ASCAP recently announced the launch of ASCAP OnStage, a new programme that will pay songwriters and publishers for live performances of almost any size—from open mics to the Barclays Center and everywhere in between. With the launch of OnStage, ASCAP joins the two other US performing rights organisations (PROs) – BMI and SESAC – in distributing live performance royalties for songwriter/artists at all levels.
This move also puts all US songwriters on equal footing with their counterparts in the UK, where the PRS for Music has been running a similar programme for years.
At a time when royalties from digital services are still in their infancy, the importance of live performance programmes for emerging songwriter/artists cannot be overstated.
At Songtrust, we are already seeing live performance revenue becoming an important category at the indie level, which is helped in no small part by the hectic gig schedules of our clients. With this important first step taken by the PROs, the question we ask is: how can the process ultimately be improved?
All three societies have a similar protocol for monitoring these live performances: in each case, members must log show details (date, venue location and songs performed) through an online portal. This process, although straightforward, is ultimately manual and time consuming. Further, with the exception of SESAC, the PROs limit this data entry function to songwriter members only, while distributing the royalties to both the writers and the publishers.
Similar to the way in which music publishers are able to manage all publishing administration tasks for their songwriter clients (e.g. the filing of cue sheets for film and TV uses), any live performance programme could be enhanced tremendously if publishers could handle this administrative task for their clients. Having the publisher in charge of this critical task allows the songwriter/artist to focus aspects related to the performance itself – and not the administrative function of logging shows.
There is also an opportunity for PROs to work closely with technology partners to better track live performances. For instance, an integration with concert aggregation startup Songkick could improve the level of reporting from live performance. The UK-based company recently released Songkick Tourbox, which gives artists a one-stop for updating their tour dates around the web.
With the ability to also send dates to ASCAP, BMI or SESAC accounts, songwriters and publishers could have live performance logs pre-populated in their member dashboards. Not only is this time-saving for all involved, but this effort would likely increase the opt-in rates for these programmes while providing for more reliable data.
Future opportunities aside, the announcement of ASCAP OnStage and the continued growth of live programmes from BMI and SESAC is great news for songwriter/artists at all levels.