Music Business

BMI’s Dark Eureka [Op-Ed by Chris Castle]

It’s tough to believe that BMI’s failure to answer questions being asked by songwriters and music publishers about its pending sale is not a sign that bad news is ahead, writes Chris Castle.

Op-Ed CHRIS CASTLE of Music Tech Policy

Some times the suits get themselves so wrapped around the axle over money that they miss the point completely.

Unless I have missed it (and I don’t think I have) it has now been over a month since the SAG-AFTRA union and four songwriter groups raised pretty conventional questions about the proposed BMI business model change and possible sale. Artist Rights Alliance, the Black Music Action Coalition, Music Artists Coalition, Songwriters of North America and SAG-AFTRA raised their questions in two separate letters dated August 17 and 25th respectively. Looking back, these letters raised relatively benign questions as open letters go. 

These questions asked in public should have been answered in public and promptly. Failing to do so is strange –questions that cannot be answered.

People do not usually write these open letters unless they have a reason. That reason often involves being ignored intolerably. For example, if you read the statement of facts in the various lawsuits against Spotify, I think you’ll find that there was a run-up to litigation which was the golden time that Spotify could have resolved the problems at a low cost, or at least a lower cost than the ultimate resolution cost. But instead they chose to ignore the rather reasonable issues in what became a lawsuit and the rest is history. When you look back at the Spotify story, the testosterone kings of cyberspace were exceptionally short sighted, even for those living the lifestyles of the fully vested. You wonder if anyone gave them a good pop in the schnoz and asked you freaking little dweeb what the actual F were you thinking?

And so it is with BMI. Forget what’s actually happening or the difference between “responsibility” and “obligation.” The reality is that the foot dragging and the ultimate failure to be responsive is disrespectful and unnecessary. It also just makes people more suspicious and dug in to their position. It’s very difficult to comprehend how our betters think this is the way to succeed either before or after the rumored sale. And yet this is the work product of the Keebler Elves. Or to paraphrase a great man, white shoes don’t make it.

Unfortunately it comes down to asking “why so secretive?” Braying about how many million songs are under their roof but simultaneously refusing to come clean with all their writers is just a tad hypocritical and hierarchical. By dragging out a response, it makes people assume that there must be a class of songwriter who gets the inside information and a much bigger class of the hoi polloi who does not. If that assumption turns out to be true, that confirmation could be a very ugly thing. 

This will particularly be true if the final confirmation is discovered in closing documents or otherwise leaks after our betters have stuffed their pockets in the latest game of monkey see, monkey do. It’s the kind of ugly thing that does significant brand damage, the kind of damage you may not come back from very easily. Emotions are not made of teflon and reputations are not made of kevlar.

This penny will eventually drop on the smart people in a kind of dark Eureka moment. In the meantime, the office pool may allow side bets on which weasel runs the fastest to the bank.

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