Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Fascists Have Taken Over Rock & Roll

In previous posts I have described my legal battle with ASCAP, namely they approached me last winter demanding that I purchase a license from them in the amount of $99 per year in order to be able to legally play music (that I already paid for) in my home yoga studio, which I am running at a loss to myself, netted $0 last year, and only have 2 students at the present time.  It would also be necessary for me to buy a license from the other agencies, BMI and SESAC, as some of the songs are under their jurisdiction.

Happily, after some discussion, the ASCAP representative agreed that I could just ask the individual artists for their permission to use the dozen songs on my proposed playlist for yoga.  I was quite confident that this approach was the way to go, as I was acquainted with several of the artists, and in my work with some of their fan clubs have always found them to be very understanding and interested in such projects.

In fact, back in the 1980s I had discussed with Jon Anderson of "Yes" my dream of having a yoga/meditation center where I would play music including theirs in the classes, and he was all in favor of it and encouraged me, "I believe it will happen!"  I figured all I would need to do was to contact him and the others, (or the representatives of the late musicians such as Jimi Hendrix), explain my situation and obtain their permission.  As they have always been very kind and generous in responding to any reasonable fan requests, I did not anticipate any problem.

The thing that I did not understand, and which frankly I am still trying to wrap my head around, is this:  The artists don't actually control the rights to their own songs!  Somewhere along the line, they sold those rights to the publisher and/or the record company.  I learned this in the process of researching how and where to apply for permission.  I also discovered that most of the smaller independent labels and publishers have been gobbled up in recent years by a handful of big corporations such as Warner, Universal and EMI.

What this means, my friends, is that the corporations now own rock & roll and dictate by law who may listen to it, under what circumstances and at what cost, and the government backs them up with the power of police and courts.  If you do not comply, you will be shut down, as has happened to a couple of businesses here locally who failed to pay the license fees.  And the artists have no say in the matter.

So if, for example, I was to contact Sharon Osbourne, who has always been extremely gracious and several years ago during the RIAA crackdown had announced on her t.v. show, "Hey kids, you go ahead and download as many of Ozzy's songs as you want!!", it would not do me any good.  Even if Sharon were to tell me, in writing, "Yes, dear, of course you may play Ozzy's 'Back on Earth' in your yoga studio!", that would not in fact give me legal permission to do so and I would still be liable for licensing violations, because the Osbournes do not own the rights to Ozzy's song - Universal does.

Likewise, I could approach Jon Anderson and say, "Hey Jon, remember our conversation back in the 1980s about using Yes songs for yoga and meditation?  Well, I finally have my own studio, as you predicted I would, and now I need permission to use those songs."  Whether or not Jon remembered the conversation, I'm sure he would support the idea with his usual enthusiasm for all things spiritual.  However, even if he were to say, "Yeah, you should go for it, definitely!" and give me his written blessing, it would have no legal consequence.

Nonetheless, I sent letters to the respective publishers, still feeling quite optimistic that they would grant me permission for the very limited and more than likely non-profitable use of the few songs, for a couple of students, in the modest yoga studio in my own home.

I was very encouraged when Wixen immediately gave me permission to use George Harrison's beautiful and uplifting song, "This Is Love."  However, the Warner representative told me to purchase the ASCAP license if I wanted to use the Yes song "Love Will Find a Way."  When I explained that I could not afford it, the history of my relationship with Yes, the circumstances under which the music would be played, etc., he replied essentially, "Oh well, too bad."

Then yesterday I heard back from Experience Hendrix LLC, which being a small independent publisher would hopefully be more sympathetic, but no; they likewise said I had to buy the ASCAP license to play "Power of Soul [Power to Love]" and they did not care about my circumstances.  That's when I really lost it and broke down sobbing, not just because they said "no," but because of the principle involved.  I simply cannot imagine that our beloved free spirit Jimi Hendrix would tell me, "No, I'm sorry, if you're too poor to pay the license fee, then you can't play my song."

A teenager in the 1970s, I grew up on rock & roll.  In particular, the special songs I had chosen for the play list, like "Power of Soul" and "Stairway to Heaven" constituted the soundtrack of my life!  For our generation, rock music was more than just "tunes."  It represented freedom, equality, rebellion against The Establishment, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.  The songs gave us inspiration, courage and solidarity.  But The Establishment has won.  The big corporations have co-opted rock & roll and even most of the smaller publishers have followed their lead.  It's all about $$ now.

Most of the other songs on my list are published by Universal, Warner and EMI, who have not yet responded to my inquiry, and at this point I am not at all optimistic.

Several friends have suggested that I could invite independent artists to play music for my studio and indeed, I know of some very talented people who could do so, but that is not the point.  I am not looking for "background music" and yoga does not require music.  This was just a special playlist that I wanted to do in this particular manner.  I don't want new songs.  I picked the specific songs that I did for a reason, both lyrically and musically, and for the history and meaning that they have for me personally and for many of my students.

Meanwhile, if I want "music for yoga" per se, we already have that!  My teacher Mark Whitwell's wonderful album "The Pure Love Project" was designed for yoga and he has given his students permission to play it for our classes.  Or, so I was told, and I do note that it says "copyright 2013 Mark Whitwell."  On the other hand, it is distributed by RED, which is a division of Sony Music.  Therefore I question whether in fact Mark is in the same boat as all the other artists, in that Sony actually owns the rights and therefore it would be illegal for us to play this CD without a license as well?

I could, of course, just go ahead and pay for the licenses using a credit card and deduct it as a business expense on my taxes.  Given that I am at least $40,000 in debt already, a few hundred $$ is just a drop in the bucket, right?  Yeah, I know it's bad to use credit cards, but I will certainly rack up more debt than that this year for necessary expenditures like maintenance on my vehicle, food for my animals, or any number of other things that I don't make enough $$ to pay for.  It's the American way.  The banks own us.  But the yoga playlist is not a necessity, it is a luxury I can't afford, and an investment that makes no sense given the very limited/negative income from my tiny home studio, which will probably close soon.  I can still use the special playlist myself - so long as nobody else is listening.

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