Dan and I have been focusing on things other than music for the past month. “2020’s Original Song a Week Challenge” felt all consuming for both us. We got neglectful of other things we needed to keep up on. So we let the subject of “what next?” rest for the month of January and now we are trying to figure that out. What’s happened to live music? Can we expect it to make a return? What is our part in it? I don’t really know.
When we started playing music professionally, Dan, who was working full time at another job, told me whatever money we made from playing out was mine to do with as I pleased. It pleased me, to save the money, put it back into our music, buy a few things to wear when we played out and finally have some money to support causes and people I wanted to invest in. I even got some pleasure from paying my taxes with it. I know, “weird” but I was thankful to be making money at something I felt so passionate about. I was passionate about the music, connecting with people and helping them connect with one another. Paying taxes was an extension of that connection.
One day, I got a bounced check back from the bank. I called the owner of the restaurant to inform them and I learned they were struggling. They hadn’t yet laid anyone off and didn’t want to have to do that. Since I could, I told them not to worry about the bounced check and to consider the work we had done to be an investment in their well being and that of the community they employ and serve. They did make changes and were able to get things back in working order. We were called back and paid, up front, in cash. A little later the owner told me they were being threatened of being sued by BMI. They had gone through a similar thing with ASCAP and paid them for a music license. They were hoping I could answer questions for them in regards to wether or not they had to pay both. Well, yes, if they have people performing songs at their venue that are registered with both ASCAP and BMI. (There is also SESAC) They were struggling financially and said they could not afford to pay for another licensing agreement but at the same time believed live music was helping to attract and keep customers from choosing another restaurant over theirs. As it was they believed the license they had paid for was unfairly charging them for more customers than they could seat or serve in their small establishment. So I went through our cover music and eliminated any music not under the ASCAP license. I called BMI and got very confusing information. It was unclear to those I spoke with, as to wether or not the restaurant could be sued if we played our own original songs that were registered under a BMI license. In the end, I left my BMI licensed songs in the set list, with fingers crossed but with an understanding that I might find myself in court, trying to defend my rights to my music. I never registered another song after that. Maybe I shot myself in the foot. It wouldn’t be the first time or the last time but it appeared to be a wall between me and those I choose to serve and work with. I have had many people since, put questions, gripes and concerns to me about ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. I understand their struggles and confusion. I have done my best to support those hard working people that create jobs and goods for the communities they serve. If I don’t help them in their endeavors, who will be there to help me in mine? Why do I blog about this now? Well, because I have been scratching my head wondering what is the future of live music and will I be able to participate in it. This is just one of the things I have considered while waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine. Along with hoping our grocers and our restaurant workers are close to the top, on the list, of those to be vaccinated early.