What is really up with ASCAP and BMI? The History and the Future

As musicians and publishers, we live in a world where there are two main copyright companies that we must choose between: American Society of Composers and Producers(ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI).  What are the similarities?  What are the differences?  Are there any other choices out there of companies that can protect our rights as musicians?

“We are the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), a membership association of more than 500,000 US composers, songwriters, lyricists and music publishers of every kind of music. Through agreements with affiliated international societies, we also represent hundreds of thousands of music creators worldwide. We are the only US performing rights organization created and controlled by composers, songwriters and music publishers, with a Board of Directors elected by and from our membership.” (ASCAP Website).

ASCAP was established in 1914 in order to protect composers, authors, and publishers works.  ASCAP charged the radio stations that used music from their clients a fee in order to have airtime with that music.  This fee was a set blanket amount for each radio station, and was split amongst each radio station’s use in order to play an artist’s or composers music.  That then determined the amount ASCAP clientele’s music was used and how much will the artists gain based on air time.  By 1941 ASCAP made an announcement that they will increase their fees by 100%, which resulted in radio stations taking off all songs protected by ASCAP off the air. As it says in their mission statement on their website,

      “BMI is the bridge between songwriters and the businesses and organizations that want to play their music publicly. As a global leader in music rights management, BMI serves as an advocate for the value of music, representing more than 8.5 million musical works created and owned by more than 600,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers” (BMI website,)

BMI was created as a result to this, and scouted for musicians and talent to provide radio stations with music.  As more radio stations switched to the format of disc jockeys playing rock ‘n’ roll, BMI became the powerhouse for distributing relatively inexpensive music to radio stations.  ASCAP felt that the music BMI distributed was ruining the integrity of music, and creating a barrier to classical/Jazz musicians or listeners from gaining air time against modern music . With rock ‘n’ roll becoming more engaging to a population who related to the new sound, BMI was successful in creating an industry of cheaply but highly in demand music.  Their mission statement on their website states

In today’s world of streaming music, it is now a tough decision as to which company to choose.  Marc Hunter interviews  Rick Goetz and discusses how ASCAP’s non-profit status paves a pivotal route for artists’ music. Mark explains that artists are treated as members and partners, rather than a number in a catalog. BMI today markets towards songwriters and musicians of pop music rather than traditional, but when it comes to connecting with artists, it is more on business terms rather than personal terms.  Also, BMI will hold onto any rights of an artist’s music after resignation for up to ten years.  Although it is within contractual rights, is this method to keep members, or to keep money?  This is a question an artist needs to ask before joining.

There is another option when it comes to tracking royalties.  Sound Exchange is a strictly non-profit performance rights organization that centers its focus on digital performance royalties.  Meaning, Sound Exchange is available for all artists; whether amateur or professional, to track their song’s plays on Pandora, Sirius radio,  iHeart Radio & others.  Sound Exchange can be the glue that artists need when tracking their music and getting paid for streaming plays.  They can rely on a company that knows what outlet the artists’ audience is using for listening and downloading their music, as well as advocate for unfair pay by other companies (see Sound Exchange Sues Sirius Radio for more information).  In competition with ASCAP and BMI, Sound Exchange might be the future of music royalty tracking, as they focus less on out-dated music industry ideas.

When joining these companies, one should always research which has the best website.  Songtrust uses a great way to learn about each company, and with careful research, you might find one that better suits your needs over the other.  Do what is right for your music.  And remember, always read any agreement you sign!