06 August 2010

A Real Boomtown

As my barely awake brain shambles towards Hiroshima today...

  • The New York Times Magazine has posted a long — probably too long, as there's quite a bit of repetition and fluff in it — article on BMI's system for extracting licensing fees from recorded music venues like bars, restaurants, strip clubs, etc. It's not a bad article, but it does completely ignore the elephant in the room: The black box that is used to allocate the billion dollars coming in to BMI annually to the individual songwriters and/or recording artists. Instead, the article merely notes that "The songs and compositions written by BMI signatories number some seven million tunes — about half the music in America — and bring in close to a billion dollars per year, which is distributed to its artists in quarterly royalty checks" — and that's it.

    The real problem is that the sliding-scale for artist fees actually creates a conflict of interest for BMI, in favor of paying larger proportions of the incoming revenue to "bigger" artists... and BMI (and ASCAP, it's "competitor" — but that's for another time) uses methods more appropriate to the 1960s in determining allocations. And by "more appropriate to the 1960s," I mean both in terms of methodology and preferences... and law, particularly given that BMI is in the (dysfunctional) Sixth Circuit.

    Here's an example of the problem: Consider Bob's Country Bunker, which pays a hypothetical $800 PRO license fee to both ASCAP and BMI. In the space of one week, The Blues Brothers and The Good Old Boys both have shows there. Although both bands play an exactly equal mix of ASCAP and BMI music — and each plays two pieces from songwriters who are with neither PRO — the allocation of fees for those shows would be identical... and probably not one dime would reach several of the songwriters, particularly for works that have been in the respective PRO catalogs for less than three years or so and/or get no radio airplay. For that is one of several dirty little secrets: Radio playlists and sampling (with a considerable delay, too) still dominate the allocation formula, whereas many clubs and restaurants that do something other than "just tune to a radio station" make an effort to choose thematically consistent pieces that do not get much (if any) airplay, and particularly material from local bands. In publishing terms, it's as if a publisher formally used a formula based on the New York Times bestseller list to determine how to allocate royalties to authors... and the less said about the accuracy and national validity of that piece of garbage the better.

  • Here's something to frighten xenophobic antiimmigration activists (who are pretending that the vast majority of their own ancestors were something other than illegal immigrants... without warrant): They're acting just like the French, including lace ruffles, stinky cologne to cover their collective failure to bathe, and snooty accents.
  • There's a fascinating piece on the Vatican's inept, probably in violation of international law handling of the priest-abuse situation at The Economist, but it does not go nearly far enough. Just like with any other theocratic institution, I would offer the Catholic Church a choice: You are either a religious institution, with all of the attendant First Amendment and cultural rights (and responsibilities and limitations) associated with religious institutions, or you are a foreign power, with all of the attendant diplomatic and cultural rights (and responsibilities and limitations) associated with foreign governments and their officials; you may not be both. Choose now and thereafter act consistently with that choice.

    Of course, I wouldn't limit it to the Catholic Church; I would offer the same choice to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, etc. And the Church of Scientology can choose between for-profit corporation and church, just so it doesn't have to choose something inconsistent with its purported doctrine. My position is that religious institutions must interact with the polity in an internally consistent way; they don't get to play by their own rules when their actions (and omissions) end up as the proper interest of the polity. My actual preference is to do away with any special treatment for organized religion at all, but that argument (at least in the US) was lost over a century and a half before I was born; I accept those rules, but demand that everyone play by them if they're the rules.

  • Sarah Weinman offers a clear, intelligent analysis of the Richard Price rebranding situation, typical of her usual thoughtful work. Contrariwise — and also typical of his work — Taylor Antrim blathers forth on the purported renaissance of the novella without once citing a work outside his preferred publishing category of "literary fiction"... and thereby ignoring the continued health and vitality of the novella in other publishing categories, many of which (such as the one cited at the top of this sausage platter, or any of these three older pieces, of similar subject matter) are considerably and objectively superior to any of the works listed by Antrim.