Interview With ASCAP’s Etan Rosenbloom

DDotted Music’s Alex Gilbert got the chance to check in with Etan Rosenbloom, Membership/Marketing Associate & Blog Coordinator at ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers). Definitely an informative read – come learn more about your music industry!

“We Create Music” panel at 2011 ASCAP EXPO (l-r): ASCAP’s Erik Philbrook, Claudia Brant, Mike Elizondo, Fergie, Trevor Rabin, Kevin Rudolf. Photo by PictureGroup.

Alex Gilbert: Etan, to a lot of people, ASCAP comes off as the corporate bad guy like a Wal-Mart or a Guitar Center would. People really forget if they want to get paid for their music when it’s played in public, they’ve got to go to a Performing Rights Organization (PRO) like ASCAP. Care to explain to these people why ASCAP is really the good guy here to help?

Etan Rosenbloom: Sure! ASCAP is a membership association of songwriters, composers and music publishers. Our core role is to license the public performance of our members’ musical works so that they can earn royalties when their songs are played on the radio, on TV, on the internet, etc. Here’s some general info about ASCAP.

ASCAP is most definitely not a “corporate bad guy” – in fact, we are a not-for-profit company! Every dollar that comes into ASCAP goes right back to our members, minus a percentage that we use for our operating cost (it’s among the lowest operating costs of any PRO in the world).

ASCAP’s Board of Directors is entirely composed of ASCAP members, all of which are elected by ASCAP members. So every decision we make is about getting fair compensation to the creators of the music that all of us benefit from on a daily basis. Our members rely on their ASCAP royalties as a valuable source of income. The many thousands of businesses that purchase ASCAP blanket licenses know that they’re doing the right thing, by paying for the music that helps their business. Here’s a list of our Board members.

I guess you could call us “the good guy,” but really we’re just looking out for the interests of songwriters.

When you drive a car, you need a drivers’ license. When you want to perform your music publicly, you need an ASCAP license. One in the same you could say. Legally, please describe the importance of this.

It’s not quite accurate to say that you need an ASCAP license to perform your music – you certainly don’t have to pay ASCAP for the right to perform your own material! Legally, any entity that performs music in public – and that includes music venues, bars, radio stations, TV stations, satellite radio, internet sites with streaming music, theme parks, etc. – is obligated under copyright law to obtain permission from the writers and publishers of that music to use it publicly. The simplest way of doing that is through a PRO like ASCAP. We offer blanket licenses to music users, so that they don’t have to individually reach out to the writers/publishers of every single song they play. More on how we license.

Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora at the 2008 ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO

There’s plenty of benefits becoming an ASCAP member. What are some common routes of musicians, and what are some unique ways some use to advance their career(s)?

Oh man, there are so many different ways that ASCAP members use their ASCAP membership!

Some members rely on their ASCAP checks for their livelihoods. If you write music but you’re not an artist, you don’t have any artist royalties coming in, so your performance royalties are ever more important.

Other members use ASCAP as a resource and source of advice. Every day I get members calling to ask about publishing deals, managers, how to reach out to music supervisors – everything. We’re really at the nexus of the industry, since we deal with so many different facets of the industry.

ASCAP has tons of different educational and career-development opportunities, ranging from our weekly office hours, to month-long songwriting workshops, to our ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO, a massive three-day conference dedicated to the art and business of songwriting that occurs every April in Los Angeles. The positive feedback we get on the EXPO is pretty staggering. You can find out more here.

We also run showcases for ASCAP acts at major industry events throughout the country. We run stages at SXSW, CMJ and Sundance, and we sponsor and support plenty of others, from folk festivals to the Warped Tour.

I should add that we’ve got the American PRO world’s only comprehensive Member Benefits program. Our members can get discounts on web tools, software, travel, online education and even health insurance. More details here.

One unique program that ASCAP offers is the annual ASCAP Plus Awards. Any writer member that makes under $25,000 per year with us can apply and tell us about the activity they’ve had in areas outside our normal broadcast media surveys (e.g. live venues). An independent panel of distinguished music experts then evaluates all the applications, and awards applicants with a non-recoupable cash award. As in, ASCAP Plus Awards winners don’t have to pay the money back. The deadline is June 1st every year. More here.

Metallica at the 2004 ASCAP Pop Music Awards. They were honored with the inaugural Creative Voice Award. Photo courtesy of Wireimage.

What advice would you give some of the youngens out there looking to get into the world of copyrights, licenses, royalties, etc.?

It’s the wild, wild west out there in terms of how music is used and distributed. You don’t necessarily need a label or a publishing deal to be successful. But that’s all the more reason to educate yourself as much as possible! Stay abreast of all the changes afoot on the industry side; one good way is by subscribing to The Daily Brief, a daily digest of music industry news and commentary, curated by ASCAP Board member Dean Kay. Subscribe here.

You should be aware of all your rights as a music creator, and also understand all the different royalty streams available to you. Of course become an ASCAP member if you aren’t already, but also get to know what organizations like Harry Fox and SoundExchange can do for you.

Any ASCAP advancements you’d like to share with us that you’ve got in the pipeline?

We introduced Member Access in late ’09, which allows our members to see all their royalty statements, see their entire catalog, look at any cue sheets they have on file and make up-to-the-minute updates to their accounts. And as of last year, you can access all of the above via your iPhone by using our ASCAP Mobile app.

This is the first year that we’ve offered online video access to all the footage from this year’s EXPO – about 60 hours’ worth of content. More info here.

I can’t share all the other cool advancements we’ve got lined up, but I’ll put it this way: ASCAP’s continuing its mission to help its members and ensure that they’re compensated fairly. This happens on a variety of fronts, some technological, some legal, some legislative. We were the first PRO to issue an internet license, and we’re constantly licensing new internet sites that use music. All in the name of protecting the livelihoods of our members, no matter how the music industry landscape changes.