As performance rights organizations and former rivals ASCAP and BMI forge a partnership to create a comprehensive database of musical works from their combined repertories, one artist whose songwriting share won’t be included is Adele.
Variety has confirmed that, following a long relationship with BMI, the Grammy-winning singer has jumped ship to SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers).
Established in 1930, SESAC in 2016 bought the Harry Fox Agency and was itself acquired by Blackstone Core Equity Partners earlier this year in what was reported to be a deal worth $1 billion. Annually, SESAC collects more than $250 million on behalf of its roster of 400,000 songs and 30,000 affiliated songwriters, composers and music publishers.
Adele joins Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, RUSH, Zac Brown, Lady Antebellum on the SESAC roster, which purports to be a smaller, more effective and nimble PRO (performance rights organization), compared to ASCAP and BMI. Another difference is that SESAC pays royalties on a monthly rather than quarterly basis, and is also able to offer singular licenses that aggregate both performance and mechanical rights.
Says a source familiar with the situation: “[Adele] was offered a guarantee that didn’t make good business sense for BMI, which operates on a not-for-profit basis. SESAC is a different biz model, owned by Blackstone and for profit.” Regardless, adds the insider, “It’s not uncommon for songwriters to switch PROs. It happens.”
Adele exited BMI in April.
Tangentially, SESAC was not included in the announcement by BMI and ASCAP of a “first-of-its-kind database [that] will feature aggregated song ownership data from ASCAP and BMI and offer greater transparency to music users and the industry.” The database is expected to launch in the fourth quarter of 2018.
While Adele is most often a co-writer on her songs — including such monster hits as “Rolling in the Deep,” “Someone Like You,” and “Hello” — the popularity of her music suggests that her part in performance rights collection would be significant. It’s unclear as yet how the newly combined database will factor in fractional percentages by writers not affiliated with ASCAP or BMI.
A recent Department of Justice ruling on fractional licensing remains a big unknown currently – with BMI having sued and prevailed, but the DOJ appealed. The industry remains very concerned with this new DOJ interpretation of the consent decrees that outlaws fractional licensing, in effect saying: only one party will have the right to administer a song, and only one party can collect. It affects only ASCAP and BMI (since SESAC isn’t under a consent decree), but since songwriters mostly collaborate, one wonders how those with SESAC rights will be able to collaborate with BMI/ASCAP without handing off all rights collection, terms, etc.
Since Adele is such a major force, it stands to reason that she would have the clout to insist that if a writer works with her, the song has to be administered through SESAC, so that her monies don’t get tied up at ASCAP/BMI. Also in her move to traditionally third place SESAC, she may pull other artists along.
Reached for comment, a BMI rep tells Variety, “Adele is a singular talent. We loved her when she was at BMI and wish her nothing but continued success.”
A representative for SESAC was not immediately available for comment.