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Most touring bands are quick to say it isn’t easy to make money on the road. With rising gas prices and an economy that has regular concertgoers staying at home, every dollar can make a difference to touring musicians. Leading Performance Rights Organization (PRO) BMI has introduced “BMI Live,” a program to try to get some money back into the pockets of those musicians. The program seems pretty simple: BMI members can sign up for the program and log their shows and set lists on the BMI Live website. There’s even an app for that. Depending on the number of shows the artist played and the capacity of the venues, BMI will cut the artist a check for performance royalties.
Beth Laird, director of writer and publisher relations at BMI Nashville, said BMI Live launched last January with musicians in mind.
“I was realizing that there are a lot of people who are touring small venues and they’re not getting paid,” Laird says. “I wanted to find a way to where, if we were collecting money from small venues, it would go back to the songs being performed there.”
In order to feature live music, a venue must typically pay a blanket licensing fee to the PROs. According to the BMI website, this definition includes any published music “played outside a normal circle of friends and family.”
The implications scare some musicians who think logging venues on the program might report struggling venues that haven’t paid for music licenses to BMI. And a lawsuit from a big music company could easily put a small venue out of business. In fact, Arizona’s Tucson Citizen newspaper reported that ASCAP, another PRO, filed a lawsuit for $210,000 against a bar called The Salty Dawg II after contacting the establishment with several warnings over a “significant period of time.”
“It sounds good in theory,” says Danny Olson, guitarist and vocalist for Sage and Stone. “But I haven’t been playing a lot of shows these days and the ones I do play are usually at smaller art-collective type venues, which only independent artists play at, and I fear if I report these shows it could cause unfair implications for these venues.”
When asked if BMI Live is used to seek out non-licensed venues, Laird gives a resounding, “NO.” Laird sees BMI Live as a way to promote understanding between venue owners, musicians and the companies that license their music, and expects it will build respect between venues and BMI.
“We’ve already contacted most of these [non-paying] venues to pay a licensing fee,” Laird says. “But if venues see the money they’re paying is actually going to people performing in their venues, they’ll feel better about paying their money to BMI. A lot of them don’t understand where the money’s going.”
Nick Bailey, a musician who works with BMI through the production team the Blueprint and as guitarist for the band Runner Runner says the BMI Live program is legitimate.
“I’ve definitely received a good royalty from it,” Bailey says. “I encourage any BMI writer who is playing shows or is writing songs for another artists who are playing shows to go ahead and register.”
Whether the program is right for you is all up to personal preference, and the program is really too young to see what it will amount to in the long-term. For now, the promise is an easy-to-use format with a huge name in royalties backing a paycheck. Whether independent artists finally get a cut of the money they deserve remains to be seen.