There’s really no secret to it: scores of artists in the music world love to create music, have an even greater love for performing on stage, and want more and more ears to hear their music. They love to create songs and sounds that will resonate with potential fans and believers. And they have the potential to be creators, innovators, and trailblazers when it comes to making and performing this music. But when it comes to the ideals of protecting music copyrights and keeping a watchful eye on the monitoring, monetization of and compensation for public performances, things might not be quite as sexy, dramatic or fun. Still, these ideals are no less important than that of the actual creation and performance of this music, and are arguably more so. The importance of protecting works of intellectual properly and getting properly compensated for public performances cannot be stressed enough. This is where performance rights like the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, or ASCAP, comes into the fray. Sosoactive.com was lucky enough to recently sit and talk candidly with current ASCAP Repertory Analyst, seasoned music management professional and Full Sail University graduate Keith Harrison. Harrison gave a timely and informative presentation to Music Business students at Full Sail in Orlando. He was also gracious enough to speak with us on the importance of issues such as performance rights, publishing, copyright protection, artists being part of performance rights organizations, how to be properly compensated for public performances of your music, and how to stay educated and informed in the constantly evolving world of music business.
Please give an overview of just what ASCAP does for artists for those that are not familiar.
ASCAP is one of the three performance rights organizations in the U.S. along with BMI (Broadcast Music, Incorporated) and SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers). What we do is collect royalties for songwriters and publishers and distribute these royalties to them every three months. We also help to license their work to film, TV, radio, and anywhere a song can be broadcast. They would make their money through the songs being in film, TV, radio, arenas, bars, restaurants, and clubs. And there is an extensive list that can be found at ASCAP.com.
What are some of the most pressing issues facing artists in terms of collecting publishing and performance rights?
That’s easy: paperwork! Both paperwork and knowledge. And maybe knowledge should even come first. Just knowing what to do. If you don’t have that person on your team, that’s a person you need to find. Someone that knows about the music business. I’ve seen some of the biggest artists in the world not collect money just because they didn’t have the right people on their team, helping them copyright their work and register their work. I’ve come in contact with songwriters that have a hit song on the radio, but they haven’t registered it. I recommend always having access to paperwork. Whether it’s carrying the actual physical form with you or having it available via Dropbox or some other format: always have paperwork with you. And know how to copyright your music. You want to protect your property and you want to get paid for your property.
What is your official title at ASCAP and what is your role at the organization?
I’m actually a Repertory Analyst, but I do a lot of general work as well. One day I could be handling a contract dispute between two parties, or I could get a call from NBC saying that they would like to license the song “Happy” by Pharrell, and I’ll put them in the right direction to do that. I’m also a member of our copyright committee where myself and four other people will help to do the main job that I do. I also work with our legal team. This is all to help us help the members of ASCAP know what they are getting into. One benefit of ASCAP is to give people knowledge through workshops, the expo we just had in L.A., and by having them just call us.
How did you come to start working for ASCAP?
I had already been in New York City after graduating from Full Sail University. I actually knew by networking a friend that was already working at ASCAP by the name of William Morris. Basically he told me about an opportunity that was there. I emailed my resume and the rest is really history. I didn’t even apply. I just sent my resume and had a couple of interviews because of who I knew. You never know who is going to end up where in this industry, so you always have to open up, don’t feel shy or like you’re bothering anybody. Because the only thing people can really say is “no”.
How important is it for new artists to be part of a performing rights organization such as ASCAP?
It’s very important. It’s a revenue stream that will probably outlive and outlast your career. You always want people to have longevity, but we’ve been paying songwriters and publishers for the last 100 years. You can look at an artist like Sir Mix-A-Lot. “Baby Got Back” is still used in commercials and films, and he’s still collecting those royalty checks every three months. The Hip Hop community may look at him and say he’s irrelevant, but the business that I’m in says that he’s very relevant. And another great artist to study regardless of genre is Tech N9ne. He is a great blueprint for the next generation of artists.
It was reported in 2012 that ASCAP distributed $828.7 million in royalties for its members. Can you speak briefly on this process and its importance to ASCAP members?
Sure. Once the song starts getting hot, the first thing that happens is that it goes into something that we call a survey. That survey is like a spider web in that it links the songs to what are called cue sheets. By federal law, broadcasters must send us cue sheets of whenever the specific song is performed on radio, film or TV. There is a calculation done based on how many spins, how many times it was played as far as film, and so on. The main thing is to get that song bubbling and hot, to be honest. And there are people making great livings that are independent artists, and we pay them very well.
Can you talk more about copyright, how it relates to ASCAP and why it is so important to artists?
You don’t necessarily have to have a song copy written to register it with ASCAP, but we highly recommend it to protect your rights, because it’s your property. You never want to end up in a situation where you created thing song, but you haven’t copy written it and someone uses it for film or even records it. There are other rights called mechanical rights. And now you have to prove that someone infringed on your rights. Just make sure you spend the $35 that you need to for copyrighting the songs so that you don’t have to spend a lot more on attorney fees.
In your experience working for ASCAP, what are some of the most important things that new artists need to look out for and be especially wary of in terms of performance rights?
I would make sure that you follow up and check your catalog every now and then. You may have a large catalog, but maybe there are only a few songs in that catalog that are your bread and butter, but you don’t have those songs registered. And any artist can do that online any time of day. Once that is done, artist should contact us and even submit an inquiry online asking us to do research on when and where the song was performed. Artists need to be mindful to do their part in the front end, but we also want them to be at peace and comfortable and let them know we have their back. And most artists learn their lesson. It only takes one time to learn when you lose money.
What is the most common mistake that artists make that you have seen when it comes to not protecting their works of art and not being properly compensated for them?
Newer artists, especially, really need to watch out for people who name drop. I’ve had a few instances where an artist calls and says that a certain big artist wants to use their song. And that’s fine. But they have to go through the proper channels to do that. An artist should not be calling us to get their song with another artist or entity. That’s the publishers’ job: to export your music. Whether you’re self-published or in a publishing agreement. So, when I have a songwriter calling me with that, it makes me sad sometimes because I immediately know they are getting taken advantage of. And someone has probably name-dropped. I’d say that’s the one that’s probably the most severe. You should never pay to get your song licensed. People pay to use your work, not the other way around.
What can new artists do to educate themselves on the importance of ASCAP and all that it does for artists?
They should have what I call the “music bible”, Donald Passman’s “All You Need To Know About The Music Business”. If L.A. Reid and Clive Davis have that book in their offices, why don’t you? It walks you through everything you need to know. And it’s constantly updated with new editions and new information. If the professionals that have been in the game for a long time have a copy in their offices, you as an artist should too. That’s an artists’ one in the chamber.
Keith Harrison is a Repertory Analyst for ASCAP in New York. He can be reached on social media via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn at “KeithLHarrison”.