Thursday, August 03, 2006


One of the most contentious and thoroughly regulated ongoing debates between composers and publishers is whether ASCAP is superior to BMI or BMI is superior to ASCAP. For those of you oblivious internet surfers who never bother to pay composers for downloading their excerpts from, I'll explain: ASCAP and BMI are organizations that advocate for the royalties and rights of their member composers, writers, and publishers. Every time a composer’s work is performed or broadcast, the composer is compensated. Or at least, that’s the idea. My students have yet to receive the royalties for their MySpace performances.

ASCAP was started by the composer John Philip Sousa, whose patriotic music was often hummed in speakeasies during the prohibition era. The mafia had paid Mr. Sousa a reasonable fee every time one of the drunken criminals would blurt out a melody or a lyric from his compositions. Mr. Sousa spent a great deal of time at the speakeasy, humming his own tunes in order to insidiously implant them in the minds of other clientele, so that they would unwittingly hum them, and he would make more money. When alcohol became legal again, Mr. Sousa realized he could start a legitimate organization to pay composers who frequented bars. (However, there are those who insist that ASCAP and BMI are still run by the mafia.)

At any rate, here are some comparisons from an objective point of view (I am a member of my own performing rights organization, THE NEW-MUSIC ARCHIVES.)
ASCAP and BMI each have their own young composers competition. In one respect, BMI is superior because its panelists judge the young composers based solely on the written score. The panelists do not bother with recordings, saving the young composers from inadequate performers spoiling an otherwise pristine piece-in-theory. On the other hand, BMI does not permit the submission of audio recordings of TANDY computer music (music that is far too technically complicated to represent in notated form; indeed, much of it is too complicated for the human ear to comprehend). ASCAP does permit TANDY recordings, but in the many years of its competition, only three electronic-music composers have been granted an award, and usually it was for an anomalous acoustic piece. This lack of recognition for young TANDY composers is due to the fact that computers are really best understood by adult minds. It is much easier for a young composer to write music in the style of Mozart than in the style of a computer.

Neither ASCAP nor BMI compensate their member composers for performances of music associated with dance or theater pieces. Both organizations score highly in that regard, encouraging their members to avoid the poisonous waters of “interdisciplinary collaborations.”

What it ultimately comes down to is the fact that ASCAP’s New York City office is located about one block closer to the Juilliard School, and every time an ASCAP composer-member visits the New York City office, he is given a coupon to see a concert of music by the Juilliard students at half the regular admission price of $65. BMI, on the other hand, offers so-called V.I.P. admission to pass-the-hat “jazz” concerts, which often take place in bars and clubs. I appreciate the fact that BMI attempts to show the jazz world that true composers are worthy of V.I.P. treatment. However, most serious composers simply do not have time for jazz, and they shouldn't be pampered while listening to it. They need to be encouraged to spend their time more wisely and educationally. You see, jazz is a music rife with inconsistencies, and it tends to affect its listeners viscerally rather than intellectually (though there are some exceptions, mostly at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall).
There are many more things to say about ASCAP vs. BMI, but if you can't make up your mind, then join them both!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW! You clearly have no idea what you are talking about. Maybe it would be best if you didn't say anything at all.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a joke, dude. The whole site is. Try to keep up.

2:24 AM  

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