Performing Rights

02004-08-02 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

Music: the sounds of work in the office
Mood: moody

On Aug 2, 2004, at 11:57 AM, Eric Nolan wrote:
Let me know if I’m coming out of left field here…  I read an article on about dentists in Canada having to pay SOCAN fees to play music in their offices.

Okay here is where I disagree with the whole enforcement of paying for music.  Music, itself,  has nothing to do with business. It is a celebration of life through sound. I mean really, how much does the actual artist get paid if someone pays $100 a year for music services after everyone gets their cut? Can’t imagine it would be much. No, I think that all artists are like those people you see on the corner with their guitar and an open guitar case. Some people will drop money in, some won’t, but everyone will be able to listen to the sound of music (to coin a phrase). Let people support the artist in whatever way they’re comfortable with. Some may just contribute by clapping, others by giving money. Artists are to be appreciated for their unique view of our world not the dollars and sense that big business attributes to their talents. I’m sure that people can come to their own conclusion of paying money for the artist ! they wish to support, not the artist’s opulent masters. I don’t see anyone paying the city of Santa Monica for the artists that play on their streets…do you?

Yes, you are, Eric… Every public performance means money for the composer and many old musicians depend on that income. A dental office is as much a public place as is a cafe, restaurant or store. If they are using music to make people comfortable, or entertain them, or whatever – they need to pay.

The amount of money they have to pay depends on how many customers they entertain, i.e. the performing right fee for a dentist’s office will be a lot lower than the fee a restaurant or super market would pay. $100 bucks is less than $10/month. If the dentist should feel that that is too much, they can order a subscription service such as the Dish Network, Direct, or Muzak, which are more expensive and which, by the way, include the performing rights money in their fee. Every six months I see some money for my music played by those services.

All of those fees go into a pot and are distributed between all of the members of the performing rights organizations, e.g. BMI or ASCAP.

I bet that the writer for Wired would be very upset if his article was re-published by another magazine without him getting any money, yes?

I am getting tired of so many writers claiming that music should be free when their articles usually are not! Ask a photographer about a photo s/he took of you a few years back and which you paid for (fee plus expenses) and might want to use for a new CD. That photographer will talk about them still owning that photo and you only licensing the image.

Let me give you an example. When a photographer took pictures of me for the “Little Wing” CD, s/he was paid by Epic for the rights to use those images on CDs, posters etc., and when I decided to use one of the images for T-shirts, I had to pay a new fee to the photographer for the right to use that photo. Do you understand now? Images, words and music have all moved away from ownership and into licensing. Even a painter, who sold you his painting has the right to get paid again if you should use that image for advertising, for example. After all you bought the painting and not the right to do whatever you want with the image. There are web sites for art, where you can search through photos of paintings and then license the image for an advertising campaign, or your new CD – without buying the painting.

Now, I personally gave CDs to my dentist and told him I would not mind him playing those CDs without notifying the performing rights organizations, but that is not the point.

How would you suggest we differentiate between the public performance of a piece of music in a dental office, or in a restaurant, or on the radio, or on TV, or in a movie theater?

Do you want musicians to go back to the good old times: living on hand-outs, or having to find a rich benefactor? Surely not!

Maybe you are proposing a world in which everyone works for tips. I should suggest that to my dentist. He should put up a tip jar and “Some people will drop money in, some won’t, but everyone will be able to get dental care. Let people support the dentist in whatever way they’re comfortable with.” Yeah, sure!!! If he gets paid, I want to get paid as well.


  1. Danny

    Good response, Ottmar. The more musicians there are who are actually getting paid as professionals like other skilled/talented workers, the more music there will be to be enjoyed. Clapping and appreciation for “their unique view of the world” ? The only music that would generate would be some serious blues.

  2. Eno

    This is in response to Danny’s comment. I do agree with you that musicians should be treated as professionals. The origin of my comment grew from curiousity that if some dentist office in Canada is playing Ottmar’s music, does OL actually see that money or does that type of survellience simply harrass people. OL did inform me that the money does add up and especially for people who have been in the biz a long time. I heard somewhere that Carlos Santana took in something to the tune of $20,000 for only SIX months!!! Not a bad chunk to earn. And as far as clapping or giving money; that’s really what people do now-a-days anyway, right? People can download and stream free music all day and not pay a dime where others want to go out and support the artist. I didn’t mean to offend professional musicians. I respect and am glad that you can earn a living doing what you love! And that there are companies out there to protect an artists work and get them paid. :)


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