June 25, 2011


My BMI statement for this quarter reported broadcast/publishing royalties in a category I'd never seen before: AIRCRAFT. Evidently (or not, because it certainly could be a reporting glitch) the song "She's Not a Flower" from Yesterday Rules was "performed" or made use of some thirty-six times in some capacity on Airtrain, Continental, ExpressJet, Frontier, and Jetblue. The going rate for this kind of play works out to be a bit under a cent apiece. But it's thirty cents I didn't have before, and it's theoretically better than a kick in the teeth, so I'm not complaining.

I don't know if this is a new category, or if I've just never noticed it before, or if I've just never turned up on it before. Much as I enjoy the idea of defenseless travelers being subjected to that song against their will, I guess it's more likely to be the result of the song shuffling on some kind of "alternative" channel on the music you can listen to on headphones during a flight.

Anyway it made me laugh a little, but it also made me think about how much BMI statements (and presumably the underlying finances of broadcast music publishing they ultimately reflect) have changed in recent years. Once upon a time, a multi-page statement that arrived in a big manila envelope rather than a small folded-over one would spark a sense of excitement, relief, and anticipation, as it meant that there had been a lot of activity that quarter and the check was likely to be larger than usual. It still does mean that, with regard to the activity, but in keeping with the general trend of this digital age, it is largely micro-payments, barely perceptible individually and with modest totals, and the checks, relative to the number of items listed anyway, have shrunk. You'll have pages and pages of logged "performances" from "background music services" or "aircraft" or "internet," a meticulous record of how much you're being paid for how many uses of each song. These rates are mindbogglingly infinitesimal. Example: this statement logs 285 full-feature generic "internet" uses of "Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend" in the quarter, for a total of $0.05.

Even compensation for use by traditional media seems to have been greatly undercut and devalued, again in keeping with the general cross-cultural trend. It used to be that turning up in a commercial radio log could mean a significant amount of money, because the logs were extrapolated and proportionally distributed. I'm sure it reflects greater accuracy in reporting and logging, which is all to the good of course, but judging from this statement, turning up on a commercial radio log isn't quite as much like winning the lottery as it used to be, or rather, it's like winning a lottery with a tiny jackpot ($1.27 in this case.) The main value of it is in getting a kick out of the notion that, theoretically, somewhere, commercial radio listeners got subjected to "Now that You are Gone." I'll take it, and the $1.27, but some part of me is left wishing, not just for my own sake but for that of all writers and for the sake of music in general, that songs were worth maybe just a little bit more in this vast media market. But, they're not.

Posted by Dr. Frank at June 25, 2011 09:34 PM | TrackBack

This is the sad state of copyright today. I'm in the midst of doing a book on the history of ASCAP and the same hundred year battle they've been fighting is still going on, with the folks who just don't want to pay for music. Lately, a new judge is in town, who's ruling in favor of the internet giants and against the songwriters. But I'm hoping ASCAP will prevail in the long run. Me? My best royalty statement was for my song "Rosemaria," written with Paul Evans, which netted me 17 cents when it was played in Holland.

Posted by: Bruce Pollock at June 25, 2011 10:39 PM