by FMC Communications Intern Olivia Brown
You’re a touring artist performing in small-capacity clubs. You’re a registered writer with ASCAP, and you want to receive your live performance royalties for playing your songs in concert. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, up until this week, it wouldn’t have been possible unless you met the rather restrictive criteria to be included in ASCAP’s monitoring sample, which determines who gets paid what for live performances.
Prior to the announcement of their new OnStage program earlier this week, ASCAP only monitored “all songs performed in the 200 top-grossing concert tours, as well as selected other major live performance venues, covering headliners and opening acts” and “live symphonic and recital concerts,” according to their website. As a result of this practice, smaller acts found it impossible to seek royalty payments for their live performances unless they were openers on a large, monitored tour.
The ASCAP Plus Awards were also formed to attempt to provide “cash and recognition to writers who create music with a value beyond the scope of performance surveys,” though the panel review process was clearly subjective.
All live venues are required to pay a fee to the performance rights organizations. This fee is supposed to be redistributed, in the form of a live performance royalty, back to the writers and the publishers of the songs that are performed live in the venues. Sometimes, you might be required to cover a portion of the ASCAP fee as part of the overhead expenses for your show. If you were ineligible to receive live performance royalties and you had to pay part of the ASCAP fee in your settlement, you could, effectively, be paying to play your own songs and funding the royalty payouts of higher-grossing acts.
However, with the addition of the OnStage program, live performance royalty distribution will no longer be limited to the select few. OnStage allows all ASCAP writer members to submit their set lists and venue information so that ASCAP, in turn, can include live performance royalties for the writers and publishers of the performed songs as part of their regular quarterly payouts. Artists are eligible to receive royalties for all of the songs that they have officially registered with ASCAP. The system gives performers a more objective, inclusive and streamlined method of documenting their performances so that ASCAP can calculate and pay the royalties that the performers and publishers are owed.
These additions to the royalty distribution process rectify the fact that smaller acts were often invisible within the old, strictly sample-based system, which produced data that was saturated with high-grossing tours and major artists. With these new performance documentation and royalty distribution systems in place, songwriters can be compensated for live performances of their music regardless of venue size or how well they are known. Live performance royalties are no longer just for the biggest touring acts and the smaller acts lucky enough to be invited to open for them.
Practically speaking, what does this mean for working muscians? FMC’s Artist Revenue Streams Project includes a case study of financial data supplied by an indie rock composer-performer. The data shows that, at least for this musician, “general PRO royalties” (which include use of music by nightclubs, restaurants, concert halls, hotels, and live performances of the artist’s compositions, but not radio, television, streaming, or movies) account for the bulk of the 6.2 percent of the musician’s total income that comes from PRO royalties. It is a small percentage but not inconsequential, so hopefully the newly increased accessibility to live performance royalties will give a welcome, if small, boost to smaller-scale touring acts.