While songwriting may not be the world’s oldest profession, it could well be the most misunderstood. Many business owners who play music in their establishments are introduced to the songwriting profession when they receive their first letter or phone call from one of America’s performing rights organizations, such as BMI.
Most people never give a thought to how songwriters earn a living until they operate a business that plays music in public. Sooner or later, these business owners are compelled to search out facts about copyright law. The Better Business Bureau distributes a helpful brochure titled Music In The Marketplace.
Representing approximately 300,000 songwriters and copyright owners, BMI is the primary source of income for composers who supply half the songs and musical works performed in America.
The following are the top ten myths heard by BMI employees when discussing music licensing with business owners:
Myth #1:“I bought my CDs in a retail store, and I can play them anywhere I want.”
Fact: Buying a CD doesn’t convey the legal right to play it in a business or public place. You must get permission from songwriters or their performing rights organization to play music in a business.
Myth #2: “Songwriters already are paid by the record companies, so it’s not my responsibility.”
Fact: A songwriter receives only about four cents from a record company for each included song when you purchase a CD. Most professional songwriters receive the majority of their income from royalties earned when businesses play music in public.
Myth #3: “Most songwriters are already earning big bucks with concert tours and T-shirt sales. These rich stars don’t need my hard-earned money.”
Fact: Most songwriters are unknown to the public. They don’t tour or sell concessions. The average songwriter doesn’t earn a living wage from songwriting royalties.
Myth #4: “My business is too small to pay music licensing fees. I’m exempt from copyright law.”
Fact: Regardless of size, businesses that use recorded or live copyrighted music nearly always need a music license to comply with the law. Some small businesses that play only radio or TV may be exempt for that use. An exemption also may apply to record stores and audio/visual equipment stores.
Myth #5: “My business occasionally uses local bands or musicians. I don’t pay the performers, who work for tips, so I don’t have to pay for a music license.”
Fact: It doesn’t matter whether a business pays the performers or not; the venue where the performance takes place is responsible for a music license.
Myth #6: “My business uses bands playing only original music. We don’t need to license this music.”
Fact: Most business owners have neither the time nor desire to research ownership of all songs prior to a performance. Federal Courts have ruled that a business owner is responsible for all music performed in the establishment, regardless of instructions that may be given to performers about what they should play. Experience proves that many so-called “original” music performances include BMI songs.
Myth #7: “BMI can’t tell me what songs they represent, so why should I believe I’m playing any of their music?”
Fact: Every other song that’s played in America is represented by BMI, so it’s difficult not to play them. Approximately 4.5 million BMI song titles can be viewed in the BMI Repertoire.
Myth #8: “Customers come to my business to buy the food (or clothes, books or widgets). Music is incidental to my business, so I shouldn’t have to pay for it.”
Fact: Numerous studies have found that the right music can improve a dining or shopping experience for customers. Songwriters add ambiance to your business, and are entitled by law to compensation.
Myth #9: “I already pay one performing rights organization for the music I use. I don’t need permission from anybody else.” Fact: "Songwriters choose one of three performing rights organizations to represent them. That organization can license only the music of its affiliated songwriters.
Myth #10: “The companies that collect for music licensing don’t pay the songwriters, so why should I pay them?”
Fact: Founded in 1940, BMI operates as a non-profit company. After deducting administrative fees, BMI pays out 84% of revenue collected to affiliated songwriters and copyright owners.