I was interested to read this national editorial in The Huffington Post by the very talented and newly minted ASCAP President Paul Williams, especially when he claimed the following:
“More than 600 people per week are signing up with ASCAP. It’s not a tough process and certainly not expensive. But becoming an ASCAP member takes time, energy and commitment — all linked to a passionate dream.
Six hundred new members per week equals more than 30,000 self-declared, career-minded songwriters per year. And when hundreds of people — week in and week out — stand up and declare they want to make songwriting their life’s work, there’s something big happening in our culture.”
Incredibly, in the entire article, Paul used the word “songwriter” 8 times, but used the word “composer” only once – as an aside when he was spelling out what the letters ASCAP stand for.
While Paul makes some good points in the article about creators deserving better protection, his song-centric view of the world where apparently all ASCAP music writers are songwriters and composers don’t even get mentioned (other than in the name of the organization) takes on special meaning when you consider ASCAP’s huge financial penalties aimed at instrumental score music and the composers who write it. In short, at ASCAP a one minute custom score cue for film or TV is paid 80% less than a one minute song cue, even a background song buried in the mix. A whopping penalty incurred only because the custom score music doesn’t have lyrics, completely out of step with the fact that ASCAP’s license income from broadcasters includes no pay differences for song vs. score. And under ASCAP’s system, more royalties paid to songwriters leaves less royalties available for composers.
Paul, here’s a hint: not everybody is a songwriter. Words matter, and throwing all ASCAP writers into the “songwriter” category is a tremendous disservice to the craft of custom score composing not to mention the amazing score composers in our industry. It’s bad enough when ASCAP penalizes score composers when their only “crime” is not writing lyrics for their music, and it only adds insult to injury when the President of ASCAP, an organization that represents thousands of score composers, lumps everybody who writes music under the “songwriter” label. Score composers have a tremendously challenging time these days getting paid fairly for their work, and as an industry we need those who represent us like Paul Williams to recognize our craft and our music, not overlook it in favor of pop songwriters.
I might also point out to Paul that television (including network, local and cable) represents ASCAP’s largest income source, and the majority of music on television is instrumental score music written by composers.
I am hopeful that as ASCAP’s new President, Paul Williams will be proactive in helping end some of the financial penalties ASCAP aims at score composers and creating a level playing field for all ASCAP writers. Simply put, the days of custom instrumental score music being treated and paid as second-class music by ASCAP must come to an end. And I think we as an industry need to give Paul a chance to make this happen. But that effort begins with the recognition that composing and songwriting are very different skills, and the artistically rich art and craft of score composing and those who write this music are, at the very least, deserving of recognition by the President of ASCAP.