said there was nothing for me to claim. He informed me that ASCAP pays out performing royalties only to the 200 top-grossing concert tours, as determined by Pollstar. They also pay royalties for "Live symphonic and recital concerts", whatever they are (he said I don't quality for those).
In other words….
Every day, thousands of venues are required to pay a percentage of their gross ticket sales to ASCAP who then gives that money to…let's look here on Pollstar and find the highest-grossing concerts for 2011….U2, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Lady Gaga, Bon Jovi, etc.
Looking online, I found an ASCAP program that I didn't know about. Perhaps in an attempt to compensate for this incredible distribution of wealth to the wealthy, ASCAP has something called the "ASCAP Plus Cash Awards". What are these amazing "awards"?
"For over 50 years, these special awards have recognized writer members each year for substantial performance activity in media and venues that are not included in performance surveys, or whose works have unique prestige value. The program has also been an inspiration to members just starting out to persevere in advancing their music careers. More than 4,200 songwriter and composer members of ASCAP received Plus Awards in their January 2012 disbursement…"
You have to submit an application to ASCAP to qualify for consideration (which I just did). The gist of it, as far as I can tell, is that if you are the winner of this black-box calculation ASCAP will make a special award to you of a portion of your own money. Awesome! I'll let you know if I "win".
It's been extremely interesting to discover how this music business works. I'll keep passing on information to you as I learn it.
p.s. To some of the commenters….I am composer and publisher of my works, and have both composer and publisher accounts with ASCAP.
Disclosure: Skyline Music is a sister company to Hypebot and MusicThinkTank.