ASCAP vs. BMI
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.)
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).