Summer got off to a rocky start this year. My May performance at the 215 Restaurant was cancelled the day of the gig. The explanation was that they had been hit with licensing fees from BMI, ASCAP, et al.

If a bar, restaurant, or coffeeshop features music – either live, prerecorded, or even FM radio – they have to pay a fee to the performing rights organizations: BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC (referred to hereafter as the “PROs”).

The amount charged depends on many factors: seating capacity, cover charge, dancing, etc. You can see how BMI does it here:

A lot of people (venues and musicians alike) perceive the PROs as “bad guys”. But if you’re going to make money off of someone else’s music, you should pay for the privilege. Music has value.

Unfortunately, the PROs think that music has more value than many venues are willing to pay. The result is that many places are foregoing live music altogether rather than pay the licensing fees.

This raises an interesting question: I’ve been a performing musician virtually my whole adult life, but I don’t recall the PROs being this aggressive previously. It appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon, during the last fifteen years or so.

What else happened during the last fifteen years? The digital music format enabled people to download music without paying for it and make exact copies of compact discs. YouTube is pretty much an infinite jukebox. Musicians can make professional sounding recordings on a computer without booking studio time, and distribute their songs worldwide without radio airplay or a record deal.

It seems that the PRO’s (who, no doubt, are in cahoots with the radio stations and record companies) decided to recuperate lost revenue from CD sales by going more aggressively after live music venues.

In this life, only three things are certain: death, taxes, and the perennially disappointing music lineup at Celebrate Erie. Consider this year’s headliners:

1) The Ohio Players – They were cool… about 40 years ago.

2) Dan + Shay – A fairly big name in country music, but we’ve had bigger.

3) Sugar Ray – Two-hit wonder who forfeited any claim to street cred when they appeared in “Scooby Doo”.

What makes Celebrate Erie different this year, however, is an increased commitment to community inclusion. They’re using local vendors whenever possible, and featuring local musicians on four different stages.

Alas, my application to play at Celebrate Erie was not successful. (The Erie music scene remains highly politicized.) But if the organizers deserve credit for hiring more local musicians than previously, we need not begrudge it to them.

Fortunately, I don’t need to depend on Erie to play music. The Venango General Store books me on a semi-regular basis, and gigs at senior homes in Crawford County have been rolling in.

Thanks again for your support. Drop me a line ( and let me know what’s happening with you. I really do read every email I get (and do my absolute best to reply to same).

Rock long and prosper!

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