You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Who Is Shane McAnally and Why Is He So Mad at ASCAP?

Earlier this week an uproar arose from the normally placid realm of performing-rights organizations — i.e. ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and Global Music Rights, which in the U.S. collect and distribute money earned by songwriters and publishers for the public performance of their works on the radio, in restaurants and venues, etc. Hit country songwriter and two-time Grammy winner Shane McAnally, who has written and/or produced hits for Kenny Chesney, Sam Hunt, Kacey Musgraves, Reba McEntire, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, Thomas Rhett, Miranda Lambert and many others, is taking ASCAP into arbitration for more than $1 million he claims the organization owes him.

The money in question is an “Audio Feature Premium” payment — essentially a bonus — that PROs pay for their highest-earning songs each quarter. McAnally resigned from ASCAP in 2013 and officially left it for GMR — which was founded that year by veteran artist manager Irving Azoff; its CEO/partner is former ASCAP EVP Randy Grimmett — on Jan. 1, 2015, taking his catalog with him, although ASCAP’s radio license for his catalog continued for two and a half years after his departure.

PROs use such payments as an incentive to keep their high-performing writers with the organization. ASCAP has a “phase-out” program for resigning members whereby their royalties and premium payments decline by 25 percent per quarter for a year after the member leaves.

The matter went before an ASCAP review board, a group elected by the organization’s membership and including writers/composers John Bettis, James DiPasquale and Arthur Hamilton, publishers Helene Blue, Stephen Culbertson, Bob Doyle and Keith Mardak. They reviewed 65 elements of evidence and eight hours of live testimony and ruled in ASCAP’s favor. McAnally is now taking the matter to an independent arbitration panel. (Disclosure: This writer was a full-time employee at ASCAP from 1996 until 2000.)

Of course, there’s more to it than that. McAnally and his team maintain that ASCAP’s rules governing AFPs were changed after — and in part because of — his and several other unspecified writers’ departures from the organization in an effort to deprive money from former members. Specifically, they point to a procedure that sees AFPs gained from radio, streaming and satellite radio pulled from a money pool accrued not from those sources but from non-surveyed general licensees such as restaurants, bars, etc. (a decision that was made by ASCAP’s board in 1994).

In an aggressively worded press release issued Wednesday morning, McAnally claims that ASCAP made an “arbitrary decision to change their distribution methodology” after his departure and accuses it of “discriminatory and retaliatory behavior.” He also said the organization “retaliate[ed] with an inexplicable delay in rendering statements to him – withholding accountings and payments for over nine months.”

In a 27-page decision, ASCAP’s review board found the organization’s handling of his payments to be above board and found “no evidence that ASCAP orchestrated a ‘windfall’ for its own gain,” noting that McAnally’s “resigning member distributions were appropriately calculated.” (For his part, McAnally called the review board a “self-serving forum that has ruled against writers in favor of ASCAP 40 out of 42 times since 1960”; ASCAP countered that it is a member-owned and –governed organization and the board is elected by its membership.)

ASCAP — which like BMI is a not-for-profit organization; SESAC and GMR are for-profit — says it did not change any of the rules in question and that they have been in effect since 1994, pointing to pages 7-9 of its Survey and Distribution System and that McAnally and his representatives may not have completely understood the organization’s rules before his departure. It also says that McAnally informed the organization of his decision to leave after it was final (the ruling indicates some differences of recollection from the two sides about what was discussed during a meeting about McAnally’s departure). The ruling also says that neither McAnally nor his representatives “inquired about what effect his resignation would have on his distribution” after he left.

A rep for McAnally counters that not all of the rules governing AFPs are spelled out in the ASCAP membership agreement and that he should not be penalized for failing to ask details about rules he wasn’t aware of before his departure. ASCAP executives concede in the review board’s decision that not all of the details about such rules are published: “Funding decisions, as well as other aspects of the rules’ implementation, are not published for competitive reasons because they are proprietary,” the report reads. In it, ASCAP COO Brian Roberts added, “Principally, it deals with the highly competitive nature of the market that ASCAP operates within… ASCAP has principal main competitors, and oftentimes, as people have testified, writers are trying to move. So that’s an element of our distribution that is proprietary in nature.” As for how such matters are normally resolved, ASCAP chief economist Peter Boyle said, according to the ruling, “in my experience, when you had a question about where things are being funded from, you picked up the phone and you called ASCAP to make sure you understood.”

In the ruling, Michael Baum, president of McAnally’s publishing company SmackSongs, is quoted as testifying that it was “‘reasonable for ASCAP to assume that Mr. McAnally’s representatives [had] done their due diligence’ to understand the rules and to ask questions if necessary.” The ruling adds, “Before resigning, Mr. Baum did not ask ASCAP about the effect of the applicable distribution rules on Mr. McAnally’s post-resignation distributions because he thought the rules were clear and that he understood them.”

In the ruling, the review board also said that “The Board lacks jurisdiction to hear claims that ASCAP’s rules and regulations are unreasonable, improper, or unlawful, or that notice of changes in the rules and regulations was improper, insufficient, or unlawful.” An ASCAP rep noted to Variety that such larger issues are for the organization’s board of directors to decide upon and that review boards are assembled for specific matters.

McAnally’s attorney Jason Turner tells Variety, “This is about Shane but he’s looking out for every songwriter who may be with ASCAP. He’s in a fortunate position because he has the means to fight this self-serving and baseless decision.”

In a statement, ASCAP president Paul Williams said in part, “ASCAP is of, by and for creators, and as creators, our member-elected board cares deeply for all of our songwriters and we act for the greatest good of all concerned. Shane was paid all of the money he was owed after he left ASCAP and went to GMR according to rules that are available to any member. He had the opportunity to make his case in front of the independent Board of Review, which is made of his songwriter and publisher peers that are elected by our membership. He will again have the chance to make his case through outside arbitration. I hate to see any songwriter disappointed, but in this case, Shane has been treated and compensated fairly. It would be unethical and unfair to all ASCAP members to disregard our good faith rules for the benefit of one songwriter, when they were meant to protect all.”

For greater detail on these matters, see the ASCAP Board of Review’s decision and ASCAP’s governing documents.)

The arbitration hearing is expected to convene in the coming weeks.

More Music

  • BMI’s Charlie Feldman Retiring After 31

    BMI’s Charlie Feldman Retiring After 31 Years With Company

    Charlie Feldman, BMI’s Vice President of Creative in New York, announced today that he will retire from the company at the end of the year. A 31-year veteran of BMI, Feldman will continue to consult for the company in the new year, according to the announcement. Mike O’Neill, President and CEO of BMI, said, “I [...]

  • Luke Combs 53rd Annual CMA Awards,

    Luke Combs Tops Rolling Stone Albums Chart, as Lil Baby Leads Songs

    Fresh from winning male vocalist of the year at the CMA Awards, country star Luke Combs has taken his place on top of Rolling Stone’s weekly albums chart with “What You See is What You Get.” The sophomore album from the man who currently counts as country’s hottest star entered at No. 1 with 162,600 [...]

  • The Cranberries - Dolores O'RiordanThe Cranberries

    The Cranberries' Receive First Grammy Nom Two Years After Dolores O'Riordan's Death

    The Cranberries’ poignantly titled “In The End” received a Grammy nomination for best rock album. It’s the Irish group’s first ever recognition by the Recording Academy and comes nearly two years after the death of lead singer Dolores O’Riordan in January 2018. The band’s surviving members, Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan and Fergal Lawler, initially had [...]

  • Cardi B

    Pepsi Enlists Cardi B for Its Own Version of Holiday Gift Giving

    Pepsi is known for its Super Bowl half time show and celebrity-laden commercials. Now it wants to burnish a reputation for holiday cheer. The soda-maker will help consumers give cash gifts to friend and family members through a digital scratch-off game that can be sparked via QR codes found across 12 packs of Pepsi, Diet [...]

  • John Williams poses on the red

    'Star Wars' Composer John Williams Nabs 71st Grammy Nom 58 Years After His First

    Composer John Williams received two Grammy nominations, as announced yesterday, bringing his grand total to 71 nominations, with 24 wins to date. Williams was nominated in the composing and arranging field. His “Galaxy’s Edge Symphonic Suite,” written for the new “Star Wars”-themed park at Disneyland, was nominated for best instrumental composition, while his arrangement of [...]

  • Coldplay

    Coldplay Puts Touring on Hold, Citing Environmental Concerns

    Coldplay frontman Chris Martin has said the band will not go on tour, including to support their new album, for environmental reasons. Martin told the BBC that the group is taking time off from the road to figure out how to make touring sustainable. The band’s new record, “Everyday Life,” comes out Friday. “We’re not [...]

  • Sonos Q4 Results: Revenue, Losses Grow,

    Sonos Acquires Voice Assistant Startup Snips for $37.5 Million

    Smart speaker maker Sonos is getting ready to take a more active role in voice control: Sonos announced the acquisition of Paris- and Tokyo-based voice assistant startup Snips Wednesday. Snips had been developing a platform to launch dedicated voice assistants for smart speakers and other devices. Sonos spent $37.5 million in cash on the startup, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content