Friday, May 30, 2014

Music is for The Rich Only

My previous post, Rockin' Yoga, was written in October of 2011, when I taught at City Arts Coop.  At that time I had a handful of students who participated in the class.  It was a beautiful venue, a lot of fun, and I love the people and the ambiance at City Arts!  But, because there just weren't enough steady students, I could not afford that studio, and returned to teaching in my own home, an aging double-wide, where I could only accommodate three students max in the converted living room.

In January 2013 I had two remaining students, one of whom occasionally enjoyed doing Rockin' Yoga. By March, defective plumbing had attracted an impressive rat infestation, resulting in a fire and a burst pipe which thankfully put out the fire but gave rise to Black Mold, rendering the double-wide partially uninhabitable and wholly unsuitable for teaching yoga.  Meanwhile, I became very ill from the Black Mold and therefore was unable to teach, even after moving into Lothlorien House with the lovely new studio.  I could barely keep up with my other jobs.

In November I received a package from ASCAP addressed to "Artistic Director, Body Soul Bliss LLC" inviting me to purchase a copyright license for music.  I had no idea what it was or why I would want it; I have not written or performed music in public for many years, with the exception of karaoke. So, like most of the numerous promotional materials for various goods and services which continually arrive in my mailbox, this one went into the trash.  Shortly thereafter I received a followup letter stating,

Dear Artistic Director:

I recently sent you a package explaining copyright licensing for the music in your establishment.  Included in that package was the ASCAP license agreement and invoice for fees...  the ASCAP license gives you legal permission to perform any of the over eight million titles in our repertory...  If you have not done so already, please sign the license agreement recently sent to you, and send it to us, along with fees specified on the invoice...

Traci Lawrence

"Legal permission"??  I replied by email, "We are not interested, but thanks anyway," because I suspected the letter was some kind of scam (which perhaps, indeed, it is) and more pertinently, because Body Soul Bliss was for all practical purposes out of business.

When I began teaching again this month, May 2014, I went to the ASCAP website to find out whether or not I really needed said license, and if so, why, and what it would cost.  According to the website, yes, all businesses including yoga and dance studios need a license to play music.  This is the conversation that ensued.  On May 5, I wrote:

Dear Traci, 

I was going to shut down Body Soul Bliss last year due to lack of business, but have decided to stay open for the occasional private yoga lessons even though there's no $$ in it.   I would love to be able to offer those few occasional students the option of listening to music that I already have in my collection, those songs which I have paid for several times over the years, first on vinyl, 8-track, cassette, not to mention numerous expensive concert tickets, VHS, CD, DVD, and most recently, i-Tunes.  A good portion of my lifetime income has gone to music in one form or another!  But the fact is, I am currently living below poverty level.  My yoga studio nets negative.  I went to your website to get some idea how much a license would cost and could not find any information about it.  Can you give me at least a vague idea of how much a license would cost for somebody in my situation?  Thank you.

On Tuesday, May 6, she replied: 

Good Morning Jamie, 

Thank you for the email! I am happy to answer any questions you have, if I don't cover everything, please let me know. First off I will start with the cost, the smallest category we have is 75 clients or less which would put your 2014 license at $99.27. To touch on a couple other points that you made, unless your studio is totally quiet, you would still need a license. All CD's , DVD's , iTunes , etc is all copy written material, meaning that once you purchase it you can play the music all the time for your personal use but once its used in a business per Federal Copyright Law, you need authorization and that authorization comes in the form of the license we offer. I hope this makes sense. Please don't hesitate to call me if it's easier for you to answer any further questions.  Hope you have a great day!  Regards,

To which, I replied later that evening:

Dear Traci, 

Thanks for your quick reply.  My total gross receipts for teaching yoga in 2013 = $120, of which $20 involved music.  So far this year my gross receipts for teaching yoga = $40, without music.  I teach yoga because it is my vocation, but I cannot make a living doing so.  My primary income is from psychic readings, which do NOT involve music. I teach yoga on the side, private lessons for a few rare students, in my own home, where I have sacrificed my living room in order to have a studio. I would teach for free if I could afford to do so, but since I have to take time off my other job/s to teach, I must charge for my time.

Traci, I am a huge supporter of music, I have many musician friends, and I have worked for their fan clubs and over the years done many promotions for them as a volunteer. I totally "get" that artists should be compensated for their work and that people who make a profit off of the music, should pay the artists a fair percentage of the profit.

But, under the circumstances, do you really think it is fair and/or appropriate for me to pay $99 per year to play music in my class when last year I only grossed $20 (before expenses!) on classes with music? Is it really fair that I should pay the same fee as someone who has 75 clients and, unlike myself, is actually making a profit?? Or, can only rich, successful businesses legally play music?

I'm very sorry, but that is just insane! I would be happy to pay a reasonable percentage, even say 10% per class w/music, so if I made $20 I would give you $2. I am sure that is a much higher percentage than a business with 75 clients would be paying. I look forward to hearing from you and hope we can find a reasonable and mutually agreeable solution here.

Today, May 7, I received this response:


I cancelled your account based on our original conversation that you were not playing music, so currently you do not have an account with us. I understand that you may not have 75 students but I am not at liberty to change your license fee based on the Federal Copyright Law as well as ASCAP being obligated to work under Federal Consent -decree which means we can't make adjustments for specific businesses, We have the different class sizes by which we have to follow:

Under 75
Under 150
Under 300
Over 301

As I mentioned before if you do not play any music you are fine, if you play one song or play music 24 hours a day in your business, then you need a license. The license is not governed by the income you make, is based on how many student/clients you have and again, 75 is the smallest category.

Hope this helps.

To which I replied:

Dear Traci,

So you really ARE saying that:

1.  I should pay a license fee equal to 500%, i.e. $99 for a single one-hour class with $20 gross receipts, or 82.5% of total gross receipts for all classes including those NOT involving music (based on 2013).
2.  A person teaching 2 yoga students out of their own home should pay the same license fee as a successful studio with 75 students. 
3.  If I'm too poor to pay the license fee and/or the fee is totally out of proportion to my income, then I can't play music for those 2 students. 
4.  You are rejecting my generous offer to pay 10% (!) of gross proceeds per class involving music.

Wow. What a racket.  I wonder how much of the money you collect actually goes to the musicians.

I have meanwhile been informed that I can legally play Pandora or the radio, but I'm not interested in those.  I have a very limited list of songs by a few specific artists that I would want to use.  Maybe I will just contact those artists directly to get their permission.  My teacher has given us permission to use his CD in the past, and I have a feeling Sharon Osbourne may likewise be sympathetic.

Thank you very much.

- Jamie Brown

cc:  Better Business Bureau, Nashville
       Sharon Osbourne


So, there you have it.  As Ms. Lawrence stated, the law is quite clear:  You must pay for a license even if you only have one student and only play ONE song, even if the cost of the license is five times the gross income from that one class and even if your business is, in fact, not making a profit.  And you must purchase the same license as a successful studio having 75 students.  No negotiations or compromises will be made, period.  If you are too poor to afford the license, then you simply can't play music.  After all, music is only for the rich - right?!  

Musicians would, no doubt, find this quite ironic, since many of them started out poor.  They know what it is like to survive on Ramen noodles in order to pay your electric bill so that you can power an amp that goes to 11.  They understand the looming threat of homelessness when you don't make enough money from your gigs to keep a roof over your head.  I don't believe that most of them wrote their music only for the enjoyment of rich people.

Upon doing some research, I did learn that there is a loophole in the law, namely, churches are not required to have a license to play music during worship services!  Lothlorien House is a church and I am a minister.  Yoga is literally whole-body prayer.  Therefore, all I would have to do is offer yoga sessions for free and call it "worship," which technically it is, and we could play whatever music we want.  That would be the ideal solution, if only I could afford to take time off my other jobs to teach for free.

Meanwhile, Mark Whitwell has already given us permission to play his absolutely beautiful, albeit non-rocking, "Pure Love Project" music during our classes.  I am still waiting to hear from Mrs. Osbourne.  Rock on, friends!  But only if you can afford to pay the required license fee.

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