“Werewolf? – There wolf!” – Jon Spencer BX + Dälek + Scott Matthew + A Rant About GEMA/BMI/ASCAP/CISACetc.

“Werewolf?
There wolf!”
Young Frankenstein

THE JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION are going to play at the K4 tomorrow, Monday, night.
COBRA KILLER are playing support.
I am excited.

* _ *

DÄLEK were great. Huge and dark and itense. I loved it.

I learned that one of the Dälek guys once has collaborated on something with Jon Spencer but I’ve clean forgotten on what. I just remember Stephan has told me we are supposed to say ‘hello’ from them to Jon before leaving on holiday. Everyone has their holiday travels except for me. No, I’m not complaining. Nonono.
Anyways, whatever that collaboration was, I would like to hear it. Another, far more interesting I’ve learned about that night is Geocaching. Mik made it first sound a bit nerdy and weird but I can absolutely understand the fascination, especially the ‘lost places’ part. I had seen some blogs about urban exploration before and found them quite cool. This is one example of those abandoned urban spots and here are pictures of whole abandoned towns. Overall I had a wonderful tipsy night out, talked too much and I am far too lazy to write a proper review of the Dälek show.
Apropos ‘no proper review’: It’s cool that one of our local newspaper wrote about the SCOTT MATTHEW show at all but please:
1. All of Nuremberg knows by now that the K4 festsaal has no aircon because at the two times a year in which a newspaper finds one of the shows we put up interesting enough to write about the writer always uses up half of his wordcount to complain about the heat. Or at the Trail of Dead show: about the smoking ban. Dear Scott Matthew reviewer, it would have been nice if you had dared to break with that tradition and instead dedicated a few lines more to the music and the artists.
2. Thanks for just writing how weird Scott’s shirt looked. I mean: Thanks for not spelling it out as “his shirt looked totally gay”.
See, it was one of those shows that seemed to delight everyone in the audience, and I wasn’t the only one who was even close to tears during some songs, and Antares and Mario had put a lot of work in a beautiful decoration to give the concert room a special atmosphere, and I really only got enthusiastic feedback from people in the audience, so I was a bit disappointed that the review turned out so loveless. Scott celebrated his birthday after the show which was more cozy than exciting (you can’t really go out late night on a Monday in Nuremberg) but Jessy had made a vegan birthday cake and we had champagne and it was quite nice.

* _ *

I saw this clip about a cross of art and kinetics on a messageboard and think it’s pretty amazing:

www.strandbeest.com

* _ *

GEMA/ASCAP/CISAC/SUISA/AKMetc. are institutions for helping musicians to protect their copyright. In practice they help the artist to get money whenever one of their songs is played. Sounds fair? Somehow it does. Whenever music is played in public, no matter if in a bar or a laundry or on the radio or at your hairdresser the bar/laundry/radio/hairdresser etc. have to pay money to the GEMA/etc. Of course it would take far too much time for a hairdresser to write lists of which songs by which artists they play as background music while their shop is open so there’s not really a chance that the artists get a share that’s based on what’s REALLY played. Instead the performance rights organisations use a formula that’s supposed to give a fair share to all their artist members. No one knows how that formula really works, it’s not public and from what I heard it’s not even comprehensible to the staff of GEMA/etc. The paying schema of the GEMA doesn’t work properly nor can their clients claim clear statistics to get informed what happenes with all the money. This has been criticised since years.

Like I already mentioned I find it kind of fair if the artists gets a bit of money whenever their songs get airplay also you could question that cause it also is a kind of advertisement service for their songs. What I don’t understand is with which arguments the GEMA can demand money from promoters for the bands that play their original music live. If it’s a cover band – fine, you could argue the original artists should see some money if their work gets played but I’m talking about bands who only play their own music. As a promoter I already have a deal with the band or its booker on how much money or percentage the band is getting paid. How does the GEMA fit in here? I KNOW that there are hundreds of bands who never see that money. I guess they would have to send in lists of what they played to the GEMA and then would get some money according to where they played, how often they played, how big the venues where, etc. There are some german bands of whom I know they do that but I’d estimate that 80-90% of the GEMA-bands I’ve put up shows for never ever have done so, many of them cause they don’t even know what they would have to do to get that money. I’ve already thought about sending out a questionnaire to them because I really would love to know:

a) Do you even know that the promoters pay fee to performance righs associations and that you have the right to claim it from the GEMA/BMI/ASCAP/etc.?

b) Do you know what you have to do to get that money from the GEMA/BMI/ASCAP/etc.?

c) If you send in your forms to claim your money: Have you ever really got the money for live shows?

d) If you got that money: Is it as much as the promoter paid as GEMA/ASCAP/BMI/etc. fee for your show?

I expect that most bands that we have had at the K4 and who have their music protected by GEMA/BMI/ASCAP/etc. would answer at least two of those three questions with ‘No!’. It is not just a few bucks we’re talking about. At the place where I put up shows with friends we pay between 100 and 250 euros for a show. For a lot smaller touring bands who go on extensive tours that might sum up to quite a big amount of money.
Last week I’ve got an email passed on by a booking agency in which someone told a story about how they sued the german performing rights organisation because they could prove that the money they had paid for their show had never been passed on to the artist. It hasn’t become a law suite because the GEMA preferred not to get the law involved and instead suddenly passed on the money to the artist quite quickly. I wonder what would happen if every band that has never gotten their money did the same.

My opinion still is: Dear artists, as long as you are not Rihanna or The Cure but play a lot of live shows please keep your music GEMA/ASCAP/BMI/etc.-free. Then the promoter can give you that money directly and does not have to pay it to the GEMA/ASCAP/BMI/etc. which would pass on most of it to Rihanna or The Cure anyway. I’ve heard that in other countries bands can sign some form to officially free a promoter from the GEMA fee for a live show if they wish to. In Germany that is not the case as far as I know.

There are so many things unfair about the GEMA system that you really should think twice before you join them. For example the price a promoter pays if they put up a show for you depends on:

– how big the concert room is (as far as I know including the bar and stage area. as if paying audience could use that space!)

and

– how high the entrance fee is (no matter how many people turn up which would seem a much fairer deal)

Another of the multiple examples to complain about the GEMA is: If you have a song protected by the GEMA you have to pay for making it available as a free download mp3 on your own website (I think 15 Cent per download). Let me repeat: You have to pay money per download if you want to give your very own song away as a gift to your fans. Pardon me?!

Still generation after generation of naive bands shove their songs into that system. Correct me if I’m wrong but basically it’s a system that feeds off the fear that you get ripped off, that someone ‘steals’ your song and that you don’t have a possibility to prove that you wrote it first. Pleas face it: The chance to get ripped off by the GEMA is far bigger than the chance of getting ripped off by someone else.
On top of this – but that’s another can of worms to open – it is more than questionable if bands really still write so much truly protectworthy original material and if the copyright law as such isn’t outdated.

The GEMA is so omnipresent and there are so many profit-oriented music institutions that hammer it into the brains of young bands that it’s the firstmostimportantnootheroptionpossible-thing to do to get their songs “protected”. The GEMA/etc. has so much power that some people even think they don’t own the copyright to their own songs if they don’t get the GEMA involved. Promoters don’t seem to dare complaining too loud because they fear they could lose the arbitrarily given contracts that grant them a reduction of the GEMA fee. Even I wondered for a moment if I have to fear consequences for posting this critical position. I don’t want to risk losing my mysp or getting sued for a mix.

My main problem with performance rights organisations like GEMA/AKM/BMI/ASCAP/etc. is that they have managed to turn their perspective into a system that every artist has to deal with, even if they don’t want to have their copyright protected by such institutions. You won’t get a manufacturer to press your own music on vinyl withouth showing them a GEMAreceipt that ‘proves’ that it really is your work and that you really don’t want to have it protected by some dubious organisation. If you put up a show for a band that plays no gema-protected material at all you are obliged to prove that to the GEMA/etc.. If you don’t have a form filled in with the songs they played and signed by the band you have to pay the GEMAfee. This sounds a lot like ‘presumption of guilt’ and has been a hot topic in discussions about the GEMA since many years. After all there’s a big scene of bands and electronic artists who are not in the GEMA or similar organisations but are constantly buggered with legal problems while they just want to play music.

I guess other musicians and label owners and promoters have lots of interesting gruesome stories or silly anecdotes to tell about their experiences with performance rights associations. I would also be curious to hear some positive GEMA/ASCAP/BMI/CISAC/etc. experiences if there are any out there.

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One thought on ““Werewolf? – There wolf!” – Jon Spencer BX + Dälek + Scott Matthew + A Rant About GEMA/BMI/ASCAP/CISACetc.

  1. Susanne November 6, 2008 / 3:04 pm

    Thank you for your very interesting article. It’s a difficult subject.
    I get your point about gema/ascap/bmi.
    but the thing is: if you play a lot of original compositions and are able to fill in all the forms after every concert or keep an administration and do it once in a time then you will get a couple of thosand euro every year.. You don’t have to be a superstar to earn money out of it. and i didn’t ever meet a club owner who was willing to pay me the GEMA-money cash instead of his monthly amount which he’s used to pay. They hire you , pay you, pay GEMA. They don’;t want to do extra work and think. The bad thing is that musicians/composers have to be so damn accurate and be more business man than a business man.. It’s similar if you have to advise people to go freelance and selfemployed: It’s something for accurate people. I have the luck that i am quite organised and I am happy with the extra salary from GEMA every year.
    You are right about the fact that, if you are a menber of one of those organisations, you are obliged to yourself to claim it, otherwise those organisations just become richer and richer. The money is there, you just have to get thruough the paper mess and pick it up.
    If you are organised, become a member and accept the consequences. If you are a dreamy and messy person, don’t do it or let somebody do it!
    Cheers,
    Susanne

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