×

Songwriters ‘More Heavily Regulated Than Pharmaceutical Companies’ and Other Takeaways From ASCAP Expo

Efforts to compel the United States Congress to reform the country’s “antiquated” music copyright laws were the burning issues at the 2017 edition of the ASCAP Expo, as the performing rights organization’s leadership attempted to advance causes designed to help its members earn a decent living.

ASCAP President Paul Williams noted that while the group collected a record $1.059 billion in 2016 on behalf of its songwriter, composer, and music publisher members, that increase of slightly more than 6% is inadequate when measured against the number of performances, which nearly doubled, to 1 trillion. “That disparity is due to our nation’s outdated music regulations,” Williams said.

The point was brought into vivid relief by songwriter Priscilla Renea, who has written for Mary J. Blige, Chris Brown, and Miranda Lambert. Renea pointed out that the writers’ royalty for a million streams, across all platforms, “is only about $170. So if it takes 15 people to make a song, which sometimes it can, how are we expected to be able to sustain a career?”

Added Williams: “Talk about feeling the pinch. We’re bathing with lobsters!”

Here are five of the biggest takeaways from the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo, which drew roughly 3,000 attendees to the Loews Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles last weekend.

1. Although musicians actively supported Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, Donald Trump has emerged the great white hope of copyright activists in the music world. The views expressed by Karen Bass (D-Calif.) at a regulatory session were echoed by many at the meet: while it’s too early for sure, the fact that Trump’s regulatory approach is the diametric opposite to that of the prior administration was, according to Bass, “a boon” for songwriters. “We’ve all heard about the executive order that says for every new regulation two old regulations should be disposed of. That’s a good starting place to re-look our consent decrees, which are among the oldest rules on the record, and prime candidates for review.” In fact, they’re 76 years old. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) also sat on the panel with Bass.

2. Modernizing the system “is going to take friends,” according to Williams, who noted that for the past three years, ASCAP and its chief competitor, BMI, have been working together to urge the Department of Justice to update copyright laws — an effort that has yet to produce change, though the industry is watching with great interest as Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, Makan Delrahim, moves to confirmation.

3. Among the legislative solutions on the table, the Copyright Selection and Accountability Act is earmarked as favorable to the music community. The bill, which proposes the U.S. Copyright Office become an independent agency, led by a presidential appointee, would give copyright parity with the other two intellectual property rights: trademark and patent, something the creative community-weighted copyright sector lacks. “Copyright should not be regulated [by Congress],” stressed attorney Dina LaPolt, moderating the panel “Getting Credit Where Credit Is Due.” “It’s your property and you should be able to negotiate in a free market without the government saying what you should be paid. When there is a compulsory license, it means you are compulsed to say ‘yes.’ These are horrible laws. In the U.S., songwriters are more heavily regulated than pharmaceutical companies. That is f—ing sad!”

4. Metadata may not sound sexy, but songwriters who like money will make a point of becoming intimate with the various ways to tag credits to tunes using it. The Swedish-based Auddly, a free service that allows songwriters to sign-up and input their credit data for automated music meta tagging, was something of a sensation at the meet. AdRev CEO Noah Becker put it in perspective, noting the key to generating royalties from streaming outlets. “Today, you have a line item worth a tenth of a penny and you have 10 million rows of those, whereas in the old guard music industry, you’d sell a CD with a 1,700% margin and you could manage it all in a Word doc.” Key to metadata success is keeping the tags to-the-letter consistent across all credits and platforms.

5. In the world of accumulating pennies rather than collecting dollars, Ben Patterson, CEO of digital distribution service DashGo.com, urged attendees to “think like a whale, not like a shark,” by opening wide and catching up tonnage of krill. “It’s micro-revenue, but it does add up,” Becker said. “At AdRev, we manage rights for people you’ve never heard of who earn six-figure incomes from music. Myself, I’m not very active any more as a songwriter, but I have about 1,000 cuts of 15-30-second edits that generates $10-15,000 per year in passive income, and it just comes in.”

(Pictured: ASCAP president Paul Williams, Representative Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Representative Karen Bass (D-Calif.), songwriter Priscilla Renea, ASCAP general counsel Clara Kim.)

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • siriusxm on playstation

    SiriusXM Announces $4 Streaming Plan for Students

    SiriusXM took another step towards taking its subscription service past the car Tuesday: The company announced a new student subscription tier that gives eligible college students access to music and talk radio stations on their mobile and connected devices for $4 per month. Some of the content available for this price includes SiriusXM’s more than [...]

  • Demi Lovato

    Demi Lovato Joins Netflix Comedy 'Eurovision'

    Demi Lovato has joined the upcoming Netflix comedy film “Eurovision.” Will Ferrell, who co-wrote the film with Andrew Steele, announced the news Tuesday with an Instagram post, in which he wished Lovato a happy birthday with a “homemade” cake. Following the announcement, Lovato can be seen blowing out candles on the cake next to a “Eurovision” [...]

  • Queen and Adam Lambert Live

    How the Queen + Adam Lambert Tour Brought the Opera to Arenas

    Just as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the biopic of late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, wowed moviegoers last year, stage design firm Stufish Entertainment Architects has helped Queen + Adam Lambert’s current U.S. tour deliver a screen spectacular of its own. The tour, which plays New Orleans on Aug. 20 and Atlanta on Aug. 22, touched down at [...]

  • Mass Appeal and Universal Launch Hip-Hop

    Nas, Mass Appeal and Universal Music Launch Hip-Hop Label in India, Sign Divine

    Mass Appeal and Universal Music Group today announced the launch of Mass Appeal India – a new label dedicated to amplifying India’s burgeoning hip-hop culture on a global scale. The new label’s operations will be based Universal Music India’s headquarters in Mumbai and will function as a multi-channel partnership between the two companies. According to the announcement, Mass Appeal India will sign and [...]

  • Trey Anastasio of Phish performs at

    Phish Concert Camp Out Canceled Due to Plague-Infected Prairie Dogs

    The plague, or Black Death, decimated the European population in medieval times and has returned to ruin Phish concert-goers’ camping plans. The band announced Tuesday that camping and vending will be canceled for their Labor Day weekend performance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce, Colo. due to concerns of plague-infected colonies of prairie dogs. [...]

  • Songs for Screens Powered by Mac

    Songs for Screens: 'American Horror Story' Makes 'Suddenly Last Summer' Sizzle Again

    FX Network’s “American Horror Story” returns for a ninth season next month, and promos for the next chapter of the anticipated series, dubbed ‘AHS 1984,’ have been airing frequently across cable television throughout August. In the short yet effective spot (see below), the Motels’ melancholic, moody “Suddenly Last Summer” plays as aerial footage of an [...]

  • Edge, left, Adam Clayton, and Bono

    New York’s PlayStation Theater to Close (EXCLUSIVE)

    New York’s PlayStation Theater, a 2,100-capacity venue located in Times Square and operated by Bowery Presents, will close at the end of 2019, a source close to the situation tells Variety. The venue will close with a New Year’s series of shows from the Disco Biscuits. The theater, which is located two stories beneath the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content