This article was first published in the February 15th issue of Billboard. Since that time, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has named February 13th, 2014 “ASCAP Day.” As well, the organization has put together a playlist of its top songs since its foundation 100 years ago, which you can find at the bottom of this article. Happy birthday!
In an era in which the music business has seen unprecedented change and disruption, some things remain constant. The creativity of songwriters and composers lies at the heart of the music business. And the ability of creators and their publishers to get paid for their work is the financial foundation upon which the music industry has been built.
Performance rights organizations assure that copyright holders are paid fairly when their music is performed publicly, over the airwaves, live or — increasingly now — online.
And among the world’s PROs, ASCAP is the largest and one of the oldest. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers was founded 100 years ago on Feb. 13, 1914, in New York.
“One of the remarkable things about ASCAP, we’ve been able to thrive for 100 years,” says CEO John LoFrumento, who works with ASCAP chairman/president Paul Williams and ASCAP’s board of directors, which comprises songwriters, composers and publishers. “We’ve had many challenges. We’ve been excited by the challenges. We’ve been threatened by the challenges. We’ve overcome the challenges. We’ve survived 100 years and we’re still here. We have a flexible business model. We’re really in the business of providing support to songwriters, composers and publishers.”
ASCAP’s 2013 Revenues, Distributions Rise In 2013
As it celebrates its centennial this year, ASCAP is continuously adapting to the ever-evolving business of music, working to ensure its members are fairly compensated in the age of the Internet, streaming audio and other emerging technologies. Most notably, it is currently challenging the efforts of streaming service Pandora to pay lower royalty rates for the use of music composed by its members. ASCAP also believes it is time to revise the terms under which it licenses music. Those terms were established by a consent decree reached in 1941 with the Department of Justice.
And, as ASCAP meets those new challenges, its revenue and distributions to members continue to increase.
Although the official numbers for its 2013 financial report have yet to be released, preliminary estimates have ASCAP distributing $851.2 million to its members — up from $827 million in 2012 and breaking the $800 million mark for the sixth consecutive year — while collecting $944.4 million, up from $941 million in 2012.
ASCAP tracks some 250 billion performances annually for its nearly 500,000 members (up 17% since 2012) and has distributed $5 billion in royalties during the past six years.
The financial success comes as ASCAP songwriters continue to gain recognition. Its members were represented by every nomination for this year’s Grammy Awards in the album and song of the year categories. And for his collaboration with French duo Daft Punk on “Random Access Memories,” Paul Williams shared the Grammy for album of the year.
“On one hand we’re celebrating our 100th-year anniversary and it’s been 100 years of vast success,” ASCAP executive VP/general counsel Beth Matthews says. “But ASCAP is really at an inflection point, and we are embracing the need to regularly innovate and reinvent ourselves.”
As executive VP, membership John Titta puts it, despite ASCAP’s long, rich history, it is “a vital and important place.”
Matthews and Titta are relatively new to ASCAP. Both made the transition after doing business with the PRO. Matthews worked at Viacom Media Networks before joining ASCAP in January 2013, while Titta founded MPCA Music Publishing in 2006 and previously worked for several publishers, including Warner/Chappell Music, prior to joining ASCAP in October 2013. So both have a unique perspective on the PRO’s mission and reach.
Working with ASCAP from the other side of the fence, Matthews found the organization “uniquely positioned. It’s an incredibly effective collective licensing model from a licensee’s perspective, in the sense that you don’t have to clear rights with thousands of different entities. It’s sort of convenient one-stop shopping.”
Titta adds, “I’ve been a publisher my whole adult life, so my relationship with ASCAP had been from afar, but I was keenly aware of the services that ASCAP had offered songwriters at every level, because I would always point my songwriters in the ASCAP direction.”
Using the latest technology to track broadcast airplay on radio, TV, cable and the Internet, as well as performances and in-store play in restaurants and bars, ASCAP has a reputation for pursuing the proper payment for its songwriters, composers and publishers. Through the years, it has evolved with the industry and kept pace with the latest technology that makes music easier than ever for consumers to hear but more of a challenge for PROs to track.
Yet ASCAP executives also point out that it has a unique identity that sets it apart from the other PROs. It’s the only one run by songwriters, composers and publishers for songwriters, composers and publishers.
“The most important member service that we give on the top level is that we give comfort and peace of mind that our distributions are fair and transparent,” LoFrumento says. “But also, the human face we put on our relationships with our members is very important to them.”
To that end, ASCAP offers career development programs across the country, as well as workshops for its members at every stage of their career, ranging from songwriting camps to film and TV scoring workshops.
LoFrumento calls ASCAP’s annual “I Create Music” Expo “the gem in our crown of music development.” The Expo, now in its ninth year, is set for April 24-26 at the Loews Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles. “To see those young people and songwriters of every age and stripe going from one opportunity to another, to learn, to network, is wonderful,” he adds. “It’s like being in college.”
ASCAP also honors its songwriters and composers annually at eight different award ceremonies, ranging from its Pop Music and Film & TV Music Awards to its genre-specific Latin, Country, Rhythm & Soul and Christian Music Awards.
The ASCAP Foundation, meanwhile, is dedicated to nurturing the talent of tomorrow, preserving the legacy of the past and sustaining the creative incentive for today’s creators through its activities.
As executive VP, licensing, Vincent Candilora notes, much of what ASCAP does goes beyond just dollars and cents.
“Forget about the commercial aspect of music and think about the fact that the songwriters also make a tremendous contribution to us as a society and to individuals,” he says. “It helps us manage our emotions perhaps a little better, understand our feelings a little better, at times raise our social consciousness a little more through the songs we hear. Sometimes that gets lost when we think about the value of music.”
Titta concurs, noting that the fact that ASCAP is run by songwriters, composers and publishers makes it easy for executives to pitch their services to members of the music community both young and old.
“It’s run by people like them,” he says, then paraphrases a song from ASCAP songwriter Elvis Costello: All those who join ASCAP, he says, “can see that our aim is true.”