Performing original music at WinterFolk 2018 (Photo: Lee Anne Whitman)

I’ve been getting acquainted with the live music venues of
Northern Michigan and their owners.

 Some of them have decided to avoid live music…

They’re worried about licensing fees from BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC.  Those organizations have the full force of copyright law behind them, they win in court, and their fees are substantial.

You can still have live music, and here’s how.

Customers enjoy live music, and it sets your venue apart from the competition.  With the growing number of microwbreweries, cideries, and wineries in northern Michigan, having an edge is important.  Yet, the fees can be daunting.

You need to know that there is a work-around:  if your live musician is performing original music, or music that is in the public domain, you don’t have to pay any licensing fees to anyone.  It’s as simple as that.  There’s a right way to do it, of course.

Tips On Using Live Music

(1) Advertise your venue as a place that supports singers / songwriters and independent, original music

(2) Require your performers to submit their songlist in advance and certify that every song was written by them.  That means no ‘cover songs’, no samples, no nothin’ that shows up in the databases of BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, and the new licensing organizations that are showing up.  Keep those performance lists on file, by date.  That sounds like a lot of trouble, both for you and for musicians like me who aren’t that good on the administrative side, but it gives you a defense.  And if your performers are themselves members of BMI, for example (like me), that’s better yet because their songs will show up under their names.  That is reasonable proof that your musician is, in fact, playing his own music.

(3) Alternatively, your performers can also perform songs that are in the public domain.  Again, it’s a good idea to have some provenance on that – a song list, again, and in advance.  It’s easy to determine whether or not a song is in the public domain via the Internet.  (Of course, when a performer plays his original music plus public domain numbers, no licensing is required either.)  “Happy Birthday”, by the way, is not in the public domain.

(4) Do not allow your performers to play anything other than their own original music or public domain music.  That means no requests – and you can help with good signage in your venue explaining that you are promoting new music and new artists.  That makes you the good guy.  Promote that fact on your website and social media.  BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC will not bother you after that – as long you truly limit your performers to original and public domain material.

(5) Recognize that your successful live music program can generate funds and give you the option of paying the licensing fees somewhere down the road.

Check out my new album of original music

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