Performing Rights

Performing Rights

I have been personally affected by BMI and ASCAP at least three times in the past 5 years; the situations were all fairly similar. I had a steady gig at a restaurant or bar and then the owner or manager calls me or whoever was the band-leader at the time and tells us we can’t perform anymore because they were visited by one of the collection agencies and were fined for not having the required licenses or other permits to have live music. This was definitely bad news for us, but good news for the artists that are receiving payments from these agencies.

That was the old-school method of tracking illicit performances. Having scouts still works, but these companies now rely on more advances technologies, such as Broadcast Data Systems (BDS) or MusiCode watermarking technology. Velez was right in predicting the advancement and development of stricter, or more accurate ways of tracking down who is using what music. Others, such as musician/writer Josua Keesan, believed streaming services would be the ultimate solution as far as keeping track of all the plays. “The possibility of a streamlined rights organization would significantly reduce transaction costs for all parties, and would provide, at last, some clarity to a tangled imbroglio of rights-holding that has long out-grown its necessity and usefulness. The specter of double-dipping be exorcised, resulting in a fairer system for all.”[1] He was right as far as the technology being able to count and inventory streams all over the globe, but the end result is definitely not what he expected.

                The biggest pop stars, such as Taylor Swift, make large profits off of streaming services, but all the smaller or less recognized musicians and composers are hardly receiving any money. Spotify pays roughly .006 cents per stream to the rights-owner. That money may be further divided to record-label, performers, etc. One million plays on Spotify would translate to roughly $6,000-7,000 dollars. “When people bought albums and even mp3s, there was a glimmer of hope that a musician could earn a decent income on sales. But now musicians are essentially giving away their music in return for pennies.”[2] I have several albums on Spotify and I know I have gotten several thousands of streams in the past few years and I have received a few cents each quarter. Less popular genres, such as classical and jazz, have definitely suffered from the evolution of the music industry. Classical music purchases, downloads, and streams are significantly low compared to the more popular genres such as Hip-Hop, R&B, and Latin music, as Velez noted.

                Spotify playlists are extremely popular nowadays. Workout music, Coffee-table jazz, and indie vibes are some names of playlists that are listened to by thousands of users on a daily basis. Being on these or other playlists usually means more streams for the particular artist, but some companies have been creating these playlists and using them for marketing their own products without notifying or paying the artists. Companies such as Starbucks and Nike have their official playlists “My friend’s band was completely unaware of its inclusion on the Nike and Starbucks playlists, and the band receives no additional compensation beyond the usual streaming royalties sent to labels and rights-holders.”[3]

                Even though tracking and managing all of these streams and plays got more accurate, royalty payments nowadays don’t come close to what they were 20 years ago. The decline of CD sales, digital album purchases, and radio airplay have all forced artists to settle for music streaming in order to have their music available to some kind of audience, even if it means they won’t profit from it. The CEO’s and biggest names of the industry may be profiting from the way music consumption has evolved, but most artists are now having to think outside the box just to get by and to make a living as musicians.

Keesan, Joshua. “Let It Be? The Challenges of Using Old Definitions for Online Music Practices.” Berkeley Technology Law Journal 23, no. 1 (2008): 353-72.

Pelly, Liz. “The Problem with Muzak: Spotify’s Bid to Remodel an Industry.” The Baffler, no. 37 (2017): 86-95.

Sehgal, Kabir. “Spotify and Apple Music Should Become Record Labels so Musicians Can Make a Fair Living.” CNBC, CNBC, 26 Jan. 2018,

[1] Keesan, Joshua

[2] Sehgal, Kabir

[3] Pelly, Liz

One thought on “Performing Rights

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  1. While I have not been in the business of composition, I find your situation to be quite unfortunate due to its circumstances. When you mention “live music”, does this pertain to actually performing live music at a venue, performing the copyright song, or both? It makes me wonder if it becomes acceptable to perform a copyrighted song if you change up the skeleton structure of the work, say making the song in 3/4 instead and altering a few chord progressions. I wouldn’t doubt that there would still be legal actions against playing said altered copyrighted song though, since it is still based upon the original work. While copyrights do protect the artist, especially in name and payment, those same people are hardly getting a profit in return. It seems as though copyrighting a work will only be useful if you are able to turn a profit by becoming famous or recognized by enough people. The whole situation is a double-edged sword for the composing artist while the performing musicians are limited by the copyrighted music selection.


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