Last year, American Idol winner Phillip Phillips released the song “Gone, Gone, Gone” from his debut album The World from the Side of the Moon. The song went to #1 on the Adult Alternative and Adult Contemporary charts and peaked at #24 on Billboard’s pop song chart, the Hot 100. For Gregg Wattenberg, one of three credited co-writers of “Gone, Gone, Gone,” the song’s chart performance was of particular interest because it translated indirectly into cash.
“U.S.-only hit songs — when I say ‘hit’ I mean like top five, not like No. 20 — can generate anywhere from one to two million dollars in ASCAP monies,” Wattenberg says.
Today marks the 100th anniversary of The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, an organization that keeps track of “performances” of songs by its members and then tries to make certain those members get paid. Alongside its younger competitor, BMI, ASCAP works on behalf of hundreds of thousands of songwriters and music publishers by going into clubs, restaurants and sports arenas and tracking radio playlists, TV broadcasts and even hold music on telephone calls — any public venue that plays live or recorded music — and charging a fee for each song played. The rate changes depending on variables like the size of the venue, the time of day the song is played and the popularity of the song.
That makes sense, says Casey Rae, the interim Executive Director of the Future of Music Coalition, a non-profit that lobbies on behalf of musicians. He says ASCAP has a distinct advantage when it comes to negotiating the hundreds of separate deals with venues, radio, TV, cable and streaming services. “I, for one, think it would be very, very difficult to create an institution to go around to every venue in the United States of American and then establish reciprocal agreements overseas and so on and so forth,” Rae says. “I think that that’s probably alone a case for their continued existence.”