Live & Touring

Venue Owners Battle BMI Over High Fees

Live Music Killed OffBar and club owners are becoming increasingly upset at the performing rights organization BMI, which they feel is imposing unfair mandatory fees on venues, the cost of which BMI is liable to increase at the drop of a hat.


Guest Post by Bobby Owsinski on Music 3.0

Bar owners across the country are getting more up in arms at what they claim is BMI's "take-it-or-leave-it" fee structure and canceling music events as a result, according to an article in

Every public establishment, whether it's a bar, coffee house or restaurant, has to pay the performing rights organizations (BMI, ASCAPand SESAC) if they want to have music playing, whether it's live, radio, or a jukebox.

The problem is, according to many bar and club owners, that BMI imposes what seems like a random fee that could rise at any time without a cap. If they don't pay, then BMI's deep pocket attorneys take the owner in court, which most bar and club owners just can't afford.

The bars are fighting back though, thanks to their local beverage associations. The Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and; Tavern Association, The Food and Beverage Association of San Diego, and the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association have all teamed up to create the Fairness In Music Licensing Coalition, which hopes to change the way this portion of the copyright law is implemented.

Right now BMI charges on the number of people that will fit into the club, but if that isn't available they use the establishment's square footage, which almost always doesn't represent the number of people that the place holds.

No one argues that the songwriters and publishers shouldn't be paid, by the way. It's just how they're being charged that's at issue.

The big problem here is that everyone loses when a venue stops having live music, so this is something that both sides should work diligently to sort out.

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1 Comment

  1. Those artists who are registered with BMI should speak up as well. Most artists are sorely under-represented by BMI and are unhappy with the services they are supposed to receive. Another tact is restricting live music to original songs only, and songs in the public domain. It works pretty well at some of the best-known songwriters spots in Nashville.

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